One of the leading export industries in the Lone Star State might surprise you: it’s tourism. Export-oriented industries are a cornerstone of economic growth because they bring dollars from elsewhere into the state, thereby enhancing overall prosperity. Sometimes called “basic” industries, they are essential to the long-term vitality of Texas and Texans.
For many people, the idea of an export or basic industry conjures up visions of factories and boxes and shipments to markets around the globe. However, it’s really more a matter of customers from outside of Texas choosing to spend their money on things made in Texas, whether goods (such as cars, crops, or computers) or services (such as a meal in a restaurant or a night in a hotel).
Last year, some 186 million Americans traveled to and within Texas, according to studies prepared for the State’s Economic Development and Tourism department. Since most of them spent more than one day, the total number of person-days (one visitor for one day) totaled more than 400 million. Almost three-fourths of these were leisure trips – visits to friends and family, vacations, special events and weekend getaways. These persons tend to be affluent and well educated.
Visitors to Texas generate billions of dollars in direct and indirect spending and support almost 526,000 jobs in the industry across the state (not including all of the spinoff or multiplier effects of this substantial economic stimulus). Total spending by business and leisure travelers topped $44 billion last year. Each non-resident overnight leisure visitor spent about $115 per day, with the average party spending some $1,217 per trip. Top spending categories include dining, shopping, entertainment, and sightseeing.
Non-resident overnight leisure visitors are active in Texas and tend to visit historic sites, museums and art exhibits, theme parks, festivals and craft fairs and boat/car/auto shows. In many cases, the primary purpose of the trip may be to visit friends or relatives, and visits to various points of interest are added benefits.
While Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington was the most visited metropolitan statistical area in 2009, the Alamo in San Antonio was the top attraction visited by destination travelers (35.1 percent), followed by Galveston Island (17.1 percent). More specifically, Galveston Island was the top ranked destination for Texas residents, and the Alamo was highest on the list for non-resident visitors.
While 37 percent of resident travelers and 46 percent of non-resident travelers planned to visit their destination attraction more than two weeks prior to the trip, a significant number decided to visit an attraction while on their trip (13 percent and 28 percent, respectively). Friends’ and families’ recommendations were the main source used to determine a traveler’s most recent trip in 2009 (42 percent of residents and 39 percent of non-residents), and Internet search sites was the second most popular source (24 percent and 23 percent, respectively). The State’s traveltex.com website was also used by a significant number.
Total direct travel spending in 2009 was estimated to be $51.8 billion, down somewhat due primarily to national economic conditions and less expensive accommodations and fuel. As the recovery gains momentum, it is likely that more travelers will visit and spend more money.
Attracting visitors is good for the state economy, generating billions in spending, income, and tax receipts. Encouraging Texans to travel within the Lone Star State and to visit some of its wonderful attractions is also good for business. Supporting Texas tourism and travel is basic to optimizing future prosperity.
Dr. M. Ray Perryman is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Perryman Group (www.perryman group.com).