Put Charlotte and North Carolina on your 'must see' list

Traveling strengthens bonds with family and friends and builds memories. It also generates a serious kick to America’s economic engine.

So says Roger Dow, one of the nation’s top tourism advocates and keynote speaker at last week’s North Carolina Governor’s Conference on Tourism, held at the Embassy Suites in Concord.

Dow heads the U.S. Travel Association, an industry trade group which represents airlines, hotels, destination attractions and other entities. The association’s goal is to increase travel to and within the country.

Tourism and travel pumped $1.8 trillion into the country’s economy in 2010, Dow said. Travel supported 14 million jobs – including 6.7 million jobs in industries other than travel.

“Peopledon’t realize that it’s serious business. One in nine Americans gets their job from travel,” Dow said. “This is the industry that employs America.”

As robust as those statistics may seem, Dow’s group hopes to push those numbers even higher. A big marketing push is under way for BrandUSA, a public-private partnership established by Congress through the Travel Promotion Act of 2009. The promotional effort is designed to promote the country as a destination for international travelers.

What does this mean for North Carolina? Dow spoke about why making travel easier will benefit everyone, what makes North Carolina stand out and why traveling can help keep you healthy. His comments have been edited for clarity and brevity:

On how North Carolina – and the rest of the country – can become more of an international travel destination:

The challenge we’ve had in the United States is the rest of the world has been promoting tourism. Fifteen years ago, we had 10 percent of global travelers. We now have 6 percent. All these other countries are promoting: Come to South Africa. Come to Asia. Come to the Caribbean. Come to Mexico. All you’ve got to do is turn the faucets a little bit and make it easier for people to get a visa to come here, to make it easier to get through an airport.

On the cost impact of travel restrictions, such as security:

We asked people, because of the hassles of traveling, door to door, curb to curb, have you canceled a trip? Our research in 2010 shows that 41 million trips were canceled because people said it’s just too much hassle. Because of delays, because of the unpredictability of the Transportation Security Administration, trips weren’t taken. So we asked people, if you knew you could get through with TSA in 15 minutes or less, would you take more trips? People said I’d take two to three more trips. That’s $85 billion.

On why people should budget for travel instead of taking staycations at home, despite tough economic times:

What ends up happening, if you don’t get away, it hurts your health. We’re going to be pushing a lot in the industry about what travel does for health. Travel builds memories. And also from an educational standpoint, when kids travel, they’re curious and they learn.

On how Charlotte’s and North Carolina’s image will fare in September, when the Democratic National Convention comes to the city:

I think it’s going to fare very well. When you look at the vibrancy of Charlotte, to the beaches or attractiveness of the mountain areas, the golf communities, it’s unique. And what a showcase. Having the DNC here is like 10 years of marketing all rolled into five days.

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