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Your City Your Business: You work for the tourism industry

"Welcome to Buddy's Burgers, Mr. and Mrs. Out-of-Town-Visitor. Would you like fries with that?" If that's all you think of when you visualize tourism jobs, you're not alone. But you might consider a more broad examination. In fact, you may need t...

"Welcome to Buddy's Burgers, Mr. and Mrs. Out-of-Town-Visitor. Would you like fries with that?"
If that's all you think of when you visualize tourism jobs, you're not alone. But you might consider a more broad examination. In fact, you may need to take a closer look at your own resume. Yes, you. Because if you work and/or live in the Twin Ports, your job (and the rest of your day-to-day activities) are surely impacted by this growing economic engine.
"I don't work for tourism," you're thinking. But when you stop to realize tourism jobs aren't just waiting tables in Canal Park, you'll see how many contractors, bankers, printers, suppliers, manufacturers, health care workers, sales people, government employees, accountants, attorneys and even teachers and others are readily dependent on the success or, God forbid, failure of Duluth tourism.
Because modern tourism is still a relatively new gig compared to ancestral industry, a lot of the antiquated economic measurement techniques simply don't tell the whole story. Not that anyone's to blame, but even on the national level, Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes don't begin to accurately reflect tourism's impact. The mere complexity of the hospitality industry forces people to exercise something many are not often accustomed to: thinking outside of the box.
Decentralized data collection and non-standardized terminology have made it challenging to clearly define tourism's contribution to the economy. This lace of coherence continues to cloud some of the more important messages of the industry and often leads to incompatible sets of data that do not help policy makers understand tourism.
If someone is determined to gather information suggesting that tourism is only a bunch of bed-making jobs, it's relatively easy to don blinders and soak up the data.
But you know there's more to the story. Even official Department of Economic Security statistics for wages at eating and drinking places, for example, don't recognize a critical compensatory element of waiting tables -- tips. Include tips, and even in this lowest-paid category, the wages begin to soar.
National forecasters predict that travel and tourism industry employment will grow in excess of 30 percent over the next decade compared to a three percent decline in manufacturing employment. National earnings per hour in tourism are equal to the average for all private industry sectors and have made significant inroads on other traditionally slower growth industries such as manufacturing and construction.
The tourism industry has been especially productive as an entry-level point and as a conduit for career advancement into a large number of management level opportunities. In spite of this phenomenal real growth in employee compensation, primarily in the last decade, tourism has continued to be characterized as an industry of low-paid workers with little chance for personal growth and advancement. This perception stems from the 1950s, '60s and '70s when much of the U.S. economy and employment centered around manufacturing and production. Today's service-oriented realities are quite different.
Misconceptions about employment and career opportunities in tourism must be corrected if the industry is to attract workers and continue to make significant contributions to the economy. Continued expansion of tourism will require well-educated and professionally trained personnel to serve increasingly demanding consumers and keep pace with the rapid introduction of technology in the work place.
Last week I was asked why most of the Twin Ports 2001 tourism impact estimates remain constant in lieu of big increases in tourism tax collections?
The answer is simple: research. Those numbers are based on ultra-conservative research estimates.
Estimates like the 3.5 million annual visitors, the $400 million economic boost, the $11.18 average per hour wage and enormous government sales tax receipt impacts were derived from costly, technical and labor intensive studies that by their very nature are not undertaken all that often.
Most of the Twin Ports' economic baseline sources are derived from actual data, some of which necessitated going back as far as 1995. When it comes to estimates, we prefer to err on the conservative side and be able to undeniably back up those claims with solid numbers rather than assumptions according to the success of the past three years.
Much of this information was completed in 1999, and there is little question things are even more impressive today, however. New sets of numbers will be derived in the future, and you can bet they will grow.
In the meantime, we have another more important job to perform, and that's selling our city to the millions of potential guests who haven't visited yet. Leisure travelers, convention delegates, motorcoach groups, cruise ship passengers, business travelers, special event participants, friends and relatives. They all demand different sales techniques and services.
Of course, we're going to do our very best in encouraging them to spend their dollars here. Looks like it's going to be a very busy time for you, me and everyone else that's a part of the industry. Tourism. It's working. Enjoy your summer.
Terry Mattson is the executive director for the Duluth Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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