DES MOINES – Travelers spent about $7.2 billion in Iowa in 2011, a 10.3 percent yearly increase for an industry that supports 63,400 jobs statewide, according to a new report issued Monday by state officials.
Officials in the state Economic Development Authority’s Iowa tourism office said travelers increased their spending on auto transportation, lodging, food service and general retail activity in 2011.
“We’re delighted,” said Jessica O’Riley of the tourism bureau. “We were anticipating a little bit of an increase; 10.3 percent maybe was a little bit surprising to us. It’s outpacing the national average, so we’re encouraged by that.”
The data, prepared by the U.S. Travel Association in Washington D.C., estimated that people traveling in and to Iowa generated an estimated $372.6 million in federal tax revenue, $328.8 in state tax revenue, and $101.4 million in local tax revenue. Travel-related employment increased 2.2 percent last year from 2010, and the industry supported 63,400 jobs in Iowa representing $1.1 billion in total payroll.
“When people think of travel, they naturally think of mountains and beaches,” DEA Director Debi Durham said in a statement. “But tourism is big business in Iowa, too.”
The millions of people who come each year to attend a family reunion, enjoy a long weekend, or participate in a conference or sporting event spend money and grow Iowa’s economy, she added. Generally, a traveler is defined as anyone who goes more than 50 miles one way from his or her home or who spends the night away from home.
“Travelers are the perfect taxpayers,” Durham said. “They come to our communities for a short time and leave billions of dollars behind. Traveler spending pays for public services like schools and government programs, yet out-of-state travelers don’t utilize these services. Travelers pay taxes so we don’t have to.”
Iowa’s five highest tourism expenditure counties were Polk, Linn, Scott, Johnson and Black Hawk counties, according the report, “The Economic Impact of Travel on Iowa Counties,” which is available online at traveliowa.com/downloads/countyimpact11.pdf and includes state- and county-specific data.
O’Riley said Iowa enjoys the advantage of being within a half-day’s travel time from major U.S. urban centers. Travelers appear to be following the recent trends of taking shorter, more frequent, extended-weekend trips three or four times a year rather than one long, seven-to-10 day road trip to a major destination and are undeterred by higher gas prices.
“We still see that people think that vacation are a birthright, they’ve earned them, they deserve them and they will make it work to make the sacrifices necessary to get away even if it’s just for a few days,” O’Riley said.