"It’s larger, if you compare the export of tourism to the export of cars or iron-ore and steel, which are considered very important industries in Sweden," says Ulrika Hallesius, a public affairs director for Visit Sweden, a public-private agency.
Hallesius says foreign visitors spent US$ 14 billion in Sweden last year, most of it in Sweden's big cities.
"The foreign visitors spend most money on shopping – 46 percent – but they also spend a lot on accommodations and visiting restaurants and cafés," says Hallesius.
Tourism sparks "alternative" industries
"I can make a thousand kronor ($US 142) a day in Sweden right now," says a man who calls himself Rainy. He works as a living statue on a busy tourist street in downtown Stockholm. "I’d like to work more but I get tired. The work is difficult," he says.
Rainy, who comes from Latvia, is dressed as the golden cowboy. Gold paint covers his face, ears, neck, and cowboy hat. This is his second year performing in Sweden and he says he will probably come back next year.
Of course, tourism also creates jobs in more traditional industries -- in hotels, restaurants, and cafes. A recent report found that tourism has created over 30,000 new jobs in Sweden since 2000, which is roughly the same number of people who work in Sweden's large defense industry.
Modern, progressive sales pitch
And to attract these ever-important visitors, Visit Sweden has perfected its sales pitch.
"We want to send a message that Sweden is a country that has a modern and progressive lifestyle with people who are creative and bringing new ideas and creations," Ulrika Hallesius says.
But Sweden has its work cut out for it. Rudy Gallegos is proof of that. He is visiting Stockholm with his Swedish wife Katja and their two children.
"For my colleagues back in the states, when they travel to Europe, going to Scandinavia is not first on the list," he says.
By Gabriel Stein