While American labor continues to be exported to cheaper places like China or India and the average American spends more than they earn, it’s comforting to know that there is one industry where jobs are not exported and money actually comes from both domestic and foreign sources. That industry is Tourism.
Tourism encompasses a variety of activities to encourage spending in a destination for pleasure such as dining, sightseeing, transportation, lodging, and services. According to the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA), it is a $1.3 trillion industry responsible for nearly $105 billion in tax revenue for local, state, and federal levels of government and about 17 million jobs in the country – making it the third largest source for employment in the private sector. These jobs remain in the country because the goods and services supporting the tourist activities do not leave the country.
In addition to the obvious economic benefits, there are numerous other benefits. For example, tourism (and travel in general) promotes a culture of goodwill through open-mindedness, sharing, and understanding. It’s one of the few industries where the US can use it as a tool for diplomacy to improve foreign relations as well as the safety of both domestic and international travelers. Meanwhile, people who are on vacation tend to be friendlier, enlightened, and happier. Providers who tend to have passion and pride about various attractions and aspects of their local regions are eager to accommodate and lead tourists to such interesting places. As a result, cultures and customs are shared in such environments resulting in the traveler getting a greater perspective and understanding of the world as well as memories that are cherished for a lifetime.
Furthermore, tourism (especially nature-based ones) tends to encourage responsible use of land if the tourism being sold is sustainable. Sustainable tourism means you don’t necessarily have to deplete natural resources (e.g. clearing forests, polluting the air, altering watercourses and rivers, hunting or overfishing, etc.) to make money. After all, if the land gets trashed (whether by industry, overdevelopment, overexploitation, urban blight, etc.), then there is nothing except contrived tourist traps to attract tourists. Without the tourists, the economic activity and goodwill that benefits all involved would disappear.
So the Tourism industry seems like something that makes sense for the US government to get behind it, right?
Sadly, the United States is the only major industrialized nation without a nationally coordinated effort or office to promote international travel to the country. Tourism is mainly carried out amongst a scattering of independent agencies and offices at the local and state levels. The National Park Service is perhaps the only federally administered organization to promote tourism nationally, but underfunding and political agendas have forced the NPS to compromise its principles as it finds itself unable to maintain the sustainable tourism necessary to keep the system relevant. According to a 2005 TIA study, the US government has spent $6.1 million in promotion of travel and tourism while Australia has spent $92.9 million, Spain $119.7 million, Greece $141.8 million, Canada $47 million, United Kingdom $65 million, and India $24.1 million.
According to the Discover American Partnership, overseas travel to the United States has dropped 17% since September 11, 2001. The reason for this decline is primarily the deteriorating perception of the United States (exacerbated by the Iraq War, a difficult and lengthy US visa process, and questionable security practices at the point of entry). According to a recent RT Strategies survey comprised of 2,000 international travelers polled, the US entry process was rated the worst by more than 200% over the next worst region – the Middle East. Furthermore, the Travel Industry Association also cites that the US market share in the international tourism trade has dropped 35% since 1992.
As a result, the United States (both the government and the majority of its population) is becoming increasingly out of touch with the rest of the world. This is evident with the slow acceptance of Global Warming and Global Climate Change, the irresponsibly wasteful and consumeristic way of life, and an ignorance of what’s really going on in the world.
So how did it get this bad in the first place?
Unfortunately, tourism does not directly profit for politicians and corporations as quickly as industries thriving on a culture of consumption (especially products related to energy and/or gas and oil, health products, self-esteem, or housing/real estate). After all, if tourism is not on the political agenda, it gets ignored. There’s also media influences (much of which promotes a consumeristic lifestyle) which is especially strong in the United States because of the amount of time most Americans spend watching television. The failing education system has also contributed mightily to the consumerism mentality – especially at such impressionable ages. Such factors have ultimately resulted in a population that’s largely indifferent to travel as a necessary means of improving the quality of life as evidenced by the fact that only 25% of Americans have a passport.
So with these disturbing trends in mind, what can we do about it?
The reality is that short of a war or a revolution, meaningful change will not happen under the democratic process unless we make informed decisions when we vote while changing the way we live. We can inform ourselves by questioning what the media is bombarding us with as well as what we were taught throughout our education system, and determine the sources (and motives) of the information we have received. We can also choose to take public transportation, to be more cognizant of the way we spend our money and utilize resources, and of course travel and learn. Furthermore, even although writing to elected officials is a longshot way of addressing problems, it has worked in the past (such as the usage and preservation of Niagara Falls). There’s really no way around the fact that it’ll be up to us to change America (and the world) for the better.
Certainly the world is not perfect, and consumerism and economics are necessary to sustain a comfortable existence that the majority of us hope to enjoy. So with this in mind, it seems that of all the industries that are out there, tourism is practical and sensible and certainly worth supporting.