U.S. Tourism Industry Sees Record First Quarter

Sales from U.S. tourism industries to consumers and businesses set a record in the first quarter, surpassing a peak hit in the final quarter of 2000 as the recovery in the battered industry gained pace, a government report showed Thursday.

First-quarter tourism industries' sales jumped an annualized 11.6 percent to a record $757.7 billion. Sales rose 0.4 percent in the prior quarter to a revised $737.2 billion, the Commerce Department's (searchBureau of Economic Analysis (search) said.

Sales in the period were up sharply from $704.3 billion in the same quarter a year earlier.

"This recovery in tourism sh in other tourism industries such as eating and drinking places, amusement and recreation services, and motion pictures and other entertainment," Commerce said.

In the first quarter, direct airline ticket sales rose 18.6 percent after an 8.6 percent fall in the fourth quarter. Hotel and lodging sales rose 10.9 percent after a 5.3 percent drop in the prior quarter.

Commerce said air transportation and hotels and lodging together accounted for 52 percent of total tourism sales in the first quarter, compared with 59 percent during the fourth quarter of 2000.

With gasoline prices surging, sales in that sector surged 46.5 percent in the first quarter after a 5.4 percent gain in the final quarter of 2003.

Sales at eating and drinking establishments rose 14.2 percent, while amusement and recreation climbed 18.2 percent. Professional sports clubs sales rose 19.2 percent.

But rail ticket sales slid 14.9 percent and auto rentals declined 9.6 percent in the first quarter, the data showed. Bus ticket sales were down 0.9 percent.

The Commerce Department data -- which dates back to 2000 -- include direct sales between tourist industries and travelers of airline tickets, hotel rooms and other services. They also include indirect sales between suppliers and the industry, such as fuel to airlines and food to restaurants.

Tourism sales levels have risen every quarter since the third quarter of 2002 as the broad economy clawed its way back from the 2001 recession.

The Commerce Department last month revised first-quarter U.S. gross domestic product (search) growth to a solid 4.4 percent clip from a previously reported 4.2 percent annualized gain.

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