Tourism is rapidly emerging as one of the premier industries of the New Economy in the 1990s.

Once the Rodney Dangerfield of the business sector, the tourism industry enjoys growing respect and increasing awareness that it is more than changing beds and flipping hamburgers.Railroads, airlines, passenger ships and other segments of the transportation sector are important parts of the travel and tourism industry. So are travel services: hotels, motels and restaurants.

And, finally, there are the amenities themselves: sports, the arts, culture and other so-called experience industries. These range from skiing and museums to theme parks and professional athletics.

In 1976, the late futurist Herman Kahn forecast that by the year 2000, travel and tourism would be the world's largest industry.

Fifteen years later, according to a study by Wharton Econometrics, travel and tourism is already the world's largest industry, measured by employment - with more than 100 million people, or one of every 16 workers worldwide - and ranking in the top two or three industries in every country.

Measured by investment and revenues, travel and tourism often outperforms more traditional "major" industries, such as steel, autos, textiles or electronics.

In the Western region of the United States, travel and tourism already ranks first in a majority of states, and first or second in every state.

Destination travel - heading for one place and staying for a while - accounts for most of the revenues generated by tourism. So destinations providing the best natural or cultural attractions or the best facilities are the winners in this competition.

However, rapid growth in tourism requires thoughtful investment in infrastructure. Beaches, mountains, lakes, forests, canyons and open vistas are not tourist attractions if they are inaccessible. That's why Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., recently introduced a bill in Congress that would improve rural roads to provide better access to public lands.

Also, in addition to airports, marinas, highways and trails, there must be hotels, campgrounds, rental cars and other amenities to meet travelers' needs.

Developing this tourism product is a complex business requiring a high degree of cooperation between the public and private sectors and between governments at every level.

Cooperation and joint planning are essential to take full advantage of the potential for a "clean" industry, like tourism, and to avoid the incremental destruction that comes with piecemeal development.

Tourism assets, like an ore body, can be destroyed or wasted if not properly mined. A tourism resource - whether a museum or access to a canyon - costs money to create and is perishable if not nourished and protected.

Tourism resources - and the infrastructure that creates and sustains them - are not free.

The places that win in the 1990s will be those that prepare the infrastructure to receive and take care of the growing number of destination travelers.