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Opinion: The Power of Tourism

From May 4 through 12, we celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week—a time when we applaud the impact our multi-faceted industry has on our community, the commonwealth and the nation.

Travel and tourism is easily one of America’s largest industries. In fact, it is the country’s number one service export industry. In 2012 alone, it contributed $2 trillion to the U.S. economy, supported 14.6 million American jobs, and delivered $129 billion in tax revenues.

In fact, without travel and tourism’s contribution to the tax base, each household would have been taxed an additional $1,060 to maintain the same level of services that they enjoyed. That’s something everyone likes to hear—especially in the midst of cutbacks and furloughs.

Travel’s impact is significant and growing. It can drive our nation’s economic recovery and resurgence as a great nation by creating and supporting American jobs. The travel industry contributes substantially to those businesses that depend on tourism, across the country and right here in our community.

Consider the impact that leisure and business travelers have on Fairfax County’s hotels, restaurants, retailers, museums and countless other businesses. Visitors from around the world travel to Fairfax County, directly supporting over 30,000 local jobs with earnings of more than $571 million. Last year alone, Fairfax County hotels sold more than 4.7 million hotel rooms, and tourism spending in the county generated an additional $175.2 million in state and local taxes.

Given this level of economic importance, travel needs to be easy and accessible. Metro’s extension through Tysons Corner out toward Dulles International Airport, the Route 495

Express Lanes, and the increased development along the Route 1 corridor, among other capital development initiatives, are opening up the county to greater opportunities and easier access—not only for residents but indeed visitors.

On a national front, it is critical that our airports continue to maintain the highest degree of security for all travelers, but it is also vital to ensure that all visitors experience the friendliest of welcomes. Fairfax County hosts travelers from across the nation and around the globe each year. These visitors spend, on average, more than $2.6 billion in our area. Great effort is underway to ensure a more effective and efficient visa processing system in key markets that are vital to the growth of this industry, notably China and Brazil. The U.S. Travel Association is working diligently with our elected officials on reducing air travel inconvenience at security checkpoints and creating a smarter visa policy to allow one of our strongest economic industries help America get back on track. If successful, these initiatives will not only be significant on a national scale, but will make a huge impact right here in our backyard.

So this week as we celebrate our colleagues and neighbors who are a vital part of this industry, I urge all of us to use National Travel and Tourism Week as an occasion to encourage our local leaders and elected officials to ensure that the travel and tourism industry continues to thrive, and to reflect on the profound impact travel has on all of us—from personal memories that will last a lifetime to the global economic benefits that affect our world today and into the future.

The writer is president and CEO of Visit Fairfax [www.fxva.com].