After Many Years, Success!

As long as I can remember (at least going back to 1987), the travel and tourism industry has valiantly and unsuccessfully sought support and attention from the US government in promoting international travel and tourism to the US.

The campaigns to achieve some real recognition of the economic role that travel and tourism can play in creating jobs, generating taxes and and local business revenue are legion.

For a number of years, the Tourism Works for America campaign was the highlight of National Tourism Week. The annual report distributed by the TWA folks (a program of the then Travel Industry Association) was full of what should have been persuasive data on the return on an investment in promoting and expanding travel and tourism. Didn’t happen. If I recall, the chairman of the House Commerce Committee at the time was Charles Dingell, a powerful Democratic congressman from the Detroit area who didn’t see any benefit to Detroit if international travel and tourism grew, repeatedly blocked any efforts to enact meaningful legislation that would have stepped up the government role in travel promotion.

At best in those years, Congress provided some funding for the US Travel & Tourism Administration, a small research unit within the Department of Commerce, once headed up by an undersecretary or assistant secretary of the department. Over the years, that office was downgraded, moved primarily into the part of Commerce that worked on increasing US exports. Travel into the US from overseas is an export (resulting in revenue to the US). In recent years, it’s been a behind the scenes small research office.

In the Clinton years, there was a White House Conference on Travel & Tourism and industry optimism grew that maybe something would happen. The conference called for the establishment of a US Travel Corporation, a public/private group that would head up international travel promotion. The Corporation board was formed, private sector support lined up and then Congress refused to provide any funding for the public sector part of the partnership. The results of the WH Conference? Not anything that anyone remembers today.

Over the years since, the US role as an international tourism destination slowly shrunk. The number of visitors coming to the US was on a downward slope. The US was the only developed nation without a national tourism promotion program aimed at bringing visitors to a country. Over time, the US slipped I believe, to 4th or 5th on the list of where people were visiting – both business and vacation travel.

At one point, Congress created a Rural Tourism Promotion Board to try to spur travel to the far reaches of the country – either domestic or international travel. After several attempts to develop funding this initiative went the way of many others before it.

Anyway, this is all a lead up to what the travel, tourism and recreation industries should now be thrilled about…a new and hopefully serious recognition by a US president of the role that travel, tourism and now recreation, can play in the economic and social life of the US. Jobs, jobs, jobs, taxes, taxes, taxes, revenue, revenue, revenue.

Unless, of course, politics gets in the way. Initially, growing international and domestic travel, tourism and recreation will require funding, maybe from the public sector, maybe from the private sector and most likely from both. We must hope that the powers that be in Washington, recognize, acknowledge and act on what has been illustrated over and over again. Travel, tourism and recreation promotional and marketing investments can pay huge dividends for the country. In the past, that fact was not persuasive but maybe now will be different.

In mid-January, President Obama signed an Executive Order and announced new initiatives to significantly increase travel and tourism in the United States. Pointing out that the U.S. tourism and travel industry is a substantial component of U.S. GDP and employment, producing 2.7% of America’s gross domestic product, and 7.5 million jobs in 2010. And international travel to the United States supported 1.2 million of those jobs.

The President’s initiative should provide strong support to the new US Travel Corporation as it begins the effort to expand the number of visitors annually to the US.

The travel and tourism industry projects that more than 1 million American jobs could be created over the next decade if the U.S. increased its share of the international travel market. The President’s announcement included important steps to bolster job creation by better promoting the United States as a tourism destination.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international travel resulted in $134 billion in U.S. exports in 2010 and is the nation’s largest service export industry, with 7 percent of total exports and 24 percent of service exports. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that every additional 65 international visitors to the United States can generate enough exports to support an additional travel and tourism-related job.

According to the travel industry and Bureau of Economic Analysis, international travel is particularly important as overseas or “long-haul” travelers spend on average $4,000 on each visit.

The President’s program calls for a national strategy to make the United States the world’s top travel and tourism destination. The number of travelers from emerging economies with growing middle classes – such as China, Brazil, and India – is projected to grow by 135 percent, 274 percent, and 50 percent respectively by 2016 when compared to 2010.

Nationals from these three countries contributed approximately $15 billion dollars and thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy in 2010. In addition, Chinese and Brazilian tourists currently spend more than $6,000 and $5,000 respectively each, per trip, according to the Department of Commerce.

Why is this all important to the RV park and campground industry? Simple.

Reason one, repeat visitors are looking for unique vacation options, like RV rentals, cabins, yurts, and similar accommodations. Anyone can stay in a hotel.

Reason two: First time and repeat visitors want to see the “real” America, not just the lights of Las Vegas, the towering buildings of New York, the Orlando magic kingdom and the glamour of Hollywood and Los Angles. And the park industry can provide these visitors with the experience they seek – meeting real Americans in unique American settings.

Reason three: We’ve known for years the value of travel and tourism to create jobs and generate revenue and taxes, all of which this country could us in large amounts. According to Dept of Labor statistics, for each 65 international visitors to the US, one job is created. Wouldn’t we all benefit from an industry that is has a positive balance of trade (bringing more to the US than Americans spend overseas), creates jobs and generates taxes? The bread and butter of the park industry business is the American middle class. A healthy employed middle class means growth and revenue for the park industry.

After all the years of hoping for recognition of the importance of travel and tourism, could this be the initiative that permanently establishes these industries as important contributors to the US ecomomy, on the same level as the automobile, energy and consumer product sectors?

Let’s see where it goes.