Good morning. Thank you, Katie. Welcome to everyone here -- you are all a part of the Missouri tourism team that is as diverse as our state.
That diversity is found in our people in our geography and in the sights and sounds that are enjoyed in Missouri. From our largest cities to our picturesque towns to the streams and trails of deep forests, Missouri is a wonderful destination for anyone. We really have an abundance of riches.
And that is to our benefit, because as recent studies continue to point out, enthusiasm to travel runs deep, as shown by the 28 consecutive months of growth in Missouri tourism. We need to ensure that the Show-Me State remains a top-of-the-mind travel destination.
Missouri visitors come because of our variety of activities, attractions and destinations. There are already a wide range of possibilities that appeal to a large variety of travelers, and we are fortunate to welcome new Missouri tourism assets each year.
I was in Branson last month to welcome one of the newest assets, direct service by Southwest Airlines to three cities. This is helping frame Missouri as a "fly-to" destination, as well as a "drive-to" destination, for travelers from across the nation. This is just one asset our state enjoys from a tourism perspective that we must continue to capitalize on.
And that is where all of you come in. I am here today to thank all of you for your hard work promoting our state, and for giving families and other groups a reason to come back to Missouri time and again.
The hard work of our Missouri Division of Tourism -- working closely with stakeholders that include all of you -- provides a partnership that stimulates travel demand and brands our state as a destination. Your work will continue to be crucial to our success.
From day one as Governor, my top priorities have been crystal-clear: to create good jobs for Missourians, and to increase economic investment in the Show-Me State.
Many different factors are part of a sound economic development strategy for a state. And tourism is one of the most important.
Missouri has about six million residents, but it hosts 36 million travelers annually. Tourism supports more than 280,000 jobs in the state, while generating $11.2 billion in revenue for Missouri.
Tourism also provides $1.1 billion in state and local taxes that help our communities. In the fiscal year that ended this past June, total tourism sales were up $600 million over the previous fiscal year. That translated into $28.5 million more in state sales tax revenue.
A strong tourism industry means job creation which translates into more taxes paid, more money for infrastructure, and a better economy.
We have been encouraged to see how Missouri's economy has steadily moved forward -- our unemployment rate continues to be well below the national average, our state exports are setting new records for growth, and major employers like Ford, General Motors, Wells Fargo, IBM and others are announcing new investment in Missouri, creating thousands of new jobs for folks across our state.
Tourism will remain a major player in our economic progress, as we use innovative approaches to promote Missouri as a destination to both internal and external audiences.
So I'm here not only to thank you for your efforts on behalf of Missouri tourism, but to re-affirm my support of our state's communities as strong magnets for visitors, for generations to come.
We will sustain a culture that allows you to innovate and support new attractions, retail, and lodging that feed your current market and help expand new markets so that the next generation will also see Missouri as a family-friendly vacation destination.
I look out into the audience gathered today and I see representatives of every facet of the tourism industry in Missouri.
It is crucial that we all remember that we are all on the same team when it comes to promoting Missouri tourism.
It doesn't matter if you are representing a local convention and visitors bureau a chamber of commerce a hotel and restaurant association AgriMissouri an association for RV drivers bed and breakfasts or the wine and grape industry. We all share the same goals.
We all want hotel rooms that are full more often; more people coming to festivals; more seats filled at events; more folks enjoying the outdoors in one of our parks; and more people enjoying all that Missouri has to offer, because tourism is vital to our economy and quality of life.
Which is why it is so very important that all the different stakeholders in this room, and at this conference, continue to work together as one team to spread the word about Missouri.
The better our coordination to promote Missouri and push that message out far and wide, the more jobs we will create and the more economic investment and development we will continue to see.
Because in the end, it's going to take a variety of strategies to ensure that our state economy continues to move forward, and remains stable and strong for generations to come.
Thank you again for what you are accomplishing, and I wish a successful conference and another successful year.