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 Do Not Disturb

michael MY TURN
ON THE SOAPBOX


By Michael Matthews

October 7, 2004 -- Frankly, I'm getting bored with this election.

Oh yes, I know how important it is, but it's just the same old topics that get to me. Everything rehashed time and time again. I'm also angry at the three candidates. None of them have made a murmur, or dropped a hint, that they will pay the slightest bit of attention, if elected, to the tourism or hotel industry.

"So what?" you say. Let me give you some food for thought.

In most of the world's 228 countries, tourism and travel is the leading contributor to each country's gross domestic product and is the leading export earner. Globally, tourism creates an astounding US$5.49 trillion in economic activity. Tourism accounts for 10.4 percent of the world's GDP and 8.1 percent of the world's population is employed in tourism. In fact, tourism activity accounts for 12.2 percent of the world's exports.

Here in the United States, travel and tourism is the country's largest export industry! That's right, the largest. It is the third largest retail-sales industry nationwide and the first- or second-largest employer in 30 of the 50 states.

The hotel industry in this country is also a huge contributor to the economy. According to 2003 figures, there were nearly 50,000 hotels in the United States and they accounted for more than $1.5 trillion in sales and $12.8 billion in pre-tax profits. The hotel industry is also one of the nation's largest employers.

In 2003, visitors to the United States spent $65 billion (export dollars) excluding passenger airfares. That represented somewhere around 17 percent of the total amount spent worldwide on travel. The total number of international travelers to our shores in 2003 was more than 40 million--and that includes 400,000 Australians, all craving a Foster's.

Can you imagine the number of man-hours that it takes for them to clear immigration? (Oops, I mean Homeland Security!) I'm not a U.S. citizen, so I can tell you from personal experience that it takes about two hours, lining up with other impatient visitors here to spend their money, to be fingerprinted, photographed and cleared. And you almost never hear so much as a "Welcome to our shores." Why those 40 million came, I don't know, but we should be thankful for what they spent.

Okay, so why am I angry other than the foregoing? I'm angry because neither George nor John--or Ralph, for that matter--have given the so much as the slightest thought to value of the tourism to United States. There seems to be a federal department and a cabinet post for nearly everything else, but, as far as I can determine, nobody gives a damn about tourism, this country's major export. Call your local candidates for the Democrats, Republicans and whatever Ralph represents and ask where each candidate stands on tourism. I guarantee that you will draw a blank and probably be hung up on because nobody will know what you are talking about.

I think it would be a nice change before Election Day if George, John or Ralph would just put in a small word about what they will do to support tourism and, in particular, the hotel business, in recognition of what each contributes to the economy. After all, travel and tourism is a larger industry than pharmaceuticals. And, from what I hear, travel is probably cheaper, too.

So call your local candidates today, ask what they're doing about tourism--call them back if they hang up--and tell them "Michael sent you."

A note to readers: Tourism and travel figures used in this column were drawn from the reports and the resources of the World Travel and Tourism Council, the American Hotel and Motel Association and Smith Travel Research.

This column originally appeared at joesentme.com.

Copyright 1993-2004 by Michael Matthews. All rights reserved.