By Philip Lovas

Travel Matters. That’s the theme for this year’s National Travel and Tourism Week that kicked off May 5.

The travel industry has never played a bigger role in the global economy than it does today. Last year, global visitor arrivals set a new record with 1.4 billion international travelers. The U.S. was ranked again as first in the world, with international visitors spending more than $255 billion throughout our country.

Whether for business, leisure, medical or education purposes, international tourism supports 1.2 million American jobs. Travel and tourism makes up 31% of all services exports and 10% of all exports and creates a significant trade surplus annually.

That’s a lot of business. A lot of money. A lot of jobs. And they all matter.

As we celebrate this week, we also note the profound change in how travelers spend their money. Just a few years ago, international visitors bought tangible goods to take home and share with family and friends. Today, that money is spent on experiences—often as they happen—via one of the many social media avenues available.

International visitors to the U.S. are already familiar with many of our great offerings:  from the large urban centers and well-known attractions to our world-famous national park system, we offer a greater diversity of experiences than any other nation on the planet. You could visit the United States a thousand times and never have the same experience twice.

Those experiences go beyond our well-known locations and renowned attractions. As the administration looks to rebalance our trade deficit and focus on spreading the benefit of a strong economy throughout the United States, manufacturing plays a critical role. Just as growing our manufacturing base is critical to our long-term economic health and the defense of our country, it also plays a role in our travel and tourism industry.

In 1962, the Commerce Department’s United States Travel Service (now the National Travel and Tourism Office) compiled a list of hundreds of plant tours across the United States. From cars to sporting goods, agriculture to greeting cards, the doors were open to visitors. Not only were our largest manufacturers providing the public opportunities to visit, but so were small businesses which, then, as now, helped form the backbone of the American economy.

Today in the United States, there are still hundreds of factory tours available where both domestic and international travelers can see their favorite American products being made. Showcasing the breadth and depth of American manufacturing, they demonstrate why “Made in America” is not just a slogan but a way of life and point of pride to all Americans. This experiential economy promotes our manufacturing base and provides a window to potential overseas investors as well as driving traffic to locations beyond the gateway markets. It also allows small towns and rural areas to capitalize on the benefits of welcoming visitors from near and far.

This May we also recognize World Trade Month. With the help of the state and territory tourism offices of the United States, the Commerce Department’s Global Markets Travel and Tourism Team and the National Travel and Tourism Office worked together to develop an updated list of state and territory websites with tours available across the nation.

Help us recognize and celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week and World Trade Month. Encourage your clients to visit the United States to see where kazoos, golf clubs, canoes, whiskey, baseball bats, dolls, honey, cookies, maple syrup, chocolates, furniture and a harvest of other things are “Made in America.”