It's the time of year for number crunching, when companies and countries tally up their activities and issue annual reports. For the charts-and-graphs crowd, it's a feast.

But if you're on a data diet and only want The Big Picture, you can't get a much broader view than the global analysis produced by Oxford Economics for the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).

The report, available online, discloses that travel and tourism directly account for 2.9% of global gross domestic product (GDP), or $2 trillion of economic activity. When indirect effects are added, the total rises to $6.6 trillion, or 9.3% of global GDP.

Save that one for when the naysayers try to claim that travel is not an economic engine of any consequence.

According to the WTTC report, travel and tourism directly account for 101 million jobs, or 3.4% of total global employment. When indirect effects are added, the total contribution to global employment rises to 261 million, or 8.8%. That's one out of every 11 jobs in the world.

What's particularly good to hear is that despite localized ups and downs, these global numbers are rising and are expected to continue to rise, for both domestic and international travel and for both leisure and business travel.

But as good and broad-based as this data is, it can never paint the whole picture.

We can add up all the dollars spent on business trips, but it's hard to put a number on what those trips achieved in terms of training, professional enhancement, new ideas and relationships or done deals.

Likewise, we know what travelers invest in leisure and discretionary travel, but there is no calculator for the return on this investment, the qualitative benefits of "getting away," experiencing new places or being with friends and family.

These benefits are no less real than travel's impact on GDP. Disney just produced some research indicating that parents spend more quality time with their children when on vacation than they do otherwise. And a recent survey done for the U.S. Travel Association's Travel Effect project found that couples who vacation together at least once a year report happier and healthier relationships than those who do not.

So kudos to travel and tourism, but let's not forget that it's really $6.6 trillion in "economic activity," plus all the things that matter even more.
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