Over the past thirty years, the coastal counties have shifted from traditional maritime activities such as fishing and boating, to a more service-oriented, and tourism-dependent economy. A key to economic growth in the coastal states has been the strength of the travel and tourist industry. This study links a regional model of tourism-generated earnings to a GIS model to quantify the relationship between the relative size of the travel and tourism sector in each county and the county's proximity to the coast. We find that tourism-related earnings, as a percent of total earnings, are concentrated in counties that lie within forty km (25 miles) of the Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific coasts of the United States. In contrast, the share of earnings attributable to tourism is not sensitive to distance from the coast for counties that are further than forty km (25 miles) inland. The literature on beach quality suggests that coastal tourism is dependent on clean, broad and sandy beaches. Key unanswered questions are: 1, the importance of beach quality to the tourism industry, relative to other amenities such as weather and the presence of cultural attractions; and 2, the degree to which a common set of causes explains migration patterns, tourism, and economic development in the coastal zone.
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