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Hospitality is defined as friendly, welcoming and generous treatment offered to guests or strangers. That treatment is one of the hallmarks mentioned time and time again by visitors to Lafayette. It’s no wonder that the hospitality industry is such a vital part of Lafayette’s economy. The industry encompasses more than just hotels and restaurants. On a broader level it includes everything from transportation to retail to arts and entertainment and recreations facilities. As a whole these pieces make up one of Louisiana’s largest economic drivers — the travel and tourism industry.
The economic impact of domestic travel — defined as U.S. residents traveling to places more than 50 miles from their homes or to places where they pay for overnight accommodations — has grown steadily in Lafayette Parish since 1997. Our hotels, restaurants, roadways, and airport are consistently filled with business travelers, echoing the vitality of Lafayette’s overall economy. An expected dip in 2005 due to the hurricanes and subsequent event cancellations, such as LAGCOE, was only a temporary decline as Lafayette Parish has seen higher numbers in 2006, and even higher numbers are expected for 2007.
On a statewide level, travel expenditures in 2006 continued to be hindered by hurricane affected areas and had not recovered from the 2005 downturn. However, in Lafayette Parish expenditures rebounded 27 percent to $337.5 million. That’s just 1 percent over the 2004 total — the smallest year to year increase since 2000-2001, when 9/11 affected travel across the country. Excluding 2001, 2005, and 2006, Lafayette Parish has averaged a 5.5 percent annual increase in travel expenditures with the largest annual increase, 8.5 percent, between 1998 and 1999. Total travel expenditures includes spending by travelers on goods and services during their trips, such as lodging, transportation, meals, entertainment, retail shopping. Some travel expenditures are assumed to occur at the traveler’s origin, some at his/her destination and some en route. Once again, Lafayette proves that the precedent set by other areas of the state is not necessarily what’s happening here. That is, Lafayette has seen an overall increase in activity — both business and leisure — as a result of the 2005 hurricane season. In an attempt to smooth the data, all direct hurricane- impacted expenditures have been removed to better trace traditional travel over the last few years. As you can see in the first chart, Lafayette may have lost some revenues immediately after the hurricanes, but its reputation as a safe, culturally-rich destination allowed travelers to return as soon as the following year.
Travel-Generated Employment and Payroll
In the last 10 years, travel-generated employment — jobs generated or supported by traveler spending — has remained fairly steady with 2006 having the highest employment, 3,090, in the past decade. Travel-generated payroll is the wage and salary income paid to employees directly serving travelers. One dollar of travel spending generates different amounts of payroll income within the various travel industry sectors depending on the labor content and the wage structure of each sector. Hotel and food service managers, for example, have a higher wage and higher impact on total payroll than entry-level sales men and woman. In 2006, every $74,178 spent by domestic travelers in Louisiana directly supported one job. In Lafayette Parish, domestic travel has generated more than $40 million per year in payroll since 1997. In more recent years, that number has hovered around $55 million. So, although domestic travel doesn’t bring in a huge amount of jobs, the total payroll figures prove that overall revenues in the industry are growing year by year.
In contrast to travel-generated employment, industry employment represents those employed in all accommodation and food service subcategories — hotels, bed & breakfasts, restaurants, bars. Lafayette is a service-oriented community with growing affluence (Lafayette Parish ranks second in the state for per capita income). Not only do business and leisure travelers drive the hospitality industry in Lafayette, but Acadiana residents with discretionary income also give a boost to the industry by utilizing the same services and facilities as travelers. Lafayette Parish’s industry employment reflects its position as the Hub City. Since 2001, when the Department of Labor began to break out accommodation and food service as a subcategory, employment has steadily grown 39 percent, or just more than 4,000 jobs. This growth reflects not only increased workforce needs in existing establishments but also new workforce created by new establishments. Employing almost 15,000 in the metro area, the travel and hospitality industry is definitely making a huge impact on our economy, not to mention the added boost from all the hotel construction that’s been going on for the past several years. With continued success in the health care and oil and gas industries, business travel is higher than ever. And as Lafayette positions itself as a major player in the leisure arena, this will bring even more tourists and visitors to Acadiana, strengthening the base that’s driven by the business traveler and cementing its diversification into yet another fruitful direction.