The Economic Value of Beaches: 2002 Update

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The Economic Value of Beaches: 2002 Update
James R. Houston
U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center
Houston (1995a, 1996) described the economic value of America's beaches. He noted
that the travel and tourism industty is becoming increasingly dominant in economies of
devcloped countries. However, few realize that travel and tourism is already America's largest
induslty, employer, and carncr offoreign exchange; and beaches are the largest factor in travel
and tourism. The World Travel and Tourism Council (1998) notes that tourism is a key driver of
21 " cenltllY economic activity and is the largest creator ofjobs, wealth, and invcstment in the
world. Although high-technology industries grab the news, travel and tourism is providing the
economic growth, jobs, and foreign exchange that make the U.S. competitive in a world
economy. This paper updates and supports the conclusions of Houston (1995a, 1996) on the
economic importance of beaches to the national economy.
Travel and Tourism is Largest Industry
Travel and tourism is the world's largest induslty with the broad measure of economic
activity, Travel and Tourism Economy (TTE), contributing $3.5 trillion in 200 I to the world's
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and exceeding the GDP of all countries other than the United
States and Japan (World Travel and Tourism Council, 200Ia). Travel and tourism also is the
world's largest growth induslty with average growth of9% pel' year since 1985 (World Tourism
Organization,2001). Similarly, TTE contributes $1.2 trillion to America's GDP (World Travel
and Tourism Council, 200Ib). This is 11.6% of U.S. output and makcs TTE the largest
contributor to GDP just ahead of retail trade that contributes 8.9% to GDP (World Travel and
Tourism Council, 2001c). TTE also produces $223.9 billion in annual tax revenue for all levels
of govcrnment in the United States (Miller, 200 I).
Travel and tourism is both the world's and America's largcst employer, with TTE
employing 207 million people throughout the world and 16.9 million people, or one out of every
8.1 people, in the United States (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2001a,b). In contrast, all
U.S. manufacturing industrics combined from IBM to General Motors to Intel employ only 18.8
million peoplc (Research and Analysis Bureau, 200 I). In addition, servicc industries such as
travel and tourism are projected to produce almost 95% of all ncw U.S. jobs over the next ten
ycars with TTE employment increasing to 18.6 million and manufacltlring employment declining
to 18.7 million by 2011 (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2001b; Research and Analysis
Bureau, 200 I). The increase in travel and tourism jobs and dccline inmanufacltlring jobs is
largely unrecognized by local and statc govenllncnts that still compete for a shrinking pie by
trying to attract manufachlring. Their efforts oftcn target high-technology industries that are
reducing employment as rapidly as other manufacturing industries. Houston (I 995a) notes that
even Florida, with remarkable competitive advantages in travel and tourism, concentrates on
attracting high-teclmology industries. Part of this benign neglect of travel and tourism may be
due to perceptions that this industry has low-wage jobs. However, U.S. per-capita wages for
travel and tourism jobs average 13% higher than average U.S. per-capita wages (Holecek, 1995).
Switzerland provides a good example of high wages in tourism, since it depends on tourism
more than any developed country yet has one of the world's highest pcr-capita incomes.
Travel and Tourism: Key to International Competitivcncss
Thc U.S. is a major player in the international travel and tourism industry. According to
the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration (1993), "There is probably no counhy in the world
that has a grcater comparative advantage in tourism than the United States." In fact, travel and
tourism is one of a handful of developed-world industries that the U.S. dominates. The U.S. receives
over 45 percent of the developed world's tmvel-and-tourism revenues and 60 percent of its profits
(Wall Street Journal, 1994).
International tourism is the world's largest export earner with foreign currency receipts
from international tourism outstripping exports of petroleum products, motor vehicles,
telecommunications equipment, textiles or any other product or service (World Tourism
Organization, 2001). Travel and tourism contributed 16.5% orU.S. exports worth $196.3
billion in 2001 (World Travel and Tourism Council, 200Ib). This is larger than the combined
expOlt value of U.S. agriculhlral commodities, aircraft, computers, and telecommunications
equipment (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2001). This spending by foreign tourists supports
about 2.7 million American jobs or as many jobs as are in the U.S. computer industry (Bureau of
Labor Statistics, 2001). The U.S. runs massive annual trade deficits of hundreds of billions of
dollars, but travel and tourism is one of the few bright spots with a trade surplus in 1999 of$13. 9
billion (International Trade Administration and Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2000). This
surplus is greater than the $13.8 billion U.S. trade surplus for agricultural exports (U.S.
Department of Commerce, 2000). Americans take pride in U.S. high-teclmology industries, but
the U.S. ran a trade deficit in high-technology goods of $34.6 billion in 2000 (U.S. Department
of Conllnerce, 200 I).
