Much of the talk nationally, as well as locally, has been centered on how to get our economy moving again. Policy proposals and local budgets are being measured by whether they will create jobs and stimulate spending.
While a contentious debate about the right policy rages in Washington, D.C., how about an answer that is much less controversial, easier to implement, and, best of all, could yield better results right here in Wichita?
I'm talking about investing in our travel economy.
Many people don't realize it, but travel and tourism is one of our most important economic drivers.
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Nationally, travel is responsible for $704 billion in direct spending, 7.4 million direct jobs, $186 billion in payroll and $111 billion in tax revenue. There are few industries that can compete with this kind of output.
Today, Go Wichita will host a luncheon and panel discussion about the impact of travel on the local economy. During this discussion, new research results from the U.S. Travel Association will be released showing in the Wichita metro area, travel is responsible for 11,810 jobs, $701.9 million in economic activity and $61.3 million in tax receipts.
Simply put, when people travel, the economy grows, jobs are created and the tax coffers are filled. We have a perfect example happening this week with the River Festival. This event alone brings an estimated $22 million to our economy along with thousands of visitors to our city.
So how can we invest in this precious resource of travel, and leverage it to bring our economy back? Here are a few ideas.
* Promote meetings and events. When the recession first began, there was intense scrutiny of spending by companies that were relying on government assistance to survive hard times.
Many of these meetings are essential to business productivity. Furthermore, corporate and association meetings are a major driver of local jobs and a boost to local spending. When these meetings dry up, our community's small businesses and workers suffer. So we need to do what we can to support the meetings industry, and encourage more businesses and associations to bring their meetings here.
* Reduce barriers to travel. Travelers are facing a growing array of hassles and inconveniences on the road — from heavier security requirements, to flight delays, to growing fees and costs. As it becomes more difficult to travel, more people will decide to stay home, creating a drag on the economic recovery.
We need to do what we can to make it easier for people to get moving again. This includes urging lawmakers to make national air security more effective and efficient, modernizing air travel and guarding against fees that don't go toward improving the travel experience.
* Market to out-of-town visitors. The old saying goes, it takes money to make money. Go Wichita does a terrific job of showcasing Wichita as a premier destination. We will continue to promote our tourism treasures in a targeted, strategic way.
* Attract international visitors. When people travel from other countries, they tend to stay longer and spend more when they are here. This can be a windfall for our local retailers and other small businesses. A national communications and marketing program called the Travel Promotion Act was just passed, which will invest in marketing to these visitors — this is great news for us, as our western and aviation heritage is extremely attractive to international visitors who want to experience "authentic" America.
Our economy is beginning to turn around, but we need to continue to invest in the recovery.
National Travel and Tourism Week is May 8-16. It is a great opportunity to celebrate everything Wichita offers as an exciting travel and business destination.