GUEST COMMENTARY: Travel drives economic engine and pays off in personal ways, too

Thursday, May 8, 2014 | 5:28 p.m. CDT; updated 7:54 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 8, 2014

For most of us, travel invokes boarding a plane or a cruise ship or maybe loading a cooler and a tent into the back of the minivan and taking off.

But lately, a picture has emerged of travel as a health regimen — for our bodies, minds, relationships, workplaces and even the country’s economy.

Take jobs for example. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the U.S. travel industry recovered faster than other economic sectors, already restoring 111 percent of the jobs lost to the recession while the rest of the economy has recovered only 90 percent.

But unless you work for the airlines or own a hotel, does the travel rebound mean much to the average citizen? The answer is a resounding yes.

Travel is among the top 10 employers in 49 states, directly employing about eight million people. Throw in jobs supported by travel and the number almost doubles to 15 million workers: one of every nine American jobs.

U.S. residents and international visitors now pump more than $28,000 per second into cash registers across the country. It adds up to an economic impact of $2.1 trillion, contributing more than $130 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues.

Here in Boone County, travel in 2013 generated over $354 million in spending and supported over 10,000 local jobs. In Missouri, tourism is the second largest industry, behind only agriculture.

Every household in America would have to pay about $1,100 more in taxes annually to make up what the travel industry alone brings to our schools, roads, infrastructure and other public programs.

And let’s not forget, travel is not all about leisure. Business travel is also a huge economic engine, with businesses that spent money on travel recovering faster from the recession and even seeing growth.

But travel doesn’t just grow our economy and boost our productivity; it also connects us as people, keeps us healthy and makes us happy.

Looking for lasting love? Couples that travel together are more likely to make it past the five-year mark and less likely to divorce. They’re also more likely to share goals and be able to more easily overcome differences.

Want a closer family? More than 90 percent of kids see family vacations as a chance for “quality time” with their parents. Kids who travel are more likely to earn a college degree and have a $5,000 higher median income as adults.

Feeling down? People who travel are less stressed and happier at work. And our travel memories stay with us; studies show that into our 50s and beyond, we remember childhood trips more vividly than birthday parties or other special occasions.

Now as we celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week, it is important to ponder how we can support this industry that supports so many great things in our lives.

First, welcome the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to our community each year. While the Convention and Visitors Bureau would love to be able to greet each tourist individually, we rely on you to help give them a memorable experience. We can’t become a premier destination without you! One way to get involved is to become a Columbia Tourism Ambassador, a certification program that teaches participants to exceed our visitor expectations. You can contact our office to sign up for a class.

Second, support initiatives that will make our city a more desirable destination. Not only does bringing in more visitors increase the economic impact, but quality of life for local citizens also improves. Spending by visitors to Columbia helps support work on our roads, updates to our infrastructure, progress in our parks and much more. Every visitor to Columbia contributes to making your daily life better.

Third, hold your time off in the esteem it deserves. Americans leave 429 million paid days off unused every single year. We give lip service to time spent with family and friends, yet one in three workers gives up paid leave. Help us change this culture.

So take a few minutes this week to think about how you can support and encourage travel — perhaps as an employer, maybe as a leader in our community or even just for you and your family. It’s worth our investment and the travel effect pays us back in better health, a growing economy, a thriving community and quality of life.

Amy Schneider is the director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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