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Travel Agents Say Clients Have Many Questions About Trump's Travel Ban

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A three-judge panel here in California is hearing arguments today over whether President Trump's immigration ban should be reinstated. The order banned travel to the U.S. from seven mostly Muslim countries, but it has some people so worried and confused they don't want to travel anywhere. Here's NPR's Yuki Noguchi.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Technically, people are as free to travel in and out of the country as they were before the January 27 immigration ban was announced. But the lingering confusion created by the ban and the legal limbo it's in are still making things chaotic for Anbritt Stengele, owner of Sports Traveler, a Chicago travel agency focused on sports fans.

ANBRITT STENGELE: It's kind of been a one-two punch for our company.

NOGUCHI: Stengele says she's been fielding calls from confused and scared would-be travelers who are not traveling to or from the seven mostly Muslim countries listed in the ban. In fact, about a third of her business is to and from Mexico. And she says many are canceling trips amid reports of U.S. boycotts and anti-American sentiment there.

STENGELE: I would say our business is down easily 50 percent, if not more. Our international inbound business is probably down at least 70 percent just in call volume.

NOGUCHI: The overall business impact on the travel industry from the ban and subsequent confusion surrounding it is hard to measure because data on ticket sales are not yet publicly available. Anecdotally, some travel agents say clients are canceling trips, and more say people are delaying purchases during what is normally peak ticket-buying time.

The Global Business Travel Association said nearly a third of companies plan to reduce their business travel over the next three months to a year in response to the original ban. Zane Kerby is CEO of the American Society of Travel Agents.

ZANE KERBY: We're seeing, surprisingly, a more broad-based reaction to this policy.

NOGUCHI: Kerby says, so far, the biggest impact is among people who weren't directly affected by the ban.

KERBY: Many travelers have expressed concern about traveling internationally. They're afraid that sentiment towards Americans overseas is changing or has changed.

NOGUCHI: Julie Imgrund agrees. She owns Bellevue Travel outside of Omaha. She says she hasn't fielded many cancellations yet but has spent lots of time trying to reassure worried travelers.

JULIE IMGRUND: Our issue has been with American citizens who are concerned about leaving the country. It's like, with the political chaos that's going on right now, do you think it's safe for us to travel outside the U.S.?

NOGUCHI: Meanwhile, American companies are not taking chances, says Michael McCormick, executive director of the Global Business Travel Association. McCormick says they are curtailing travel for some employees as though the ban were still in effect.

MICHAEL MCCORMICK: They still have to prepare as if it will return.

NOGUCHI: McCormick says that's not good news for an airline industry that has enjoyed record growth in international business travel in the last few years.

MCCORMICK: Business travel drives business growth.

NOGUCHI: Cathie Fryer, president of CTA Travel in Cerritos, Calif., says even if the issue of the ban clears up, many clients will remain skittish about the reception they might get abroad. Since the ban was announced, she says bookings are down 10 to 20 percent from their usual levels.

CATHIE FRYER: Which, for a small business, that's a lot, you know. But I'm confident - I'm hoping - that things will settle down.

NOGUCHI: Fryer says, in the meantime, if clients continue avoiding international travel, she will instead try to redirect them to travel within the U.S.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIGNAL HILL'S "THE EDGE OF FOREVER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.