For many years in the United States, tourism was not thought of as an industry in the same way the business world thinks of manufacturing, agriculture and telecommunications. In fact, tourism was often thought of as the "invisible" industry. There are many reasons for this ranging from poor or non-existent metrics to measure the tourism industry; lack of awareness of the broad-ranging impact of tourism; and the natural inclination of legislators to see tourism as "fluffy" versus truly meaningful business activity. According to U.S. Department of Commerce, here are a few quick facts about U.S. tourism:
Some 70 million International travelers arrived in the United States in 2011.
In 2011, 7.5 million jobs were supported by the tourism industry.
International tourism itself supported 1.2 million jobs.
Tourism employs more people in the United States than the Automotive Industry.
Tourism is the largest United States export not "in a box". That means tourism is a larger export than Hollywood rights fees and Intellectual Property licensing by Apple, IBM etc.
The days of seeing tourism as a fluffy industry seem to be [finally] gone. Several major recent initiatives have catapulted the tourism industry's national and local perception. In January, President Obama announced sweeping changes to the Visa programs to the United States. Emerging economies like Brazil, China and India have a burgeoning middle class with disposable income and a desire to travel. However, in Brazil for example, it took an average of 180 days just to get an appointment for a travel Visa to the United States! Think about it for yourself; would you want to wait that long just to be able to get permission to take a vacation? Probably not. So Brazilians went to Europe instead. Also in Brazil, there were so few consulate offices to apply for your Visa that you might need to drive several hours each way for your in-person interview. These travel barriers are known to have blocked millions of travelers seeking to consume United States tourism products: to eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, see our attractions, and buy our goods and services. In recent data published by NYC & Co. researchers, each Brazilian traveler coming to the United States spends on average $10,000. Each traveler from China spends $12,000. When you do the math, it is staggering to calculate the amount of lost revenue resulting from this situation. Thanks to the tourism industry and President Obama's initiatives, the average wait time for a Visa in Brazil is now down to 60 days. There are more consulate offices in Brazil to expedite the process and shorten travel distances between offices. For the first time, the top International traveler arriving in NYC is from Brazil; eclipsing the UK and Asia.
Another major initiative relates to a group called "Brand USA". It may come as a surprise to learn the United States did not have a dedicated agency responsible for marketing the United States to the world. It was left to individual states, cities and destinations to compete for tourism business. Established as a result of President Obama's 2010 Travel Promotion Act, Brand USA is a Public-Private entity whose mission is to increase the United States' share of the global travel market and thereby generate spending and create American jobs. For every 35 travelers to the U.S., Brand USA estimates one American job is created. The agencies funding comes from two major sources: the private sector [approx.50%] and a Visa-waiver fee through the ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization. No U.S. tax dollars are used for this program whose annual budget is intended to reach $200 million.
Tourism is a major industry. It creates jobs, generates spending, increases our country's Current Account Balance, and is a non-outsourceable product. In my great state of New York, Governor Cuomo is committed to the tourism industry and has launched several initiatives and provided funding for tourism efforts as a means of economic development. Perhaps most importantly, I reflect on the words of Pope John Paul II who referred to tourism as an instrument of peace; as a "living force to foster understanding". Here's to all of the hard-working people of the tourism industry. Your work benefits the economy and all of us.
About Gavin and Landry Hospitality Consulting Services
Gavin Landry is a 25-year veteran of the industry. He is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel and Restaurant Administration and Principal of Landry Hospitality Consulting Services, L.L.C. (www.landryhospitality.com); a full-service hospitality consulting practice specializing in hotel development and existing hotel cost and revenue improvement programs. He is an Adjunct Professor at NYU's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management teaching graduate level courses on Tourism Policy Analysis, Tourism Planning, Tourism Product Development and Tourism Principles and Planning. LHCS offers a complimentary financial analysis for hotel properties that want to find new revenues and improve their operating income.