More people paid visits to tourist destinations in Iowa last year compared to 2006. That’s according to a study from the Travel Industry Association. Iowa Tourism Office Manager Nancy Landess released the numbers Monday at the annual Iowa Tourism Conference, taking place in Sioux City.

"Tourism is now a 6.3-billion dollar industry in Iowa," Landess said. "We saw a 7.6% increase over 2006. While that number is impressive, we are particularly pleased that we are growing at a rate faster than the national average."

The national tourism rate increased by 5.7% between 2006 and 2007. All but two of Iowa’s 99 counties increased their tourism-generated expenditures. The study claims tourism-related jobs in Iowa increased by 2.2% and now generate close to 1.1 billion dollars in payroll.

"We have nearly 65,000 people employed in the tourism industry, working in hotels, restaurants and at attractions," Landess said. Tourism officials from around the state are thrilled with the 2007 figures, but are anticipating a much different report one year from now.

Iowa’s harsh winter, spring flooding and high gas prices will likely mean decreases in tourism dollars in 2008. However, Landess says her office is working to avoid a steep drop. "Where we think we have the best potential and possibilities is to continue to keep Iowa very top-of-mind for people in our surrounding states. We know people are going to continue to travel – they’re going to look for value. We think we have a lot of that to offer and it’s very close to home," Landess said.

The Iowa Tourism Conference runs through lunch-time Wednesday at the Sioux City Convention Center.