Can you afford to pay $988 more in taxes each year? Whether you answer yes or no, there are probably other things you could be doing with that money. This amount is exactly the premium that every U.S. household would be forced to pay without the $115 billion in tax revenue that the travel and tourism industry generates nationally.
Recently, travel has been in trouble, and that's bad news for our county, our region, our economy and our workers. The weak economy has led some individuals and families to curtail or eliminate their vacation plans. To make matters worse, the actions of a few high-profile companies who received government bailout funds have created a toxic environment where mischaracterizations of travel for meetings and events is leading every company in America to think twice about sending its employees on business travel.
The unintended consequences of less travel and tourism are devastating for our economy. Mass cancellations of legitimate business travel, and of meetings and events around the country, have already cost thousands of hotel and hospitality industry employees their jobs, while many more remain concerned about their futures.
According to the Travel Industry Association of America, between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, meeting and event cancellations from just 20 percent of the lodging industry exceeded $220 million nationally, which has resulted in cut hours and lost jobs.
Travel and tourism plays a critical role in the nation's economy as one of America's largest industries. In fact, $740 billion was spent by domestic and international travelers in 2007. Travel is among one of the top 10 industries in 49 states in terms of employment, and one of every eight U.S. jobs is created directly or indirectly by travel and tourism. It is the second largest industry in the state of Georgia (behind agriculture).
It's not surprising to anyone that in tough economic times, business and leisure travel suffers. We've been through bad times before, but the downturn we are experiencing today is much different. The heated words of an influential few in Washington, D.C., have made an already difficult situation much worse, and it might cause both business and leisure travelers to hold off booking trips for a while, which is something this country - and the local workers and communities that rely on travel and tourism - just can't afford.
Here in Columbia County, the travel industry employs 1,140 individuals and contributes $106,890,000 to the local economy. We rely heavily on travelers to keep our community strong. May 9-17 is National Tourism Week, and Columbia County and other communities throughout the nation will be showcasing the industry's workforce, the importance of travel to our economy, and how much there is to see and do right here in Georgia. We hope when your family comes in town for graduation, you won't buy into the myth that there's "nothing to do here." Nothing could be further from the truth!
Columbia County's Rally Day will be celebrated by having local elected officials and community leaders who have volunteered to greet folks at the Visitor Information Center on Interstate 20 on Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The bottom line is that travel matters to the national economy and to us. Should you decide to plan that Memorial Day getaway to see friends and family, know that your hard-earned money is going to support a critical industry, keeping hardworking Americans employed and helping sustain the nation's economy.
Pat Goodwin chairs the Columbia County Convention and Visitors Bureau board of directors.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.