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National Restaurant Association - Restaurants benefit from boost in summer tourism

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Restaurants benefit from boost in summer tourism

Consumers are spending more discretionary dollars on tourism and dining out this summer despite the economy's sluggish recovery, restaurant and hospitality industry experts say.

"Tourism is doing better," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president, research and knowledge, National Restaurant Association. "It definitely is stronger in all three categories: business, leisure and international visitors. The trends are improving so that is good for restaurant operators."

According to the U.S. Travel Association, business travel in 2011 is expected to rise 2.6 percent, while leisure travel is tracking growth of 1.6 percent and international arrivals are projected to increase 5.2 percent.

"If you look at lodging, hotels are upping their revenue projections somewhat for this year and into next," Riehle said.

A recent study by PhoCusWright, a travel/hospitality marketing research firm in Sherman, Conn., corroborated Riehle's findings. The study indicated that U.S. leisure travel is on the upswing, with 32 percent of respondents saying they would travel more this year, versus 14 percent who said they wouldn't, and 29 percent claiming they'd spend more on vacations.

Riehle said same-store sales at restaurants have been helped by the increase in tourism, pointing out that $1 of every $3 of restaurant sales is tourism-related.

Jot Condie, president and chief executive of the California Restaurant Association, said June was a good month for restaurateurs in his state who told him it was the best they'd had in 10 years.

"June seems to be the month our industry is sensing some optimism, particularly where there is a lot of tourism, like San Francisco, Los Angeles, even Sacramento," he said.

According to Condie, visitors to California in 2010 spent $23 billion on food and beverage. "That's a big number of food-and-beverage spends from international and out-of-state travel," he said.

He added that one trend contributing to the increase in tourism is California's reputation as a culinary destination.

"Where people used to say they wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge or Yosemite, now they want to go to the French Laundry and tour some wineries," he said. "This trend seems to be growing, thanks to the popular culture being built around restaurants, the TV Food Network and food magazines."

New York City's restaurants also are benefiting from increased tourism, said Andrew Rigie, executive vice president of the New York State Restaurant Association's New York City chapter.

"Our restaurants draw customers from around the world," he said. "The industry makes New York City a top tourist destination."

But, he added, extreme heat on the East Coast has challenged operators, too.

"The heat is one of the things I've heard about from restaurateurs," he said. "Some who are usually enthusiastic about having sidewalk cafes have seen a decrease in business on extra hot days."

On those days, operators try to attract customers with cold drinks and food items, he said. "The good sign is diners continue to go out, eat and have a nice experience."

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