- Industrial Tourism is a big business. It means money. It includes the motel and restaurant owners, the gasoline retailers, the oil corporations, the road-building contractors, the heavy equipment manufacturers, the state and federal engineering agencies and the sovereign, all-powerful automotive industry. These various interests are well organized, command more wealth than most modern nations, and are represented in Congress with a strength far greater than is justified in any constitutional or democratic sense. (Modern politics is expensive — power follows money.) Through Congress the tourism industry can bring enormous pressure to bear upon such a slender reed in the executive branch as the poor old Park Service, a pressure which is also exerted on every other possible level — local, state, regional — and through advertising and the well-established habits of a wasteful nation.
-Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
The National Park Service does a great job compiling and measuring spending on various levels, showing visitor spending, job creation, and other economic indicators. However - I am perceiving a problem with the spend patterns and value added outputs. Namely, looking at the hotel and restaurant categories. At a national level these account for approximately 50% of visitor spending. Spending has increased by approximately $4 billion dollars in the past four years alone, and attendance at parks continues to grow.
- Lands managed by the NPS received 330,882,751 recreation visits in 2017 – almost identical to the record-setting 330,971,689 recreation visits in 2016 (Ziesler, 2018). In 2017, sixty-one parks set new records for annual recreation visits, and three parks received more than 10 million recreation visits. There are a few factors that likely influenced NPS visitation in 2017. Several parks reported exceptionally high August visitation due to the solar eclipse on August 21. Starting in September, several southeastern and Caribbean parks experienced significant closures because of hurricanes. October had the largest decrease in monthly visitation compared to 2016, mostly due to lingering closures from September hurricanes.
This seems like a good thing, but where is that money really going for the local economy? To the motels, and to the hotels. The 2017 estimate shows that 62.0% of visitor spending by visitor segment occurs at motels outside of the national park being visited. Which makes a degree of sense, considering the availability of camping and lodging within our park system. Supply does not meet demand, which in turn is filled elsewhere by proprietors of motels and hotels, thus allowing attendance to grow. For reference, NPS Lodge and NPS Camp Ground spending combine for 4.9% of total spending. NPS Lodge accounts for the highest daily spend in dollars, with motel outside of the park coming in second. These provide, generally, the most comfortable and luxurious accommodations, and pricing reflects that. Camping inside and outside of the park are similar in daily spend, however, given limited availability of camping inside of a national park the percentage of total spending outside of the park on camping is more than double, at 6.0%. This shows, again, that a limited supply is being filled elsewhere, thus diverting possible revenue from our national park system.
Much of this aligns with the fact that nonrecreational visition has increased while hours spent in a park have remained relatively consistent.
- The sales, income and employment resulting from these direct purchases from local businesses represent the direct effects of visitor spending within the economy. In order to provide supplies to local businesses for the production of their goods and services, input suppliers must purchase inputs from other industries, thus creating additional indirect effects of visitor spending within the economy. Additionally, employees of directly affected businesses and input suppliers use their income to purchase goods and services in the local economy, generating further induced effects of visitor
spending. The sums of the indirect and induced effects give the secondary effects of visitor spending; and the sums of the direct and secondary effects give the total economic effect of visitor spending in a local economy
Last for now, is looking at recent years budget vs. attendance:
2016 enacted budget: $3.38 billion
2016 recreation visits: 331 million
2016 nonrecreation visits: 172 million
2015 actual budget: $3.24 billion
2015 recreation visits: 307 million
2015 nonrecreation visits: 173 million
2014 actual budget: $3.08 billion
2014 recreation visits: 293 million
2014 nonrecreation visits: 169 million
A: Further investigate budget vs. visitation of the national park system.
B: Further investigate recreational vs nonrecreational visits, hours, and spending patterns.
C: Further investigate loading, or strain, on our national parks vs. where money is actually being spent.