While all of the cameras and reporters are focused on the convention floor in Charlotte this week, there is a different story going on behind the scenes that hardly anyone has noticed. Beyond the political speeches, the patriotic bunting and all of those wonderful balloons, thousands of hotel, restaurant and convention employees are working hard behind the scenes to ensure the success of this event.
The dedicated workers in these fields form a large part of what is the travel and tourism industry here in America. Alongside travel guides, recreational workers, local shop owners and countless other jobs, millions of employees rely directly on tourism for their paycheck.
Travel also indirectly supports even more jobs. For instance, we see this indirect impact when a hotel or restaurant pays a third-party vendor for their goods or services. These dollars continue to flow down the supply chain, helping to boost the economy along their way. Money spent by a traveler ripples through a local economy, supporting other jobs such as farmers who grow food or utility workers who help provide energy for production.
As the co-chair of the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus, I understand the vital role this industry plays in our nation's economic recovery. Travel injects $1.9 trillion into the national economy and supports 14.4 million jobs here in the United States.
That is 14.4 million and counting because those numbers are not just growing but are growing at a faster pace than almost every other employment sector. The travel industry is expanding at a rate of 29% per year, faster than the economy as a whole.
Travel and tourism's ability to outpace the rest of the recovery is due, in large part, to the influx of foreign visitors in recent years. Two years ago, I helped pass the Travel Promotion Act to create Brand USA, the first national destination marketing organization for the United States.
Brand USA's goal is simple: bring more visitors to the United States. The goal is simple but the challenge is huge. Working in conjunction with the Department of Commerce, Brand USA is developing strategies to bring millions more foreign visitors here to the United States.
Thanks to their efforts, we have already seen an influx of foreign travelers -- not just in the typical hot spots like New York City or Las Vegas but throughout the entire country. As part of its Discover America campaign, Brand USA ran advertisements in Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, China, Brazil and South Korea, effectively promoting travel destinations all across the great country. The proof is in the results: Travel now ranks as the number six industry in total U.S. employment and is in the top ten for 48 of 50 states.
Seeing the potential for job growth, President Obama announced last January a national tourism strategy focused on job creation. Standing in front of Disney World's Cinderella Castle, he called tourism "the number one service we export."
We have already begun to see the success of the President's announcement. In the first six months of this year, international visitors spent an estimated $82.2 billion on U.S. travel and tourism-related goods and services, an 11 percent increase over the same period last year. Each one of those foreign dollars helps build up our economy and create new jobs that can never be outsourced overseas.
We are just now beginning to realize the benefits of Brand USA and the President's national tourism strategy. In the coming months, Brand USA will continue to invest in drawing more foreign visitors to the United States by marketing ourselves to the world. In doing so, the future not only looks bright for the travel industry but for the national economy as well.
This post is part of the HuffPost Shadow Conventions 2012, a series spotlighting three issues that are not being discussed at the national GOP and Democratic conventions: The Drug War, Poverty in America and Money in Politics. Check out the Shadow Conventions big news page here, and join the conversation at HuffPost Live.