While the long-term effects of the U.S. government shutdown won’t be clear for some time, domestic and international travelers (and the businesses that depend on them) will tell you that bipartisan bickering in the two houses of Congress has had a direct and instantaneous effect on their lives.
Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, family travel expert and MiniTime managing editor, said the travel industry was impacted from the minute the shutdown closed national parks, Washington, D.C., museums, and monuments like the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore on Tuesday. “Not only have thousands of workers in the tourism industry been furloughed, but this is impacting travelers’ plans and spending in destination economies,” she noted. “If it continues for a prolonged time, this could significantly impact the national economy.”
The U.S. Travel Association, a national nonprofit trade organization, estimates that the travel industry will generate $2.0 trillion in economic output and support 14.6 million jobs in 2013. "Travel [is] our country's No. 1 services export and an industry that has added jobs at a rate three times faster than the economy as a whole since 2010,” Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel, noted in a statement issued just before the government shutdown. “We urge our leaders to tackle changes to the federal balance sheet that will let our economic recovery continue unimpeded.”
The United States Tour Operators Association, a travel trade group that, together with its associate members, employs over 450,000 U.S. citizens, sent a letter Wednesday to the leadership of both chambers of Congress -- including Speaker John Boehner and Leader Nancy Pelosi in the House, and Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate -- urging them to come to an agreement to keep the government funded and open.
Under the government shutdown, more than 21,000 members of the National Park Service staff were furloughed without pay, and all national parks and Smithsonian museums closed indefinitely. All visitors within the parks Tuesday had just 48 hours to adjust their travel plans and find alternative accommodations.
“A third of the top 25 domestic destinations are National Park Service sites, and with the shuttering of all 401 National Park Service sites, the communities that surround these sites may lose as much as $30 million and 750,000 visitors per day,” USTOA President and CEO Terry Dale explained in the letter to Congress. “Moreover, these impacts will be exacerbated by delays in visa application approvals, which will further disrupt international travelers’ plans to visit our gateway communities and put a strain on a critical part of the U.S. economy.”
The Congressional Research Service estimates that during the fiscal-year 1996 government shutdown, the United States turned 7 million tourists away from its then 368 national park sites, while it denied an additional 2 million visitors access to national museums and monuments. Moreover, CRS found that approximately 20,000 to 30,000 foreigners’ visa applications went unprocessed each day, while a total of 200,000 U.S. passport applications were left in limbo.
“This resulted in millions of dollars in lost revenue for the U.S. travel and tourism industry,” Dale noted. “In the years since the last government shutdown, the national park system has added 33 sites. This will only result in an even greater loss of revenue for our national parks, our gateway communities and our travel and tourism industry as a whole.”
Nowhere are these losses more acute than in the nation’s capital, where some local economists have estimated that the D.C. metropolitan area could be out upwards of $220 million each workday of the government shutdown. Schools have canceled field trips and visitors have vacated hotels facing closed gates at the Smithsonian’s 17 museums and galleries, the National Zoo, Ford's Theater and monuments like the Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
But it’s not just Washington, D.C. From the park hotels of the American interior to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, businesses nationwide are taking a hit. “For each day the government is shutdown, more than $8 million in economic activity at our nation’s hotels will be lost, putting jobs at risk and causing repercussions across many other related sectors,” Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said in a statement. “On behalf of hoteliers throughout the country, we implore the president and Congress to work together and reach an agreement to reopen the government without delay”
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Mark Johanson is the travel editor at the International Business Times. He has traveled to and written about more than 30 nations and territories on every continent except...