Americans still traveling despite economy


The falling dollar, rising gasoline prices and general economic angst apparently can’t counteract Americans’ wanderlust, at least for Americans who are paying their own way.

That business trip you were hoping for, however, might be harder to come by.

The 2008 Travel Industry Association annual report, “Travel and Tourism Works for America,” estimates that U.S. travelers once again spent a record amount — $739.9 billion — last year.

Leisure trips, which make up about three-quarters of all domestic travel, increased by about 2.5 percent. But business travel declined by about 1.7 percent in 2007, following a 0.3 percent decline in 2006. The association projects that business travel will be up slightly in 2008.

Record-high fuel prices couldn’t put a dent in Americans’ love of the recreational vehicle. Sales of RVs slowed only slightly in 2007 after a record 390,500 new vehicles were sold in 2006. About three-quarters of RV owners surveyed said that, despite fuel prices, RV vacations are still cheaper than other forms of travel because of savings on hotels and restaurants.

Once they get to their destinations, Americans love their slots and blackjack. Gambling was a more popular travel activity than going to the beach, checking out a festival or fair, attending amusement parks or visiting national or state parks. But the top two travel activities should come as no surprise: dining out and shopping.

All that traveling makes large ripples in the U.S. economy. According to the Travel Industry Association, more than 7.5 million Americans, with earnings of about $178 billion, are employed in the travel industry.

The association also notes that tourism and travel is one of the few major industries where the U.S. enjoys a trade surplus with the rest of the world.

In 2006 (the last year with firm totals available), spending by international travelers visiting the United States, finally surpassed pre-9/11 levels. Foreigners (helped, no doubt, by the falling dollar) spent $107.9 billion

that year, $6.4 billion more than Americans spent abroad.

And in 2007, the number of international visitors arriving in the United States is estimated to have finally surpassed the number that visited in 2000, before the Sept. 11, 2001 attack.

Most of those international visitors come from Canada and Mexico, however. Foreigners from other countries are still arriving at a rate far less than in 2000.

More interesting travel industry tidbits, including a breakdown of travel spending by state and congressional district, can be found at the association site