By Ken Salazar
Most Americans recognize Independence Hall as one of the most famous symbols of Philadelphia, the nation's birth, and the freedom we share as a people. Philadelphians may know it as the top tourist destination in the city, attracting 3.7 million visitors who spend $146 million every year and support more than 2,100 jobs. But we can do more to welcome tourists from across the country and especially around the globe to places like Independence Hall.
President Obama wants America to be the top tourist destination in the world, and Philadelphia's history and culture make it a great place to start. Today I will join Irina Bokova, the director general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), at Independence National Historic Park to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, which recognizes nearly 1,000 sites around the world for their natural or cultural significance. Independence Hall is one of just 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in America.
While many Americans may not be aware of the designation, it carries great weight internationally. In Europe and Asia, many families plan their vacations around World Heritage Sites, and communities and businesses develop marketing strategies to take advantage of the prestigious designation.
Unfortunately, even though the United States was the driving force behind the establishment of the convention in 1972, we haven't done enough to market our sites internationally. At Independence Hall, which isn't as well known to foreigners as the Grand Canyon or Yosemite, just 7 percent of the visitors are from other countries.
International tourists tend to stay longer and spend more than their domestic counterparts. In 2010, nearly 60 million foreign visitors pumped more than $134 billion into the U.S. economy, making tourism America's No. 1 service export.
There's no reason we can't make it even bigger, creating more jobs at hotels and resorts, car rental companies, airlines, restaurants, and other businesses. If our economy is going to continue to get stronger, we must tap into every opportunity for growth. And the more people visit America, the more Americans we can get back to work.