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Oh Say Can We Spend?

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If you haven't made reservations for your summer vacation yet, you may be out of luck.

Summer '94 is turning into a blowout, with hotel, airline, and related bookings tight just about everywhere. "This will be a record-breaking summer for the entire travel and tourism industry," says Bob Dickinson, president of Carnival Cruise Lines Inc. and chairman of the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA).

HELP WANTED. Just how good? Add it all up, and this summer's gung ho tourism season is healthy enough to provide a solid boost to the U.S. economy. The Labor Dept. reported that tourism-related jobs were up 343,000 in July from the previous year--raising the number of such jobs to around 11 million. Some regional economies are really feeling the improvement. In Texas, for instance, jobs found in the amusement and recreation sector jumped 5.9% in June from a year earlier, while hotel jobs increased 4.4%.

At the heart of this expansion is a surge in international visitors. Thanks to a weak dollar, recovering economies in Europe, and boom times elsewhere, people are traveling to the U.S. in droves. "The impact of American culture is so widespread and so powerful, it's generated desire among a lot of people to travel to the U.S.," says Doug Fretchling, an associate professor of tourism studies at George Washington University.

Just about every country is sending more tourists to the U.S. The French travel agency Forum Voyages has seen a 50% increase in bookings to the U.S. this year compared with last, with reservations strong through mid-September and even into October. The number of British visitors is up 9% from last year, to 3.4 million. Meanwhile, Japan Travel Bureau Inc., Japan's largest travel agency, predicts a 19% increase in Japanese tourists visiting the U.S. this summer. South Korean visits are up 47% in the first half of this year, says the Korea National Tourism Corp.

FAT WALLETS. For industries that cater to tourism, the trend is terrific news: International visitors generally spend more and stay longer than domestic travelers. For every $59,903 spent by international visitors, the TIA estimates, one job is created.

There are some exceptions to the summer boom--notably Florida, which has been hurt by its "sun and gun" image. A sign of the times: Disney World warned staffers in a July 1 memo that continued softness could mean layoffs of some 2%, or 700 of its 35,000 central- Florida workforce, by early fall. Late bookers take note: There's room to spare in Orlando.Gail DeGeorge in Miami, with Hiromi Uchida in Tokyo, Paul Bennett in New York, and bureau reports

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