The news that President Trump is about to sign yet another Executive Order, which will apparently reinstate the Muslim Travel Ban into the United States. Such an Order will no doubt raise tensions even further and will probably do nothing to further define and address the 'extra checks' apparently made against dual-national UK Muslim travellers only. At the same time, we hear from the NYC & Company, the tourist promotion body for New York City, that they are recording a drop in tourist numbers to the City. It is suggested that the numbers of inbound tourists to the City will continue to fall, but it is also feared that falls in inbound tourism will also be replicated throughout the entire country. It is no surprise to me that tourist confidence is falling, given the wild rhetoric coming from politicians and some parts of the 'new' media. Against this backdrop, I am certain that this has influenced intending holidaymakers to take their hard-earned currency to another destination, where they feel safe or indeed where extreme opinion and unnecessary checks are not offered.
For many UK Citizens, particularly UK Muslims, keen to visit the United States either for pleasure or to visit family, this is proving to be a difficult time, resulting in decisions resting between choosing to stay or go. Like most travellers, they will be looking at US government websites and complying with all entry requirements, as did the young teacher from South Wales who was prevented from boarding an aircraft in Reykjavik en-route to the United States. As we discovered, not only was he separated from his school party and his responsibilities, but he was also not provided with any explanation as to why he was refused entry (it is important to note that even if you have an ESTA for entry to the USA but are then subsequently denied entry, you have no right of appeal because at the time of applying for your ESTA, you agree to waive all rights to appeal!). This incident only reinforced the fear amongst all those who demonstrably comply with the law and travel obligations, that any travel bans or additional orders provided to border agencies, are indiscriminate and simply do not serve the original purpose, that being to prevent undesirables from entry into that country.
To try and help UK Muslims in particular, intending to travel to the USA (even if you are not a UK Muslim, you should also consider these points if you have visa stamps from any of the banned countries in your passport), I have devised a pre-travel action plan, which should help them consider and deal with any uncertainty surrounding their travel plans to the United States:
Check with the USA's ESTA programme as to any updated information they may have or indeed require from you before you travel - it pays to keep a watch on extra requirements!
It is vitally important that you keep a check on all news and developments within the United States up to the point that you travel (keep a check on FCO advisories) - this could include important information about any extra checks;
Before you travel, speak with your airline - they are in a difficult position because they have to comply with entry requirements and they can be fined if they allow someone to travel to an entry-restricted destination. You should talk to them about your concerns - obtain their guidance;
No matter at what stage you are at, if you are about to book your trip, or have already booked and have obtained your ESTA and you have any uncertainty about travel to the USA, contact the US Embassy in the UK and seek their guidance;
Make sure that you speak to your Travel Insurer and advise them of your travel intentions and what actions you have taken. Pay heed to their advices as they should guide you on how to deal with any difficulties that you may encounter;
Always make sure that you put all such requests to your airline, travel company, travel insurer or the US Embassy in writing and ensure that they too respond to you in writing. By creating a paper-trail, you can demonstrate that you have acted in good faith and that you are doing your best to comply with laws or additional checks in an environment that has already proven to be changing quickly;
Make sure that you check all documentation provided by your travel insurance policy, airline and travel company. Determine whether there is cover or help for any difficult situation you may find yourself in - keep a record of contact details on your phone;
When you travel, make sure that you carry the UK Embassy/Consulate telephone number with you - if you are detained, call that number first for assistance!
Travel is the ultimate expression of friendship and trade between two countries. Tourism is the great unifier of peoples and culture. If rational or irrational fears drives agenda which serves only to create fear and division, then ultimately trust, friendship and that all important tourist trade will be lost. Whilst my guide only serves to provide practical help through its markers of how to prepare for a trip to the United States, it will nonetheless provide a focus that will help all UK travellers to be more confident about their own travel preparations in these difficult and challenging times.