As business leaders who work hard year-round, you know that there are also necessary times to reflect and celebrate accomplishments. In the travel industry, National Travel and Tourism Week (NTTW), May 2-10, is one such occasion.
This year marks the 32nd recognition of NTTW, providing an opportunity for all of us to consider how far we’ve come and how much we can achieve when we come together as an industry.
Travel generated more than $2.1 trillion in economic output in 2014, with almost $928 billion spent directly by travelers. Travel now supports 15 million American jobs, including eight million good-paying jobs in the industry itself and seven million across all other sectors of the economy.
This economic activity brings in more than $141 billion in taxes for governments at all levels, supporting vital public services. Without this tax revenue, each household would pay almost $1,150 more in taxes each year.
We should be particularly proud of our record in attracting international visitors to the United States. We welcomed a record 75 million international visitors to our country in 2014, and they spent a record $221 billion. Thanks to international visitor spending, the U.S. enjoyed a $75.7 billion trade surplus in travel last year, making it America’s largest services export, fully accounting for 10% of all U.S. exports of goods and services.
We are on target to meet our national goal of welcoming 100 million international visitors by 2021, reclaiming the visitors who for too many years we were losing to our global travel competitors.
Those are impressive results, but even as we celebrate, we cannot rest. Instead, we should understand how much more we can achieve by working together. Too often we fail to realize our own strength, our own role in the economy of our communities and country. NTTW is a chance to send a clear message and to refocus our efforts.
Consider what we have accomplished when we are united as an industry, focused and resolute: passage of the Travel Promotion Act; establishment of Brand USA; and then its reauthorization last year, thanks to our champions in Congress and the commitment of so many in the private sector. We’re making travel easier while maintaining national security protocols through programs such as TSA PreCheck, Global Entry, visa reform and expansion of the Visa Waiver Program.
Now is the time to turn to the next set of major challenges facing our industry. This includes modernizing all aspects of our travel infrastructure, ensuring robust competition in international aviation, and continuing to advocate for policies that benefit travelers, competition and economic growth.
We also need to continue to underscore the vital importance of travel for our lives. The U.S. Travel Association’s “Project: Time Off” initiative is researching and communicating the many benefits of travel for personal health, relationships and careers.
At U.S. Travel, we’re promoting a theme that’s been widely adopted and is customizable in countless ways: “Travel is __________.”
This theme gives you the opportunity to say: “making memories”; “a vital part of our economy”; “an engine of job growth”; “a special vacation”; “a new business opportunity”; “a chance for recreation and education;” or all of the above. Travel is our national parks and historic sites, our great cities and beautiful beaches. In short, travel is all of America. That blank can be filled in thousands of unique ways.
Let’s work to educate our communities and our political leaders about the importance of travel to prosperous communities and lives so that we can all work together for a brighter future for our industry and the travelers we serve.
Roger Dow is president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association.