updated 5/12/2009 7:20:09 PM ET 2009-05-12T23:20:09

Tourism workers in more than 40 cities rallied Tuesday to encourage Americans to travel more and boost local economies that depend on visitors.

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"Right now we're on the downside, but there's always hope to get better," said Bennie Oxford, a personnel supervisor at the Las Vegas Hilton who has worked for the hotel-casino since 1996.

Oxford and hundreds more casino industry employees gathered outside the Las Vegas Convention Center to call attention to Americans whose jobs depend on tourists.

Las Vegas organizers estimated about 500 people participated, including Mayor Oscar Goodman and three performers from the Luxor hotel-casino's topless show Fantasy.

The rally was part of a national campaign organized by the U.S. Travel Association aimed to boost such destinations as Beaumont, Texas, Louisville, Ky., Cincinnati, Park City, Utah, and Santa Monica, Calif.

In the nation's capital, the organization's president stood on the steps of the Smithsonian American Art Museum flanked by supporters dressed in their work uniforms or in red, one of the colors of the District of Columbia flag.

In New Orleans, housekeepers, chefs and other hospitality industry employees paraded down Canal Street with a high school marching band and a streetcar. Organizers estimated more than 1,000 people participated.

The rallies come as a new AP-Gfk poll shows the number of vacationing Americans will be down this summer compared with 2005. The poll also shows one-third of Americans said they already have canceled at least one trip this year because of financial concerns.

The poll found that the less money people make, the less likely they are to be planning a vacation this summer. And of those planning a trip, 20 percent said they would stay closer to home because of economic worries, while 23 percent will save money by staying with friends or family instead of at a hotel.

"People just aren't spending as much money because of their concern with the economy itself and then the unemployment numbers that are out there," said Rossi Ralenkotter, chief executive of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Ralenkotter said the nationwide rallies are meant to remind people that vacationing is normal and vital for destinations.

"For all of us it's to say 'OK, we see what's happening, but let's talk about getting back to some of the things that we do in our daily course of life,'" he said.

In Las Vegas, hotel-casinos are hoping for a turnaround after months of declining visitation and revenues, which have cost jobs and left companies with debt problems.

Travel to Las Vegas was down 8.7 percent for the first three months of 2009 compared with 2008, even as hotels slashed room rates more than 25 percent, according to the latest figures from the visitors authority. The decline is even more pronounced during weekdays, when conventions and corporate meetings are typically held.

Unemployment in Las Vegas and Nevada was above 10 percent in March, according to a state report.

Oxford said she sees about 50 applicants for each job opening at the hotel, more than ever before.

"I do worry about it, too, but just think about the positive side of it. Eventually, it will go up," she said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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