Tourism Week events underscore freedom

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WASHINGTON -- The annual Tourism Week celebration, which runs through May 16 and is sponsored by the Travel Industry Association, has long presented the industry with an opportunity to highlight the economic value of leisure and business travel to the U.S. economy.

But this year the focus is a little different. With the conflict in Iraq still unresolved, Louisiana's tourism industry has decided to dedicate its Tourism Week events to the men and women serving in the U.S. military throughout the world.

Starting with Tourism Week and continuing through Memorial Day, the state's tourism bureaus and local communities are hosting "Salute Our Troops Safeguarding Our Freedom to Travel."

During the celebration, which also encompasses Armed Forces Day on May 15, visitors and residents will be encouraged to donate certain items, as suggested by the Louisiana National Guard, that will later be shipped to service men and women serving in Iraq. Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu also was slated to lay a wreath at the Kentwood Welcome Center May 10.

Dee Minic, the TIA's executive director, Tourism Works for America, who has coordinated Tourism Week each year since 1986, said Louisiana's efforts as well as those of all states and the U.S. Virgin Islands participating in this year's events underscores Americans' freedom to travel.

"It is something Americans, until recent years, have taken for granted," she said. "But it is the American way to go out the door, hop in your car or on an airplane or cruise ship and go where ever you want. We should look around and see how many people in the world don't get a chance to do that."

And just as important for the industry -- and the economy -- is that travel generates revenue and jobs.

According to the TIA, U.S. residents and international travelers spent $545.5 billion in 2002, the most recent year for which an annual total is available. That generated $93 billion in tax revenue.

Overall, 7.2 million people are employed in the travel and tourism industry, with nearly $157 billion in payroll income, according to the TIA.

Additional information about Tourism Week events and celebrations can be found online at www.tia.org/Tourism/ntw04_activities.asp.

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to [email protected].

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