March 14, 2016

Tourism IS Economic Development

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Written by: Nydia O Tapia - Gonzales

Today, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the business volume of tourism equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, ‎food products or automobiles. Tourism has become one of the major players in ‎international commerce, and represents at the same time one of the main income ‎sources for many developing countries. This growth goes hand in hand with an ‎increasing diversification and competition among destinations.‎ This global spread of tourism in industrialized and developed states has produced ‎economic and employment benefits in many related sectors – from construction to ‎agriculture and telecommunications.

The Office of the Governor on Economic Development and Tourism reports that in Texas, preliminary estimates show that direct travel spending reached $70.5 billion in 2014, an increase of 4.5% over the previous year, and the fifth consecutive year of growth. More than half of direct travel spending at Texas destinations comes from out-of-state domestic and international markets. Travel spending in Texas directly supported 630,000 jobs, and an additional 474,000 jobs indirectly across many industry sectors. Some examples include leisure and hospitality, transportation, retail trade, services, finance, real estate, construction, insurance, and others.

“Tourism is a mighty economic force in the Rio Grande Valley,” said McAllen Convention & Visitors Bureau Director Nancy Millar adding that no one disputes the fact that Mexican nationals, Winter Texans, nature tourists, convention attendees, sports events attendees, and others come into the region by the millions, use our transportation, stay at our hotels, eat in our restaurants, shop, and therefore enormously benefit the economy of the Valley. “Furthermore,” continued Millar, “the value of visitors goes much deeper. Indirect economic impact is also important, for ancillary businesses benefit from tourism as well. Farmers who sell produce to restaurants, lawn care and advertising companies. Hotels need linen supply companies, office equipment, and printing services. Retail stores need accountants, décor and cleaning services and so on. Because of tourism, every single household benefits to the tune of $900 annually, which is the average amount of property tax increases Texans would have to pay in order to continue enjoying basic city services,” Millar said.

In the mid Valley, hoteliers like Spencer Bell owner of Weslaco’s Holiday Inn Express & Suites, have witnessed nature tourism grow as more people from outside of South Texas, and even outside of the state, learn about the natural assets of our area. “In Weslaco, we have three superb parks that include the Estero Llano Grande State Park and World Birding Center, the Valley Nature Center and Frontera Audubon. It is not uncommon to see international travelers in the Rio Grande Valley as a result of nature tourism,” stated Spencer.

Spencer reported for this article that traveler numbers to the mid Valley for retail shopping purposes exploded since the opening of the Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlet Mall. Visitors from Mexico and various parts of Texas discovered Weslaco while enjoying shopping trips according to Spencer. However, he added, the Outlet Mall is not the only attraction as Rio of Mercedes, Boots and Jeans, and the Weslaco retail corridor that includes Academy, Wal Mart, and Office Depot, to name just a few, has grown along Interstate 2 over the past 10 years.

“Although Mexico travel is not like in the heyday before 2007-08, many people still visit our area and include a trip to Mexico in their plans. Medical tourism plays a large role as the cost of dental work in Mexico remains much more affordable than services performed on the US side. No opinion on tourism in the Rio Grande Valley would be complete without the inclusion of Winter Texans. As a hotel property owner, I can say that we see some long-term rentals from Winter Texans, but most of them opt to stay in RV parks that cater to the Winter Texans,” concluded Spencer.

The Brownsville – Harlingen Metropolitan area has experienced a steady growth in direct travel visitor spending totaling 823.7 million in 2013; a 6.9 % increase from 2011. Dean Runyan’s travel impact data reports that the same area supported 8,113 of total direct tourism employment in 2013 and generated 17.8 million in local tax receipts from visitor expenditures; an increase of 13.4% since 2011.  Cameron County is home to South Padre Island; a top USA beach resort destination and a community that heavily relies on the tourism industry. The Texas comptroller website shows that during the third quarter – high season – of 2014, the Island collected $40,366,333.26 in hotel taxable receipts, and $12,855, 058.26 taxable receipts in the first quarter of 2015. From these totals, the Island hotel occupancy tax is 14.5% of which 6% goes to the state for tourism promotion, 8% stays in the city, and .5% is used for beach nourishment.

Tourism professionals and stakeholders in the Rio Grande Valley agree with the UNWTO on the impact tourism has on the economy, on the natural and built environment, on the local population and on the tourists themselves. Because of these multiple impacts, the variety of production factors required to produce goods and services acquired by visitors, and the numerous stakeholders affected by tourism, there is a need for a comprehensive approach to tourism development, management and monitoring.

In Texas there is a law that governs the use of the hotel occupancy taxes collected by communities. “Retail sales taxes usually go into a city’s general fund,” said Nancy Millar, “but hotel occupancy tax is, by Texas law, only allowed to be used for specific purposes. Its primary and arguably most important use is for the marketing and promotion of the destination itself. The competition is always advertising and promoting, and the Valley needs to keep up to continue receiving its share of the huge tourism market. The stronger the advertising and marketing campaigns, the more potential visitors it will reach, and the more potent the impact. Tourism touches us all. It can also help put a shine on a community’s image, increase residents’ quality of life, and prop up local pride of place. Tourism is valuable. Tourism is money,” concluded Millar.

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About the Author

Nydia O Tapia - Gonzales
A bird does not sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.-Maya Angelou. La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" life in the Rio Grande Valley. From this bi-cultural corner on the tip of Texas, I share my poems and spiritual and travel experiences. I also blog about the arts,nature and my passion for historic preservation and architecture. But most important, let's talk about "la vida" - living our lives - in a vacation state of mind. Contributions and comments are always welcome .


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