By Charles B. Stockdale and Liz Borod Wright
Taking a summer vacation as a reward for working hard all year long is ingrained in the American culture. But the significance of these annual trips goes far beyond refreshing one's mental health. Local economies depend on tourism dollars to thrive, and, in some cases, just to function. In 2009, tourists spent $27.6 billion in Orlando alone, and the tourism industry provided 380,000 jobs -- and that's before the Wizarding World of Harry Potter even arrived on the scene.
24/7 Wall St. collaborated with hotel industry research firm STR and premiere travel blog Travelogged to identify the country's 10 most popular summer tourist destinations. Based on STR's database, these 10 markets last year sold the highest number of hotel rooms during weekends in June, July and August.
Not surprisingly, Orlando ranks high among America's most popular summer vacation locations -- Disneyland always attracts big crowds -- but it's not No. 1. Likewise, New York City and Los Angeles also made the list. Both cities have special advantages for summer visitors: L.A.'s beaches are at their best, and it's the easiest time of year to get a table at the Big Apple's best restaurants. But neither of them landed the top spot either.
As you look at this list, it's important to note that the main criteria for determining a destination's popularity was the number of booked hotel rooms: Many other popular summertime destinations, like the Hamptons, for example, don't have a lot of hotel rooms and are almost entirely residential. And even if it feels like everyone who lives in the Washington, D.C., area is heading to Rehoboth Beach, Del. -- known as "America's Summer Capital" -- that beach resort and its adjacent vacation communities have far fewer hotel rooms than America's actual capital, which did make the list.
10. Dallas, Texas
Rooms available: 1,989,260
Rooms rented: 1,086,300
Although it's only the third largest city in Texas, Dallas is the state's most popular tourist destination. It's a major convention city, and also draws a large number of casual tourists. According to the independent Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, tourism brings $3 billion to the city each year. More than 22 million people visit each year, and according to a Dallas CVB estimate, the industry provides 50,000 jobs to the city.
9. Anaheim-Santa Ana, Calif.
Rooms available: 1,393,618
Rooms rented: 1,135,568
Anaheim and Santa Ana are the major tourist destinations in California's Orange County. Both cities are a short distance from the coast, making them especially popular for summer vacations. Disneyland calls Anaheim home, the Walt Disney Company is the city's largest employer, and According to the Anaheim & Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau, the 42.7 million visitors to the area in 2009 spent $7.1 billion.
8. San Francisco/San Mateo, Calif.
Rooms available: 1,350,752
Rooms rented: 1,181,960
Mark Twain never actually said "The coldest summer I ever spent was in San Francisco," but the city is still is an ideal summer destination for those looking to beat the heat. The tourism industry is San Francisco's largest by tax revenue, according to The Wall Street Journal. The private San Francisco Travel Association reports that the city had 15.9 million visitors in 2010. These visitors spent a total $8.3 billion in San Francisco throughout the year. The organization attributes 67,122 jobs in the area to tourism, and calculates that $485 million in taxes were generated by tourist spending.
7. San Diego, Calif.
Rooms available: 1,502,484
Rooms rented: 1,315,778
Despite its Southern location on California's border with Mexico, San Diego doesn't enjoy warm weather year-round, so summertime is optimal for enjoying the palm tree lined paradise that is La Jolla Beach. Other favored destinations include Balboa Park and the Gaslamp Quarter. According to the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, "The San Diego visitor industry is the third largest industry in San Diego County, employing approximately 152,300 San Diegans." Tourists spend $7 billion annually and, in 2010, 29.9 million people visited San Diego.
6. Atlanta, Ga.
Rooms available: 2,454,020
Rooms rented: 1,604,551
Long the Southeast's center for business, the home of Coca-Cola and CNN has now emerged as a top destination for tourism due to its top-tier cultural offerings. According to the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, the city boasts a $10 billion hospitality industry which provides 230,000 jobs as it caters to 34 million tourists each year. The growing industry has benefited from recent additions such as the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world, which opened in 2005.
5. Washington, D.C.
Rooms available: 2,692,044
Rooms rented: 1,995,200
The nation's capital, is an extremely popular destination for both American and foreign tourists. The city welcomes about 15 million visitors each year, according to the nonprofit corporation Destination D.C. Ironically, the city has a very European feel because it was designed by Frenchman Pierre Charles L'Enfant. Over the last decade, many D.C. neighborhoods have seen a real revitalization, resulting in more dining and nightlife options. Summer is a great time to visit because you'll be spending plenty of time inside the air-conditioned Smithsonian museums. In 2007, tourists spent more than $5.5 billion in the city, contributing $620 million in tax revenue.
4. Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif
Rooms available: 2,548,711
Rooms rented: 2,026,780
Summer is the leading season for tourism in Los Angeles and the surrounding region due to its beach culture. The metropolitan area also offers an appealing variety of nightlife options. The tourism sector is the No. 1 employer in Los Angeles, employing 437,000 people, according to business association LA INC. Approximately 25.7 million people visit the city each year, and in 2010, tourists spent $13.1 billion in the city.
3. New York, N.Y.
Rooms available: 2,464,931
Rooms rented: 2,098,682
Summer stands out as an exceptional time for tourists to visit New York City because it's easier to score reservations to top restaurants and tickets to popular shows as many locals have left town. If it's not too hot, visitors can enjoy Central Park and the new High Line in Chelsea. According to Tiffany Townsend, vice president of communications and government affairs at NYC & Company, the city expects approximately 12.9 million visitors this summer. In 2010, tourists spent more than $30 billion in the city and generated almost $2.7 billion in local tax revenue.
2. Orlando, Fla.
Rooms available: 3,068,620
Rooms rented: 2,185,424
Orlando welcomes "more than 50 million visitors from across the globe each year," according to Gary Sain, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. Sain added that "with seven of the top theme parks in the world opening new attractions each year, countless adventurous activities, 176 golf courses and great shopping and dining, there is no other destination on the planet that has the variety of options for visitors that also consistently adds new vacation experiences each and every year the way Orlando does." In 2009, tourists spent $27.6 billion in the metropolitan area and 380,000 jobs were provided by the tourism industry.
1. Chicago, Ill.
Rooms available: 2,803,528
Rooms rented: 2,278,775
Chicago's dining, cultural and recreation options rival any city in the world. It's an outstanding choice for Midwesterners looking for a destination to which they can either drive or find a cheap flight. Summer tourists hide from the infamous heat in the air-conditioned museums and Michigan Avenue stores, or embrace the high temperatures in Millennium Park or at one of the many city beaches along Lake Michigan. In 2009, visitors spent $10.17 billion in Chicago, according to the Chicago Office of Tourism, and generated 124,600 jobs within the city.
America's 10 Most Popular Summer Vacation Destinations