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Concessionaires Want More Investment, Business Opportunities, In National Parks

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National park concessionaires, deeply concerned over what they see as three decades of stagnant visitation to the National Park System, want Congress to authorize better marketing of the parks, longer "high" seasons in the parks they believe would generate more revenues for infrastructure improvements, and expanded concessionaire opportunities in the parks.

Those items were among a list of nine that Derrick Crandall, counselor of the National Park Hospitality Association, recently presented to a House appropriations subcommittee with responsibility for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies.

"Mr. Chairman and Members, I know you would agree that we need to get Americans back in touch with nature, engaged in physical activities and outdoor recreation, and connected to the magnificent culture, heritage and landscapes that are celebrated by our National Park System," Mr. Crandall said in remarks prepared for his appearance before the subcommittee on March 19.

"We need to reach out to youth to encourage them to share in the wonder and enjoyment of our National Parks and discourage the increasingly sedentary lifestyles that are contributing to our health care crisis. We need to expand park visitation to encourage minorities, disadvantaged communities, new Americans and urban residents to see their national parks for themselves and to build a broader constituency for America’s great outdoors. And, we need to find new and innovative ways to reinvest in the maintenance, restoration, and expansion of critical park infrastructure – much of which was built either by private investment when the national parks were first created, or in conjunction with the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps more than half a century ago."

While visitation to the National Park System reached a record 292.8 million in 2014, an increase of more than 19 million from 2013, NHPA officials say visitation has "actually declined if you discount new units added to the system."

The solution? According to NHPA, a range of initiatives should be implemented, including:

* Extend the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act for two years to allow the Park Service to continue to collect fees for entry into park units and a variety of recreational activities, including backcountry usage, campgrounds, and boat launches;

* "(C)ontinuation and expansion of the Centennial Challenge Program. Encouraging non-profits, corporations and individuals to contribute toward important national park programs and projects...";

* Creation of a "National Park Outreach and Promotion Fund," funded by a transfer of 10 percent of the concessionaire franchise fees to "support NPS outreach and marketing efforts in partnership with states, gateway communities and concessioners;"

* Expanding the seasons at national parks, a move that would lead to increase visitor spending and franchise fees for the Park Service. These revenues, coupled with "investment requirements under new concessions contracts and appropriate use of existing Leasehold Surrender Interest" should be used to improve infrastructure in the park system.

"There has been a loss of rooms, of restaurant capacity, of services and of retail space in national parks over two decades, producing a corresponding decline in overnight stays and in the average length of visitor stays," Mr. Crandall told the subcommittee.

* More national park campgrounds should be managed by concessionaires "to improve visitor services and reduce operating costs";

* Concessionaires should be allowed to qualify for "historic tax credits from investments in structures" in the parks, and;

* Programs such as Youth Conservation Corps utilized in Yellowstone and Shenandoah national parks should be expanded across the system to "undertake construction, reconstruction and maintenance projects," possibly at a savings for the Park Service.

During a conversation with the Traveler last week, Mr. Crandall said the concessionaires don't expect the Park Service to "dramatically" expand road systems in national parks, but would like to see facility improvements and additions and believe it can be done without posing a great competitive threat to lodging and dining options in gateway communities.

"We seem to be headed in just one direction (in the parks): No increase, reduce, reduce," he said. "While that may be appropriate for Yosemite Valley, while that may be appropriate for portions of Yellowstone, I think for the park system overall, that's not a wise tactic.

"... I think what we're really saying, there is still an opportunity to enhance the ability of visitors to enjoy their park experience in a small portion of the footprint of our National Park System, and by doing that, just have a more robust experience when they're in the parks," Mr. Crandall went on.

"We're not talking about adding dramatically to the road system of the national parks because people now by and large see the parks out of their windshields. The last thing I would ever say is that that's justification for building more roads. But I would say that when you look at Yosemite Valley, and you have 1,500 rooms, which is down dramatically from what we used to have, and only 800 of those have bathrooms, I'm not afraid to say at some point we should look at how we upgrade those rooms so that 1,500 rooms have 1,500 bathrooms."

How Congress responds to the concessionaires remains to be seen, but Mr. Crandall plans to continue discussions with the appropriate committee and subcommittee chairs and ranking members.

