At a time of economic doom and gloom, it's easy to forget that tourism still keeps many states afloat - to the tune of billions of dollars. As of 2009, tourism brought $704 billion to the United States, employing an estimated 17.4 million people. So which states rake in the biggest bucks from its visitors? Here's the top ten.
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The Golden State is the tourism powerhouse of America, generating $87.7 billion annually in 2009, and accounting for 851,000 jobs. With its national parks, tourist attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge and various theme parks, plus expansive beaches and wine country, California has a variety of tourist hotspots throughout the state. What's interesting to note is that Californians are their own largest pool of tourists - roughly 80% of visits are made by Californians themselves. (Despite it's strong tourism industry, all is not well in California. Find out more in Will California Go Bust?)
With its expansive coastline and favorable winter weather, it's not surprising that Florida comes in second on the list of states earning the most tourism dollars, grossing $70.5 billion. Disneyworld and its surrounding theme parks, Key West and Miami are just some of the many tourist attractions luring visitors from around the world. Tourism keeps 757,100 people employed in the Sunshine State.
3. New York
The state of New York makes about $54 billion annually from tourists visiting the state, keeping 423,000 people on the payroll. Visitors to New York City account for about half of this income, not surprisingly with the many iconic tourist attractions like the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty that New York City has to offer. Tourism makes up 4.9% of jobs in The Big Apple. (Find out where New York ranks as far as careers go in Top 10 Cities For A Career In Finance.)
When you think of Nevada, you may first think of Las Vegas. The state has many other attractions, including Lake Tahoe, that help bring its total tourism income to $54 billion in 2008, a figure which has decreased slightly during the recession. Visitors to Nevada keep 489,000 people employed, accounting for a whopping 30% of its employment.
Texas does everything big, including tourism. The state took in roughly $51.8 billion in 2009, keeping 525,700 employed. Since Texas is so expansive, about half of its tourism income is generated by its own residents. Tourism provides employees of the industry with an annual $15.4 billion payroll. (Texas appears on another list. Check out 7 States With No Income Tax.)
6. New Jersey
The Garden State offers plenty to do for tourists. From Atlantic City's excitement to Princeton's culture, tourism brings in $36 billion annually. Visitors to New Jersey support 203,000 jobs directly as of 2009.
Tourism is just peachy in Georgia, accounting for $34.8 billion in revenue and employing 241,500 people. Georgia visitors spend an average of $112 a day to visit state attractions like its many historic sites and popular beaches. Time will tell how the recent oil spill will impact Georgia tourism, but as of now, the state is still one of the top-grossing states when it comes to tourism in the United States.
Tourism is big business in the Land of Lincoln, bringing in nearly $30.7 billion. Illinois gets most of its domestic visitors from within the state and its neighbors Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Missouri. Tourism keeps 303,500 people employed - one in ten jobs in Illinois.
Nearly 140 million people visit Pennsylvania annually, bringing in $21.6 billion dollars. With its rich heritage, outdoor entertainment and festivals and wineries, Pennsylvania keeps 214,800 employed. Like many of the other states listed, visitors mostly come from within the state itself or from neighboring states like New York and New Jersey.
Tourists in Virginia bring in an impressive $19.7 billion, visiting historic sites, theme parks and museums to employ 210,620 people. Tourism income doesn't end there, however, the state estimates that the tax revenue generated by tourism keeps many thousands of teachers and police officers employed every year - which is great news for the state's economy and employment.
The Bottom Line
These numbers are impressive, though it's important to note that most states saw a significant decline in tourism in 2009, costing jobs and tax revenue. States where tourism is a large source of income have started more aggressive advertising campaigns and updated websites to lure visitors and money back to their cities and towns. Since then, many states are showing signs of rebounding tourism - hopefully a sign of good things to come. (Don't have the money to take a trip? Check out 9 Summer Staycations That Feel Like Vacations.)
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