This month, more than a million visitors from across the country and around the world are coming to our nation’s capital to see the cherry blossom trees that bloom each spring among some of America’s most treasured historical landmarks. From the purchase of airline tickets to dining in area restaurants to staying in hotels, these visitors are infusing millions of dollars into the community and supporting local businesses.
As we search for ways to grow our nation’s economy, we must not overlook the travel and tourism industry as a source for economic opportunity. According to data released by the Commerce Department earlier today, tourism spending increased 8.1 percent in 2011 and supported an additional 103,000 jobs, for a total of 7.6 million jobs.
A big factor in the increase was a surge in international visitors to our country: in 2011, 2.5 million more international visitors came to the United States compared with the previous year. These international visitors spent an all-time record of $153 billion on U.S. travel and tourism-related goods and services.
As this data reveals, the travel and tourism industry is one of the most important engines of our economy—in fact, it is our number-one service export. That is why President Obama recently announced the creation of a Task Force on Travel and Competitiveness, which charged us with leading efforts to develop recommendations for a National Travel and Tourism Strategy to promote travel throughout the United States.
We know that making it even easier to visit America’s most amazing places and working hard to tell folks about what an amazing place America is – whether you travel five or 5,000 miles to get here–will help grow our businesses and create jobs.
America is the land of extraordinary natural wonders and incredible landmarks–from the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Empire State Building. We have it all right here and have a lot to offer our nation’s visitors.
With over 397 national park units, 556 national wildlife refuges, and 886 units of the national landscape conservation system, a particular focus on strategies for increasing tourism and jobs is by promoting visits to our national treasures. From hunting, fishing, hiking, and learning about our nation’s incredible history and cultural heritage, public lands and water provide plenty of recreational opportunities that can attract travelers from around the country and the globe.
To that end, we will keep up work to promote these opportunities through trips  highlighting tourist destinations and international trade missions . In fact, our department’s will host the third meeting with the full interagency Task Force this afternoon to discuss the progress made toward developing a National Strategy to boost travel to and within the United States in the coming months.
We will not let up on efforts to identify new ways to raise the profile of our country’s most iconic destinations and make America more welcoming to visitors from all over the world.
Expanding the travel and tourism industry is just one more way that this administration is supporting an economy built to last.