This week, May 2-10, is National Travel & Tourism Week, a week in which we celebrate what travel means to us as an industry, a community and as individuals.

Our theme for the week is "Travel is..." There are a variety of ways to end that sentence, depending on what aspect of the tourism industry touches your life. One thing we know for sure - travel is essential to the South Shore economy, creating jobs for local workers, generating income for region businesses and positively impacting our quality of life.

The travel and tourism industry employs more than 14,000 people in Lake County alone - in hotels, restaurants, casinos, attractions, shops, and more. Heads in beds, cheeks in seats, feet in the street, torsos through turnstiles and fans in the stands mean jobs - lots of jobs.

In 2014, sporting events alone generated 10,751 hotel room nights along the South Shore. Conventions generated 7,889 more. This resulted in $4.66 million in estimated economic impact - money that was spent not only at hotels, but on meals at local restaurants, new clothes or equipment at downtown stores, and admission to area attractions.

Because of travel and tourism, new businesses such as ChicagoLand Popcorn have opened, multi-generational businesses such as Teibel's Family Restaurant have thrived, and new sports facilities like the new Crown Point Sportsplex continue to expand, attracting visitors from across the country.

Those visitors coming to the South Shore spend their hard-earned money in our communities, which impacts every single household by lowering property taxes more than $900 every year. Travel and tourism dollars mean economic growth, resulting in more things to do and more places to go.

Travel and tourism means big business for small businesses and communities. What does it mean to you?