With national monuments and parks shuttered until lawmakers on Capitol Hill reopen the government, officials are pulling out all the stops to keep the tourism industry—and the local economies that depend on that income—afloat.
The effects of the government shutdown are on full display from coast to coast. But few organizations have felt the sting as acutely as the nation’s convention and visitors bureaus.
Rumors of an impending deal to reopen the federal government began to swirl on Thursday, but tourism officials weren’t holding their breath.
In Flagstaff, Arizona, where millions of tourists flock to Grand Canyon National Park each year, officials are pushing alternative attractions, while trying to ensure that visitors intent on seeing the natural wonder are aware of road closures and other shutdown-related service disruptions that could affect their travel plans.
Felicia Fonseca of the Associated Press reported on a proposal by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) that would use state money to keep the park open. Those proposals were orginally rejected when the government insisted that the state pick up the entire cost of keeping the park open until the shutdown was lifted. But fresh news out of Arizona indicates the governor has had productive talks with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that could eventually lead to a compromise.
In Madera County, California, which proudly calls itself “California’s Gateway to Yosemite National Park,” officials have posted closure information on the area’s visitor information site, YosemiteThisYear.com, including travel directions—adding at the end of it that there remain “MANY things to see and do.”
Officials in Arizona recommend exploring the local Hopi culture via a guided tour or a trip to the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. Yosemite’s alternative attractions include everything from wine tastings to golf outings.
We are really trying to convince visitors not to turn around and go home.
It isn’t just the visitors bureaus that are scrambling. Local businesses, including hotels and restaurants, have faced an up-and-down couple of weeks. Though some hotels in Arizona saw booking increases when domestic and international travelers booted from Grand Canyon National Park came in need of last-minute accommodations, a recent story in the Arizona Daily Sun said many businesses have suffered as a result of the closures.
“We have seen some cancellations,” Sean McMahan, manager of the Hotel Monte Vista in Flagstaff told the paper. “Our whole industry that is related, as we are, to travelers who go to the National Park destinations, we are seeing a hit.”
While travelers still can see many of the monuments and natural attractions from a distance, it’s hardly the same thing as pulling into a campsite and sleeping in the shadow of a Redwood.
“This is crazy. How can a whole government shut down?” asked one confounded tourist from China who spoke with an AP reporter outside the gates of Yosemite.
“There’s no question it’s disappointing,” Bruce Brossman of the Grand Canyon Railway told the news service. At best, he said, “You can get a sneak peek and maybe get inspired to come back.”
In light of the stalemate in Washington, some tourists have reworked their itineraries entirely, focusing instead on state parks and other attractions that remain open—and convention and visitors bureaus are eager to help.
“We are really trying to convince visitors not to turn around and go home,” Julie Hadzega, spokeswoman for the Yosemite-Mariposa County Tourism Bureau, told The Los Angeles Times, saying she had helped a group French tourists replan their vacation. “There’s a lot of stuff to do here.”
Maybe, but there should be more.