The U.S. tourism industry (search) grew 6.7 percent in 2004 led by sales of food, airline travel, recreation and entertainment goods, the government said Monday.

The Commerce Department (search) said tourism sales in 2004 rose to $960.7 billion from $900.0 billion in 2003. It marked the third straight annual increase in sales of travel-related good and services.

Hotel accommodations, airfares and souvenirs, or direct tourism sales, accounted for $548.6 billion of the total. Indirect tourism-related sales, which include toiletries for hotel guests, airline meals and the materials used to make souvenirs, provided $412.1 billion of the total.

Food and drink sales rose 9.7 percent in 2004 to $100.4 billion while passenger airline spending surged 6.9 percent to $92.4 billion. Sales at retailers and recreation/entertainment rose 6.3 percent.

In the fourth quarter of 2004, direct-tourism sales rose 6.5 percent to $558.3 billion even though passenger air travel and recreation and entertainment posted small declines.

The travel industry, which has recorded nine straight quarters of growth, has handily exceeded the significant pullback in consumer travel spending after the Sept. 11, 2001 (search), attacks in the United States.

Employment in the tourism industry grew 0.8 percent to 5.445 million in third quarter of 2004, the latest period which figures are available. Direct tourism-related employment grew 11,100, with most of the increase in the food services and drinking industry.

The Commerce report is available on the BEA's Web site: http://www.bea.gov

Data for the first quarter of 2005 will be released on June 9.