The International Inbound Travel Association (IITA) is urging Congress to pass the National Park Service Centennial Act, H. R. 4680, which identifies new revenue for national park infrastructure repairs, programs, and Centennial Challenge Grants, which match private donations to park facilities. IITA members include inbound tour operators and suppliers such as lodging companies, transportation operators, destinations, attractions, and restaurants, and annually bring in thousands of international visitors to the national parks.
The National Park Service (NPS) estimates it has almost $12 billion in deferred maintenance at its more than 400 sites which includes inaccessible trails and roads, historic buildings in need of restoration, and sewage and electrical systems long past their lifecycle. The repair needs linger, as the celebration of the NPS centennial and the IMAX film ‘National Parks Adventure,’ produced in conjunction with Brand USA, spark more global interest in national parks and translate into rising demand from international tourists.
“Our members are seeing a dramatic increase in international visitors who want to visit America’s national parks,” said Lisa Simon, IITA Executive Director. “It is imperative that the parks be in good shape, particularly the roads and other infrastructure, to accommodate this demand.”
“If you take inflation into account, since 2010, national park operations funding has dropped nearly 4%, construction funding is down 26%, and over 2000 full time equivalent positions have been eliminated,” Simon noted. “This legislation is a good first step to address some of these issues and make it easier to meet the demands of even more visitors at our national parks.”
The National Parks are a pivotal part of the international traveler experience, according to Sean Bayliss, VP and General Manager of Mark International. “The majority of travelers cite the parks as their main reason for visiting the United States, and the majority will visit four, five or even more parks during their trip.”
And it’s not just visitors who are impacted. Some IITA members are also facing difficulty dealing with needed repairs at the NPS sites.
“We have product in or near all of the parks in the American West, and experience a number of infrastructure problems including needed road and bridge repair,” said Gary Schluter, Chairman of IITA and general manager of Rocky Mountain Holiday Tours. “And although a few parks have newer visitor centers, many were built in the 1950s or 60s and need updating to meet the needs of a new generation of international travelers.”
“In the eastern USA, we see increased demand for national parks to balance out the city-oriented focus of the past,” said Peter van Berkel, president of Travalco. “Unfortunately, visitors sometimes find basic visitor services unavailable or inaccessible due to needed repairs and lack of funding.”
With national park repair needs in the billions, IITA would like to see Congress not only pass the Centennial Bill, but seek additional ways, in the future, to address the maintenance backlog.
The International Inbound Travel Association is the only trade association solely representing the United States’ international inbound travel industry and U.S.-based inbound tour operators. IITA members include inbound tour operators and suppliers (lodging companies, transportation, destinations, attractions, restaurants, etc.) from across the country.