What America Can Learn From the London 2012 Olympics

The United States needs to promote tourism to boost our economy.

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Mike Leven is the President and Chief Operating Officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and Job Creators Alliance member.

Not since the end of World War II has London spent so much time in the global limelight—a testament to the power of the Olympics and the economic boon the Games can represent.

The London 2012 Games have given the United Kingdom the opportunity to focus on upgrading transportation and housing infrastructure, invest in sports facilities and programs, and attract business ventures and commercial opportunities. Such inward investment often provides an economic boom for the host country of the Olympics—one much needed in a struggling global economy. For instance, through housing and urban regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley where the Games are taking place, the London Development Agency aims to create up to 40,000 new homes and 50,000 new jobs in the historically underdeveloped district.

Of course, not all of these economic advantages last. Provisional jobs will disappear with the end of the Games, and empty sports facilities often cost more to maintain than they were worth. On some occasions, the Olympics have pressured the host country into pouring more resources than it can afford into temporary infrastructure and events, and eventually into debt.

[See the best photos of the Olympics.]

But the benefits of the Olympics cannot be quantified in simple numbers. Perhaps one of the most important impacts of the Games is their ability to generate a worldwide cultural interest that profits the whole host country. A boost in the tourism industry signifies the effects of a lasting attraction to a perhaps previously overlooked destination.

From this, America could learn a lesson or two.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Travel Association launched a 20,000-mile "Vote Travel" bus tour that visited over 30 cities across the country. The aim? To raise awareness about an underappreciated yet vital part of America's economy—tourism and travel.

According to the Office of Travel and Tourism Industries, tourism supported 7.5 million jobs in the United States in 2011, and revenues made up 2.7 percent of GDP. Whether Americans realize it or not, our nation is a vacation hotspot—the second most visited country in the world. The United States receives a dominant 11.3 percent share of world traveler spending, with 62.7 million people visited the United States last year alone.

[See the best vacations in the United States.]

The economic benefits of tourism are clear, but the story doesn't end there. In an era of unstable geopolitics and shaky economics, Americans are afraid we are losing the uniqueness that has set us apart as a world frontrunner for so long. Tourism is an important tool to push back and reestablish the United States's global leadership.

By allowing, promoting, and encouraging foreign travelers into the United States, America promotes its unique brand of soft diplomacy. Through person-to-person contact, we can enhance cross-cultural, cross-border, and cross-political dialogue that benefits America's political and economic status. In an uncertain era, America needs to put its best face forward and push for policies that support the tourism industry.

In the end, America is its own best resource. We shouldn't underestimate ourselves.

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