In 1852, the story goes, Sir
George Everest, mapping and surveying the Himalayas, measured the
highest peak at exactly 29,000 feet. But, fearing that everyone
would take his measurement to be an estimate, Everest added 24
inches and announced that the peak -- soon to be named for him --
was 29,002 feet.
That number stood
for more than 100 years (its now thought to be 29,035
I thought about
this (possibly apocryphal) trivia when I saw that the Travel
Industry Association (TIA) pegs the direct annual impact of travel
and tourism on the U.S. at $599 billion. Whether or not thats
accurate, it has the virtue of avoiding the appearance of being an
estimate rounded up to the nearest hundred billion.
Whether its exact
doesnt really matter, but, to update Sen. Everett Dirksens most
famous quote, a billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon
youre talking real money. Not much difference between $599 billion
and $600 billion, but theres a huge leap between either of those
numbers and $1.3 trillion.
Thats the figure
that TIA estimates to be the indirect impact of travel and tourism
spending in the U.S., and thats a very big number -- equivalent,
TIA says, to one-third of the entire federal budget.
Its a number I
thought about recently while in Mexico City. I had been invited to
speak at a conference organized by CNET, a group of Mexican
entrepreneurs in travel. The conference was well attended, thanks
to speakers with a lot more drawing power than me: Mexico President
Vicente Fox, the secretaries of housing and banking and tourism,
and the director general of the Mexican tourism board.
It was two days of
charts, graphs, statistics and comparative data, but of all the
information presented, nothing made as deep an impression as a
conversation I had at lunch on the second day. I was seated next to
Oralia Rice, the undersecretary for tourism planning, and on her
right sat Rafael Higuera, director of public relations for Jose
Cuervo, the tequila company.
I dont think the
private sector is aware of how tied in they are to tourism, Rice
said. She looked over at Higuera. Cuervo doesnt know, she said. She
turned to Higuera and asked him a question. He shook his
I asked if Cuervo
knows how much of their tequila is sold in resorts and hotel bars
and on airplanes in Mexico, she said. He doesnt know. In other
words, he doesnt know how beneficial tourism is to his
Its not his fault.
Direct tourism revenue represents 8% of gross domestic product in
Mexico. Tourism could get a lot more support if we could figure out
how to demonstrate to private companies how important, in dollars,
tourism is to their businesses.
Rice said shes
working on a methodology to be able to show this to corporations.
But its not easy, she said, and times running out -- hers is a
political appointment, and Fox will leave office next
Upon returning to
the U.S., I spoke with TIA director of communications Allen Kay and
asked if the TIA has made attempts to quantify indirect travel
expenditures in a way that could help nontravel companies realize
how important, in dollars, travel is to them.
Not at present, he
said. We would love to do that. It would show how great our reach
is. Tourism is everywhere. And thats the problem. The difficulty is
that diversity is our great strength and also our
To get liquor
companies behind us, youd first have to get a sense of what percent
of a hotels bar business is local and how much is from visitors.
Itd take time -- youd have to develop a methodology, but its
Im sure that the
TIAs $599 billion and $1.3 trillion estimates are, as Everests
tallying was, at least close to accurate, but it stuns me that an
industry with $1.9 trillion in direct and indirect benefits to the
economy can loosen only $10 million dollars in promotional funding
I like the approach
suggested in Mexico. There are thousands of companies that benefit
from travel and tourism. And if we prove it to them, they may well
want to assist us in our ascent.