Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Defining A 'Tourist'

The Gazette is pleased with the contribution of the tourism industry to Iowa's economy. In fact, it's handed it one of its coveted "Homer" awards. Editorial, "Homers: Come See Us," The Gazette, October 30, 2006. The award reads, in its entirety:

"COME SEE US: Tourism in Iowa continues to grow steadily, with almost 30 million people visiting state tourism destinations last year. The $258 million the industry generated for state and local governments in 2005 was up 3.2 percent from the year before, and overall Iowa tourism revenues were up 7 percent. Travel and tourism combined generated $5.4 billion in Iowa in 2005, according to the Iowa Tourism Office."

Here are the questions those numbers raise in my mind:

1. Was that really "30 million people" or an unknown number of people who made 30 million visits? There's a big difference.

How does the Iowa Tourism Office define "tourism" and "tourists"? How many of those people (or those visits) were from out-of-state and how many from Iowa? I have nothing against Iowans getting to know their state's attractions. But it's not what I think of as "tourism" -- in the economic sense that states with beaches or mountains bring tourist dollars into the state that, but for those attractions would not be there. When Iowans spend their discretionary vacation dollars in Iowa it avoids the dollar drain of their spending them out-of-state. But it's not bringing anything into the state that wasn't here already (and wouldn't have been spent here on something else anyway).

3. How does it define "travel" (as in "travel and tourism combined generated $5.4 billion")? Does that include every city bus fare we pay, and every gallon of gas we buy?

I have nothing against the "tourism industry." And when it comes to Iowa's economic development every little bit helps. But, as I've written elsewhere, I think it's a mistake to think that tourism will ever bring to Iowa the dollars that we can better generate by playing to our strengths. See Nicholas Johnson, "Iowa: A Great Place to Live But I Wouldn't Want to Visit There," October 15, 2006.
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John Neff said...

Interesting point because 30 million visitors per year is an average of 82,200 per day. If we suppose that there are 200 locations in Iowa that torists could visit this corresponds to an average of 410 visitors per day per location. That may not be that far off if we
count everyone. If Kinnick Stadium were filled six times a year the daily average would be about 820 per day but as you have noted few of them are tourists.

Nick said...

John: Thanks, John. Good points. -- Nick

Anonymous said...

I'd be willing to bet that everyone who walks into a casino is considered a tourist whether they come from out of state or across the street.

Anonymous said...

I'm having a difficult time believing that Iowa drew in 30 million visitors. Especially since Minnesota just released their figures, and they're claiming 41 million there. (http://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/stories/2006/12/18/daily1.html?from_rss=1)

Of course, it may be in the definition of "tourist" or "traveler". In Iowa, the definition is "someone who goes 50 miles or more from their home for leisure or for business". (http://www.radioiowa.com/gestalt/go.cfm?objectid=84C5DF98-C275-47A1-8CAB8C0FA08018D8)

In that case, I know people who are travelers/tourists just commuting to work each day.