San Diego joins the rest of the country in celebrating National Tourism Week, May 10-18. It is a time to proclaim the significant economic, social and cultural benefits tourism brings to the local community, to the nation and to the world at large.
Just how big is this contribution? Travel and tourism -- encompassing transportation, accommodations, catering and dining, recreation and services for travelers -- is actually the world's largest industry and generator of jobs. Last year in the United States, spending by national and international travelers averaged $1.5 billion a day, $61 million an hour, $1 million a minute and $17 per second! Furthermore, one of every seven people in the U.S. labor force is directly or indirectly employed in travel and tourism.
For San Diego, the economic impact of the visitor industry is just as dramatic. In 2002, 26.2 million visitors to our region poured more than $5 billion into the local economy, making the visitor industry San Diego's third largest, behind manufacturing and the military.
The statistics are impressive on paper, but many who have no direct tie to the visitor industry may ask, "Well, fine and good, but how does this actually benefit me? Why should I care whether more tourists come to town?"
In actuality, the visitor industry is such a significant part of our region's economic base that much of the development that takes place in San Diego has a direct or indirect tie to tourism. Every tourist dollar spent in San Diego winds its way through the local economy, going in and out of different pockets as it makes its fiscal journey around the region.
To prove our point, let's follow some hypothetical tourist dollars as they begin their trip through the various levels of our economy. These dollars most likely began their journey at a location out-of-town. Their source was most likely a typical American family who spent a few days scanning the Internet looking for a vacation destination. Our family may have logged onto the ConVis Web site at www.sandiego.org, liked what they saw, and used their credit card to book and pay for a flight, rental car and accommodations -- right there on the Internet! -- for their week's vacation in San Diego.
Once the main details were taken care of, they probably also read about all the exciting activities available in our region, and may have booked a tour or two while they were at it. Once they arrived in San Diego, they planned their days' activities with great excitement. Because they were in a vacation mood, they threw caution to the wind and spent rather freely during their entire stay. They spent dollars at the Zoo, Wild Animal Park, SeaWorld and Legoland. If they splurged on meals in upscale restaurants, bought their kids lots of souvenirs or rented a sailboat for the afternoon, they rationalized the extra expense by telling themselves that they were "on vacation, after all."
Their dollars were spent in dozens of visitor industry establishments around the county. Each time our visitors opened their wallets, dollars were exchanged for goods and services that became a part of their total vacation experience.
What happens to those dollars after this point, though, is not so obvious. Visitor dollars become part of the paychecks for all those persons who had direct, as well as indirect, contact with our family and their money: everyone from the air traffic controller at Lindbergh Field to the groundskeeper at Balboa Park to the linen supply truck driver who brings in a hotel's fresh laundry.
These paychecks are cashed and the visitor dollars take another turn around the community. They are used by those employees who work directly and indirectly in the visitor industry to buy groceries, pay the mechanic or purchase a new TV. People from the local hairdresser to the family doctor, in a roundabout way, get a slice of those visitors' dollars.
The message is obvious. Those dollars continue to trickle down through various levels, enriching the local economy each step of the way by providing wages, salaries, profits and taxes.
And speaking of taxes, visitors to San Diego don't go home without paying their share of those. Our traveling family bought a lot of souvenirs to remember their fantastic trip to San Diego, contributing 7.5 percent of their total expenditures in the form of sales tax.
But more importantly, 10.5 percent of their hotel bill went directly into the city's coffers in the form of Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT). This "bed tax" is paid by visitors who spend the night in one of San Diego's hotels or motels.
Some of those TOT dollars will be spent to promote San Diego around the world, so in essence our visitors actually paid for part of the advertising that attracted them here in the first place.
Most of the visitors' TOT, however, will help pay for projects of primary benefit to San Diegans, like the extension of the San Diego Trolley, maintenance of Mission Bay, the renovation of historic buildings in Balboa Park and the construction of San Diego's proposed central library. In addition, TOT is used by the city to hire police officers to protect our neighborhoods, pave streets and improve the city's overall infrastructure that is enjoyed by residents and visitors alike.
So it is easy to see that visitors to San Diego generate sorely needed revenue for our community. In fact, a report released recently by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association confirms the extensive economic benefits that tourism provides to San Diego. As a result, the study recommends that local government and the community continue to nurture the visitor industry as a vital economic engine and producer of jobs and revenue for the region.
So the next time you spy a camera-laden traveler or a name-tagged convention delegate, you might look at them as more than "just another tourist." You might see them as a very powerful source of local jobs, revenue and commerce. You might see them as contributors to San Diego's visitor industry, an industry whose resilience and potential will provide San Diego with a stronger local economy and an even better quality of life in the years ahead.