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. Instead, tourism was often thought of as the “invisible” industry. There are many reasons for this that range from poor or nonexistent 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 the U.S. Department of Commerce, here are a few quick facts about U.S. tourism:
Approximately 70 million global travelers arrived in the U.S. during 2011.
In 2011, 7.5 million jobs were supported by the tourism industry.
Global tourism itself supported 1.2 million jobs.
Tourism is the largest U.S. 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 (finally) seem to be over. Several major recent initiatives have catapulted the tourism industry’s national and local perception. In January, President Barack Obama announced sweeping changes that would be made to the visa programs of the United States. Emerging economies, including Brazil, China and India have a burgeoning middle class with disposable income and a desire to travel. However, in Brazil for example, it would take an average of 180 days just to get an appointment for a travel visa to the U.S. 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 are 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 U.S. tourism products: to eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, see our attractions, and buy our goods and services. Recent data published by NYC & Company Researchers shows each Brazilian traveler coming to the U.S. 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 global traveler arriving in New York is from Brazil; eclipsing the United Kingdom and Asia.
Another major initiative relates to Brand USA. It might come as a surprise to learn the U.S. 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 U.S. share of the global travel market, thereby generating spending and creating American jobs. For every 35 travelers to the U.S., Brand USA estimates one American job is created. The agency’s funding comes from two major sources: the private sector (approximately 50%] and a visa-waiver fee through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. No U.S. tax dollars are used for this program, the budget of which is intended to reach $200 million.
Tourism is a major industry. It creates jobs, generates spending, increases our country’s account and is a non-outsourceable product. In my great state of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is committed to the tourism industry and has launched several initiatives to provide 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 U.S. tourism industry. Your work benefits the American economy and all of us.
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.; a full-service hospitality consulting practice specializing in assisting destination marketing organizations; hotel developers 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 and Tourism Principles and Planning. LHCS offers a complimentary financial analysis for hotel properties that want to find new revenues and improve the hotel’s operating income.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, Smith Travel Research and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.