"I'd say we got an enthusiastic level of support from all of the members of Congress that we talked to," he said in reference to his recent appearance before the subcommittee. "And that includes even people on the minority side. They all agree that they want to continue a successful pattern of providing services for the visitors in the parks through private sector investment in things like lodges."

Comments

If NPS and concessionaires will work together instead of continually butting heads to improve the quality of services, I believe vistitors from all walks of life will increase.

I have worked in the park system for some years now.  And I can not tell you how tired I am of hearing that hard beds, torn linens, worn fixtures, food straight out of a can, and limited services with a surly attitude from employees that have little to no grasp on the English language and even less professional skills are to be expected. Wasn't  much of that what we expected from the train system before Fred Harvey came along?  I simply can not buy into the theory we have to accept second rate in our national parks! Change can be made if it is desired badly enough. NPS, however, is beyond extraordinarily anti-progress!!

Menus that reflect today's taste could be created by nutritionists instead of the tired high school cafeteria quality that is standard fare today.  Softer beds with fresh linens and pillows would encourage more guests to stay, and better satisfy guests already coming .(More satisfied guests will spend more dollars).

Many guests simply can not leave the office without bringing technology with them. Sad but true today. Wi-fi  needs to be available wherever feasible- and not wi-fi that is slower than dialup. (Philip Anschutz of Xanterra also owns or part owns Qwest;  he should be able to do this easily.)  Televisions should have decent cable, or movies avaialble so guests have way to unwind after that long hike. 

Room prices need to reconsidered. Many families can not afford the high price of a full standard hotel room and are not willing to pay 100 dollars for a shared bath. (I believe to some extent, this is our greatest problem - high prices people can't/won't pay!)

Adequate parking and parking reserved for hotel guests would encourage longer stays from many guests.

Employees need to be hired that feel valued and are paid adequately for their services. These are employees that will give the guests a greater experience. Low pay  and insufficient  pay raises are the hallmark of the concessions companies. This leads to short term employees trained on the fly who can't provide good service.

 Over the last fews years, Americans who have dedicated many years to the parks often have their hours reduced drastically in favor of young internationals who, as I understand it, are guaranteed a certain number of hours per their contract. (A cost cutting measure, but hurtful to both the long term employee, and to the young student whose lack of grasp of the English language makes their job twice as difficult.)  Concessionaires should provide wages consistent with wages outside the parks for the same jobs. Once again, to attract quality employees, who provide a quality guest experience.

In short, I believe, aside from technology, the quantity of services provided is not necessarily the issue.  It's the quality of service, which has gone downhill.

You can't attract everyone to a national park, but you can certainly attract more by providing a first rate experience. Better service, parking, food, and lodging are absolutely critical!!

 

 

 

just,

While I generally agree with your call for higher quality of service - something every business should seek and doesn't necessarily involve higher costs. Many of the things you ask for cost more money yet you complain of prices being too high.  You are going to have to make up your mind on that one.  It is extrmely difficult to both raise costs and lower price. 


Let me get this straight.  Concesionaires think that the answer to decreased visitation is to continue the fee system and increase it?  Man.  No wonder the NPS has a problem.  Of course, concessionaires have run this system for decades now.   FLREA is garbage and having the moneychangers promote it proves the point.


The price of lodging in the parks is too high for the average "Joe" towing a bunch of kids along.I believe that is why the numbers of people staying overnight in the parks has decreased.


If they want more visitors, they're going to have to realize that the more things cost, the fewer visitors they're going to have.  Period.  And what on earth is wrong with a shared bathroom?

Things seem to be geared more and more to foreign visitors with lots of money.  Things should be geared first to all social levels of residents first.


Does the NPS really care about anyone enjoying the Parks? The goal for the NPS has been to remove the human footprint in the Parks by removing fun stuff like trails that are popular with humans. The NPS makes the vast majority of the Parks difficult and unpopular for the public to enjoy and limiting access for humans. The NPS makes the Parks enjoyable for the rich snob elite like Larry Rockefeller and his ilk and makes enjoying the Parks for the more common people difficult to impossible.


Whippering1 - I don't have a clue what you are talking about.  Visited many a park and have seldom if ever experienced the NPS limiting access or enjoyment.  Perhaps if you are a dog but certainly not if you are human.


I know exactly what Whipperin is talking about. CHNSRA is the perfect example. The NPS  actually wants to remove "recreation" so bad, they removed it from the parks name.


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