Foreign tourism produces annual tax revenues of about $7.5 billion (U.S. Travel and
Tourism Administration, 1995). Thc majority of these tax revenues (about 53% or $4 billion) go to
the Federal govermnent. Local govenllllcnts that provide most tourist-support infrastruchlre receive
only 14.3 percent of the tax revenue from foreign tourists (U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration,
1994). The greatest tax revenues from foreign tourists are collected in Florida with annual revenues
of$1.43 billion. The Federal govermnent receives about $754 million of these revenues with local
govenllnents recciving only $98 million (U.S. Travcl and Tom'ism Administration, 1994).
Beaches: Key to U.S. Travel and Tourism
Beaches are the key element of U.S. travel and tourism, since they are the leading tourist
destination (USA Today, 1993; Carlson Wagonlit Travel Agent Poll, 1998;
Washingtonpost.com:Poll, 2001; Chivas Poll, 2001). Seventy-five percent of summer travelers
plan to visit beaches (Morgan, 2000). Coastal states receive about 85% of tourist-related
revenues in the U.S. largely because beaches are tremendously popular (World Almanac, 2001).
Although there are many interior attractions from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon and from
Las Vegas to Branson, Missouri; the popularity of beaches dominates tourism. For example, a
single beach location, Miami Beach, reported more tourist visits (21 million) than were made to
any National Park Selvice property (the Blue Ridge Parkway with 19 million visitors was the
National Park Setviee property with the most visitors) (Wiegel, 1992; National Park Service,
2001). Miami Beach has almost twice as many tourist visits as the combined number of tourist
visits to Yellowstone (3.4 million), the Grand Canyon (4.5 million), and Yosemite (3.4 million)
(National Park Service, 2001). California beaches alone have more tourist visits (567 million)
than combined tourist visits (286 million) to all 346 National Park Service properties (including
national seashores and monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument)
and visits (106 million) to all Bureau of Land Management properties that cover 287 million
acres, about one-eight of the land of the United States (King, 1999; National Park Service, 2001;
Bureau of Land Management, 200 I). It is estimated that each year approximately 180 million
Americans make 2 billion visits to ocean, gulf, and inland beaches (Clean Beaches Council,
200 I). This is almost twice as many visits as the combined 1.16 billion visits made to properties
of the National Park Selvice (286 million), Bureau of Land Management (106 million), and all
state parks and recreation areas (767 million) (National Association of State Park Directors,
2000). Moreover, many of these visits to state parks and recreation areas were visits to beaches.
For example, state beaches in California account for only 2.7% of California state park holdings,
but account for 72% of visits (King, 1999).
Beaches make a large contribution to America's economy. The U.S. Travel and Tourism
Administration estimated that in 1992 beaches contributed about $170 billion annually to the
economy (U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration, 1993). King (1999) shows that California
beach tourism makes a total direct and indirect contribution of $73 billion to the national
economy, more than five times the $14.2 billion contribution of the National Park Setvice
system (International Ecotourism Society, 200 I). Similarly, beach tourism in Florida makes a
$33.7 billion contribution to the national economy (Tait, 2001). Multiplying the ratio of visitors
to national beaches (two billion) and visitors to California beaches (567 million) by the
contribution of California beach visitors to the national economy ($73 billion) yields an estimate
that in 1999 U.S. beaches contributed approximately $257 billion to the national economy. As
was noted to be the case for foreign tourists, most taxes paid by beach tourists also flow
primarily to the Federal government. For example, a study of tourism at Huntington Beach,
California, showed that the Federal government is the main bcnefieiaty of beach tourism with
tourism at Huntington Beach generating $135 million in federal revenues, $25 million in state
sales tax revenues, and $4.8 million in local revenue sales tax and parking fees (King, 1999).
Economic Return of Beach Nourishment
Beach erosion is the number one conccrn that beach tourists have about beaches (Hall
and Staimer, 1995). With 33,000 kilometers of eroding shorelinc and 4300 kilometers of
critically eroding shorelinc, beach erosion is a serions threat to the Nation's beach tourism and,
therefore, a threat to the national cconomy (U.S. Army Corps of Enginecrs, 1994). Rcstoring
beachcs through bcach nourishment can greatly incrcase their attractivencss to tourists. For
example, in 1989,74 percent ofthose polled in New Jcrsey said the New Jersey shore was
"going downhill." By 1998, only 27 percent thought the New Jersey shore was in decline with 86
percent saying that thc shore was onc of New Jersey's best features (Zukin, 1998). The
difference between 1989 and 1998 was construction of the beach nourishment project from
Sandy Hook to Barnegat Inlet, New Jersey, which is the largest beach nourishment project (in
terms of volume) in the world (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2001)..
