Zackariya: Travel Is Key to Growth

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By The United States of America – which has the world's biggest economy with a GDP of about $15 trillion - is now showing tentative signs of a turnaround. This is reflected in the growth of the labor market with stabilizing house prices and increasing consumer confidence. Hopefully, the green shoots of recovery are finally sprouting.

Not surprisingly, overseas investment bodies are moving back after retreating during the financial crisis. A large proportion of U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) comes from European countries - which can partially be attributed to the flight of capital from the debt ridden, shaky economies of Europe. Despite competition from rising emerging economies such as China, there is a strong belief among investors that the worsening Eurozone crisis could make the U.S. a safe haven, thus adding further fuel to U.S. recovery.

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One of the sectors showing remarkable growth in the U.S. is the tourism industry. My company, ChangeGroup, is a provider of financial services to the international traveler and is thus strongly linked to the growth of the travel and tourism industry. During recent years, we have supported a big success factor in the U.S. economy: International inward tourism. We have opened a range of new ultra-prime, currency exchange shops in Manhattan, committing several million dollars and recruiting many new employees. Most importantly, our branches allow international tourists and visitors to change their holiday money, worth tens of millions U.S. dollars, into currency to be spent in local stores.

Our U.K based travel money online service has seen a dramatic surge in the demand to exchange pounds to dollars. In order to cater to the increased number of tourists, the hotel industry is rapidly expanding with 50 new hotels set to open in New York City alone by 2013. The Australian mall operator, Westfield, has signed a $ 1.25 billion deal to lease retail space at the new World Trade Center in 2015. The U.S. government has also taken many initiatives to promote tourism, creating "Brand USA" – a public-private partnership - to market the U.S. as a leading global tourist destination.

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Brand USA reports travel to the U.S. from emerging economies, such as Brazil, China and India, is up 110% during the 10-year period leading up to 2010, resulting in nearly $15 billion in export revenue. Initiatives proposed by the U.S. government to relax visa rules and streamline the process for tourists would further positively impact this growth.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, the United States travel and tourism industry was one of the largest employers in 2011, supporting 14.4 million jobs and generating $194.6 billion in payroll. Job growth in the travel industry was 84% faster than in the rest of the economy between March 2010 and July 2011. One out of every eight jobs depends on this sector. And it has been estimated that each U.S. household would need to pay $1,055 more in taxes without the tax revenue generated by tourism and travel.

If fully exploited, the travel sector could efficiently power the economic recovery of the United States and further strengthen its position as a global economic powerhouse.

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Sacha Zackariya is CEO of the travel money and international payments company ChangeGroup.

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