WASHINGTON – In looking at growth prospects for 2012, industry observers said a continuing increase in US tourism spending, particularly among international travelers, will help restaurant sales. A travel rebound, particularly in international visitors, is helping US restaurant sales grow, said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association's Research & Knowledge Group.

Through the third quarter of 2011, international visitors spent approximately $126 billion on travel to and tourism-related activities in the US, according to the US Department of Commerce. This total is up 14 percent versus the same period a year ago.

Tourism spending is important to US restaurateurs because it has a significant impact on the industry's growth. "Basically, $1 out of every $3 in food and beverage sales is related to tourism so what occurs in the travel and tourism arena has a direct correlation as to how industry sales will advance throughout the year," Riehle said.

At present, all signs indicate a positive industry performance for the year.