A national strategy for building travel and tourism in the United States, with a goal of enticing more foreign visitors to come to America, touches in no small part on the role national parks play in tourism. And that, says the National Parks Conservation Association, is a perfect justification for investing more in the parks.
The strategy was made public Thursday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary John Bryson. Produced less than six months after President Obama called for such a strategy, the paper is viewed by the administration as a blueprint for boosting both traffic within, and to, the United States.
“This administration will continue to do everything we can to support travel and tourism – our No. 1 services export – which will help support millions of American jobs,” Secretary Bryson said in prepared comments. “I am proud of our work on the National Strategy, a product of a strong private-public partnership, which will make the U.S. even more welcoming to visitors and reinforce our message to the world: the United States is open for business.”
Added Secretary Salazar: “As our nation’s economy continues to gain strength, tourism - especially international tourism - holds the promise of being an economic engine for the country. These recommendations will help make the United States a more attractive travel destination for people around the globe, and I look forward to working with our partners across government and industry to turn this strategy into action.”
Those sentiments and goals, when combined with the draw of the national parks, justify investing millions of dollars more than currently is being done, according to NPCA President Tom Kiernan.
"Our national parks not only protect and preserve some of America’s most iconic treasures, but serve as some of the most popular American travel destinations for visitors across the world," Mr. Kiernan said in a statement. "Investing in our national parks is a direct opportunity to foster tourism while at the same time protecting our national treasures and supporting tourism opportunities for future generations.
“According to Forbes magazine, eight of the top 25 U.S. travel destinations are managed by the National Park Service. And today’s report notes that 20 percent of international travelers seek out national parks as part of their travel itinerary," he went on. "Yet, places like Yosemite, Gettysburg, and Mesa Verde suffer from a maintenance backlog of more than $11 billion, and they continue to operate with more than $500 million less than they need each year to adequately serve visitors and protect our national treasures."
Addressing those needs, said Mr. Kiernan, would help achieve some of the outcomes of the president's strategy while also bolstering the economies that depend on national park tourism.
“National parks directly support more than $31 billion in annual spending and nearly 260,000 jobs nationwide," the NPCA president said. “As we approach the upcoming centennial of the National Park Service in 2016, we must connect the tremendous power of national parks in our tourism economy with the resources necessary for our parks to serve domestic and international travelers, and flourish as they approach their second century. National parks are investments worth making—in jobs, tourism, and our national heritage.”
The travel and tourism strategy sets out a goal of increasing American jobs by attracting and welcoming 100 million international visitors annually by the end of 2021, more than a 50 percent increase over the number expected this year, an Interior release said. These international visitors would spend an estimated $250 billion per year, creating jobs and spurring economic growth in communities across the country, it added.