President Obama last week traveled to Florida for a major address on international tourism. A diverse tourist state, Florida is home to amusement parks and natural wonders. From Epcot to the Everglades, it was an iconic launching spot for a new tourism initiative.
As tourists and travelers ourselves, we seldom consider the impact our spending has on the places we visit. It’s stunning. Tourism is the USA’s biggest service export. Over $134 billion was spent in this country by foreign visitors in 2010. That’s a lot of USA jobs. And that’s the President’s point.
The President’s tourism development plans include the welcome step of reducing or eliminating tourist visa paperwork. Paperwork is a bane of our daily lives; you take a vacation to escape it, not complete it. Simplifying tourist visa requirements can attract more foreign travelers, which in turn will deliver more USA jobs.
18-30 year olds are an under-recognized powerhouse in our travel economy. Youth tourism worldwide is estimated to account for 20% of all international arrivals. That translates into a lot of spending and economic growth.
With it, comes an exciting opportunity for a non-partisan, national youth tourism policy agenda. It’s about recognizing the worthiness of student and work visas for foreign students coming to the USA, and reciprocal arrangements for Americans going abroad. It’s assuring that twenty-somethings (who spend less per day, but travel longer) aren’t unintentionally compromising their safety in their quest for affordable lodging. And it’s also about leveraging the educational value of student travel through a dynamic USA version of the Gap Year.
Here’s the point. Youth travel and tourism is uniquely about economics and education. Every dollar spent by a twenty-something traveler (and there are plenty of them) has the same spending power as a dollar spent by someone else. Yet student-aged expenditures are more likely towards a greater purpose: studying abroad, learning a language, volunteering, gaining world perspectives.
One of the year’s biggest happenings in USA youth travel will now take place in Boston on June 22nd, when the third largest hostel in the United States (after New York City and Chicago) celebrates its grand opening. With Boston’s Chinatown and the Theater District just around the corner, it’s not hard to imagine hostel guests flocking to the scores of nearby restaurants, retail stores, and entertainment venues. It’s a living example of the economic case for travel and tourism, powered by twenty-somethings visiting the city for experience and learning.
International tourism makes a difference to all of us. As policy agendas of all political pedigrees emerge during this election year cycle, let’s make sure youth travel is part of the conversation.