From sea to shining sea, and even across the Atlantic, those whose living depends on tourists are feeling the effects of the government shutdown.
The Liberty Bell and the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and the Washington Monument, the Smoky Mountains and the U.S. cemetery overlooking the D-Day beaches at Normandy, all are closed, and tour guides and hoteliers are scrambling in what should have been the shoulder season that wrapped up a busy summer.
Cruise ships are lining up alternatives for passengers barred from Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and Acadia National Park, the main attraction in Bar Harbor.
And yet, what is painful to some is an opportunity for others.
The meeting industry surely will take a hit from the loss of government conferences and speakers. A memo from Patrick Kennedy, Under Secretary of Management at the State Dept., said “no new travel should be arranged” and “no one should make new arrangements to attend conferences,” while “all speeches to public audiences should be cancelled and no invitations to give speeches to public audiences should be accepted during the shutdown period.”
But Maryland and Virginia are seeing an influx of displaced tourists from Washington DC. The Alexandria Visitors Center reported a 30% increase in day traffic on Wednesday; Mount Vernon, the International Spy Museum and the National Geographic Museum were busier than ever.
Still, the US Travel Association is not amused.
Its president and CEO Roger Dow said the closure of national parks and historic sites to millions of travelers – coupled with the general perception of an uncertain travel process – will cause immediate damage.
“While we recognize that some essential travel functions such as TSA screening and air traffic control will proceed, we are concerned that federal agencies will quickly be forced to implement shutdown policies that will damage the travel experience and derail long-term, bipartisan investments in our travel infrastructure,” Dow noted.
He urged the travel industry to email their stories and complaints to GovtAffairs@ustravel.org and call 1-866-201-3796 to be directly connected to lawmakers’ offices.
Dow, meanwhile, noted that “travel, 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, is particularly vulnerable to the perception that a disruption of services will make our customer experience go less than smoothly.
“We urge our leaders to tackle changes to the federal balance sheet that will let our economic recovery continue unimpeded. The travel industry stands ready to assist with that process in whatever way we can.”
In the meantime, some furloughed workers are taking matters into their own hands.
In green and blue union t-shirts, they are handing out the “Federal Worker’s Guide to Shutdown D.C.,” which gives the status of major points of interest.
If the shutdown is long and the effort is successful, they say, they may also offer help to visitors at other museums.
The US government has been shut down 17 times since 1977; unfortunately, the longest, 21 days, was under Pres. Bill Clinton, a key advisor to Pres. Obama.
The Senate is meeting today, Day Three of the current shutdown.
By Cheryl Rosen
Thursday, October 3, 2013