NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Consumers have been bit by the travel bug.

Spending on tourism and travel increased by a solid 8.0% in the third quarter of this year, approaching the highest level since early 2008 when the recession first hit, according to new data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Much of this increase was due to a spike in airline travel. Airlines nationwide cut fares in the third quarter by more than 10%, which served as an incentive for Americans to splurge a bit and take a vacation. As a result, the amount consumers spent on flights increased by an incredible 29.8% from the previous quarter. Likewise, spending on travel accommodations like hotels also increased by 9.5% last quarter.

Consumers spent just under $700 billion total on tourism in the third quarter, roughly $100 billion more than the same time last year. However it is still about $27 billion short of the peak in tourism spending from the third quarter of 2007, just before the recession hit.

But the recent boost in travel spending also had a noticeable impact on the tourism industry as a whole. Employment in this sector grew by 2% in the third quarter and by more than 4% in the hotel sector in particular, the largest increase it has seen since the middle of 2002.

With big increases expected in travel this holiday season, the fourth quarter looks set to follow suit.

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