While the agreement to end the government shutdown has been signed into law, tour operators, pushed into crisis-management mode during the government shutdown, were represented on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, when NTA President Lisa Simon testified at a Congressional hearing about the closure of national parks, monuments and museums.
At a joint hearing of U.S. House of Representatives Committees on Oversight & Government Reform and Natural Resources, Simon discussed the impact of the closures on tour operators who had to scramble to find alternative activities for groups scheduled to tour national sites.
“I was grateful for the opportunity to talk about the shutdown and our national parks. These are some of the most popular destinations to visit throughout the country, from Acadia to Zion, including the Grand Canyon and Smoky Mountains,” said Simon, discussing her appearance on Capitol Hill. “An abrupt shutdown of all 401 national park units cannot come without significant disruptions and costs.”
A significant majority of NTA member tour operators package travel to national parks and attractions, and nearly all have reported customer cancelations or disrupted itineraries. And they’re not the only members feeling the pain, according to Simon.
“Many of our supplier and destination members are dependent on visitation to national parks in their area, and they experienced an immediate decline in business,” said Simon, adding that 91 percent reported cancelled or postponed tours since the Oct. 1 closure, and 56 percent saw a decrease in visitors within days of the shutdown.
The shutdown caught most in the travel industry unprepared, NTA said. Even though signs from Congressional negotiation prior to the shutdown did not look promising, the extent of the closures was not known, and communication was minimal. Simon recommended to Congress that there be a better plan for releasing details about future closures.
“We recognize there’s no crystal ball, and government negotiations often go down to the wire. But a communication plan about park closures would have been helpful,” she said. “I told the committee members NTA would be happy to serve as a conduit for such information to ensure that tour operators and visitors receive timely and accurate information.”
Simon said NTA has a long-standing and indispensable relationship with the National Park Service, given its importance to tourism professionals.
“NPS recognizes the planning cycle and needs of the packaged travel industry, and for more than two decades they have provided NTA with advance notice of fee increases,” she said. “It’s a relationship and tour product we value, and we hope to never see it interrupted again. But if it is, we want to be prepared.”