Data released Friday by the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) demonstrate anew that the travel industry is playing a pivotal role in leading the United States economic recovery.
The BEA's first-ever estimates of GDP growth by industry show that travel posted the No. 2 growth rate of all U.S. industries in 2013, trailing only the agricultural sector.
In the fourth quarter, overall real GDP growth slowed to an annual pace of 2.6 percent—off from a 4.1-percent pace set in the third quarter. Eleven of the 14 major industrial private sectors profiled in the BEA report slowed from the third quarter to the fourth.
Travel growth, meanwhile, actually accelerated to a 4.2-percent rate in the fourth quarter, up from 3.1 percent in the third. Travel dramatically outpaced the rest of the economy for the year, growing more than three percent compared to 1.9 percent for all sectors.
The BEA report only adds to the evidence that travel is setting a blistering recovery pace. Department of Labor statistics show that the travel sector has recovered 138 percent of the jobs it lost in the recession, versus only 92 percent for the U.S. economy overall. Inbound international travel—counted as an export—grew at a rate of 9.1 percent in 2013—more than four times faster than other goods and services—and remains the United States' third-largest export.
"If U.S. political leaders want to enact policies that facilitate GDP and jobs growth—and they certainly need to be doing that, based on the indications of still-sluggish recovery—then they should be looking to the travel and tourism sector," said David Huether, senior vice president for research and economics at the U.S. Travel Association. "The BEA report just adds to the case that travel is the poster child for post-recession success. It benefits virtually every region of the country, its jobs are of outstanding quality, and it has achieved what it has with little or no assistance from the government.
"The best part is that there are common-sense actions Washington can take to boost travel even more, such as passing the JOLT Act and renewing the Brand USA program. Both already have strong bipartisan support in Congress. Bolstering travel should be one of the easier decisions a politician can make."
The U.S. Travel Association is the national, non-profit organization representing all components of the travel industry that generates $2.1 trillion in economic output and supports 14.9 million jobs. U.S. Travel's mission is to increase travel to and within the United States.