Houston (1996) cites beach nourishment at Miami Beach as a good example of thc
economic benefits of beach rcstoration. Miami Beach had virtually no beach by thc mid-1970's.
As a result, facilities were run down, and Miami Beach was not the place to visit. Beach
nourishment in the latc 1970's rejuvenated Miami Beach and opened its beaches to the public.
Beach attendance, based on lifeguard counts and aerial surveys, increased from eight million in
1978 to 21 million in 1983 (Wiegel, 1992). The numbcr of foreign tourists visiting Miami
increased from 2.3 to 5.6 million from 1980 to 2000 (Lang, 2001). Four million overnight
visitors stay in Miami Beach annually, and seven million of the ten million tourists visiting
Miami visit South Beach, Miami Beach. These visitors spend $4.4 billion annually in Miami
Beach including expenditures of $2.4 billion by foreign tourists (City of Miami Beach, 2001).
The annual foreign revenue from tourists at Miami Beach of $2.4 billion is about 50
times the $52-million cost of the Miami Beach beach-nourishment project that has lasted over 20
years (Houston, 1996). The capitalized annual cost of the project over its cUtTent 20-year life is
about $2.5 million. Stronge (2000) reports that half of Florida tourists are beach tourists.
Assuming half of the foreign tourists at Miami Beach are beach tourists, foreign beach tourists
silend $1.2 billion annually at Miami Beach. Using the capitalized annual cost of the Miami
Beach project of $2.5 million, this means that for every $1 that has been invested annually to
nourish the beaches at Miami Beach, Miami Beach has received almost $500 annually in foreign
exchange. This compares with a return of less than $0.50 in agricultural-trade surplus ($13.8
billion in 2000) for each $1 of crop subsidy ($32.2 billion in U.S producer support in 2000)
(Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2001; Alcorn, 200l). It is an extreme example, but if the Miami
Beach experience ofrcceiving $500 fi'om foreign beach tourists for every $1 invested in beach
renourishment were successfully repeated in a national beach restoration program, an investment
of 1% of the annual U.S. crop subsidy would wipe out the average annual U.S. trade deficit of
thc past decade (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2001).
It is instructive to compare the Federal investment in beach infrastructure (beach
nourishment) versus Federal tax revenues from tourists. From 1950-1993 the Federal governmcnt
and its cost-sharing partncrs spcnt an averagc of$34 million (1993 dollars) annually on beach
nourishment (U.S. Anny Corps of Enginecrs, 1994). Thc Federal investment has increased since the·
mid-1990's and is approximately $100 million a year (Marlowe, 1999). Travel and tourism
produccs $223.9 billion in tax revenues and 53% or about $119 billion of these tax revenues go to
the Federal govemment (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2001c; U.S. Travel and Tourism
Administration, 1994). Assuming the Florida experience that half of these tourists are beach tourists
(Stronge, 2000), beach tourists produce Federal taxes of about $60 billion a year. This number is
consistent with annual Federal taxcs of $14 billion from California beach tourists (King, 1999) and
about one quarter of national beach visits OcculTing in California. Federal taxes of$4 billion comc
allllually from foreign tourists with about $2 billion from foreign beach tourists (US. Travel and
Tourism Administration, 1994). Therefore, for every dollar in annual Federal expenditures for
beach nourislunent, the Fcderal governmcnt is receiving tax revenues of approximately $600 from
beach tourists including $20 from foreign beach tOlllists.
Miami Beach is an cxample of the return on invcstment of beach nourishment. With a
$2.5 million annual capitalized cost of the Miami Beach nourishment project and annual Federal
tax revenues just from foreign tourists at Miami Beach of over $130 million (U.S. Travel and
Tourism Administration, 1994), the Federal government is receiving over 50 timcs as much tax
revenue from foreign-tourist spending at Miami Bcach than it spends on beach nourishmcnt at
Miami Beach. It receivcs about scven times as much .tax revenue annually from foreign-tourist
spending at Miami Beach than it spcnds to restore all Florida beaches and more tax revenue
annually than it spends to restore all of the Nation's beaches. Similarly, California received just
about $2 million annually in Fedcral beach nourishment funds from 1995 to 1999 (King, 1999),
and the Federal government receives $14 billion in tax revenues annually from California beach
tourists. This yields the Federal govellunent receiving 7000 times as much in tax revenues from
California beach tourists as it spends on beach nourishment in California. Houston (1996) noted
that the Federal government is receiving a huge return on its beach-nourishment investment just
from foreign-tourist taxes and not ineluding taxes from domestic tourists nor reduction of storm
damage and resulting emergency-relief spending.
Worldwide Competition Facing U.S.
Houston (1996) noted that travel and tourism's importance to world economics,
employment, and international competitiveness has not been lost on America's economic
competitors. Germany and Japan have out spent the U.S. in infrastructure investment for
decades including spending freely to maintain their beaches as infrastl1lcture investments. For
example, Germany has spent about $3.3 billion over 40 years on shore protection (Kelletat,
1992). This is about five times corresponding U.S. expenditmes over the same period and about
25 to 50 times a greater share ofGDP (Houston, 1995b). These expenditures were made to
protect a coa~tline less than five percent the length of the U.S. coast. Japan's budget for shore
protection and restoration has topped $1.5 billion in a single year (Marine Facilities Panel,
1991). This is more spent in a single year than the U.S. has spent in over 40 years from about
1950 to 1990 (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1994). Spain with its extensive beaches is a major
competitor for tourists. It conducted a five-year program to both restore existing beaches and
build new ones and spent more than the U.S. has spent for beach restoration ovcr 40 years
(Ministerio de Obras Publieas y Transportes, 1993). Of eomse, tomism is the dominant and
critical industry in Spain. Even so,Spain's tomist revenues are only about seven percent of those
of the U.S (World Almanac, 2001).
U.S Beginning to Lose Lead
Houston (1996) noted that abundant natural attractions, including the world's most
extensive beaches, make the U.S. attractive to tourists. However, there is a world economy in
tourism that gives consumers ample choices and produces stiff worldwide competition for
tourists. If Florida beaches become run down, German tourists can choose Spanish heaches. If
Hawaiian beaches decline, Japancse tourists can choosc Australia's Gold Coast. This worldwide
competition is well recognized outside the U.S. For examplc, Houston (1996) noted that in the
mid-1990's the U.S. spent only $16.3 million in advertising to its international tourist markets,
and this compared to Spain's $170 million in advcrtising (Washington Post, 1995). The U.S.
ranked 31 in tourism advertisement behind countries such as Malaysia and Tunisia (Brooks,
1995). Ireland spent 180 times more pCI' capita on tourism advertisement than the U.S (National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 1998). However, evcn this minimal U.S. spending of
$16.3 million on advcrtisement to international tourist markets was eliminated when Congress
abolished the U.S. Travcl and Tourism Administration in 1996. The National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration (1998) notes, "The U.S. is (the) only country in the developed
world without a government-funded National Tourism Office and (it) bodes badly for the
country's fhture tourism growth." The U.S. currently has no nationally-funded tourism
advertising while countries such as Australia, Canada, France, Greece, Singapore, and Spain
each spend about $100 million on intemational marketing (Brooks, 1995; Hotel-online, 1998;
Balzer, 1998).
As world tourism grew dramatically in the 1990's, the number of foreign tourists visiting
the U.S. actually declined slightly from 1992 to 1999. Although forcign tourist numbers
dcclined, spending by foreign tourists in the U.S. increased 70% from 1990 to 1997. Howcver,
this trend also has stalled with spending by foreign tourists in the U.S. declining from 1997 to
1999 (Cable News Network (CNN), 2000). The U.S. has slipped behind France and Spain as the
leading tourist destination, and the U.S. share of the international tourism market has declined in
the 1990's. The trade surplus that the U.S. enjoys in travel and tourism has dropped almost in
half from $26.3 billion in 1996 to $13.9 billion in 1999 (International Trade Administration and
Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2000). Moreover, with no action by the U.S., the downward
trend in the U.S. share of the world market will continue. The World Travel and Tourism
Council (200Id) estimates that the U.S. will rank a disappointing 122 in the world in
international tourism growth from 200 I to 20 II and lag growth in countries such as Burkina
Faso, Mauritius, Mali, Laos, Botswana, and Poland - countries that are hardly known as tourist
Travel and tourism is America's leading industry, employer, and earner of foreign
exchange; and beaches arc the leading factor in travel and tourism. Few in Atilerica realize that
beaches are a key driver of America's economy and its competition in a world economy. Perhaps
Americans do not appreciate the importance of tourism to the national economy because 98
percent of the lA-million tourism-related busitiesses in the United States are classified as small
businesses, and this makes the industry extremely fragmented (U.S. Travel and Tourism
Administration, 1995). Lacking national advertising from cither this fragmented industry or a
national travel office, the importance of travel and tourism to the national economy has not bcen
communicated to the American people. The conclusion one draws today is the same as that
noted by Houston (1995), "Without a paradigm shift in attitudes toward the economic
significance of travel and tourism and necessary infrastructure investment to maintain and
restore beaches, the U.S. will relinquish a dominant worldwidc lead in its most important
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