Tourism Imperiled as Shutdown Closes Monuments, Parks and Museums

Economy could lose $76 million from tourism each day during the government shutdown.

The Statue of Liberty remained closed to the public on Dec. 13, 2012, six weeks after Hurricane Sandy.
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Businesses that rely on tourism are immediate victims of the government shutdown as museums, parks and historic sites were shuttered on Tuesday along with other non-essential government services.

[READ: What a Government Shutdown Means for the Economy]

America's 401 national parks received 715,000 daily visits in October 2012, and contributed $76 million to local economies during each of those days, according to the National Park Service. Historic sites including Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Statue of Liberty in New York City and the Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., are among the sites closed. Google honored Yosemite National Park with a doodle on its search engine home page Tuesday to commemorate the park's 123rd birthday, just in time for the national park to close.

Congress failed to reach a compromise on a bill to fund the government before its Monday night deadline. The previous government shutdown lasted from Dec. 13, 1995, to Jan. 10, 1996. Economic analysis firm IHS also estimates that the government shutdown could cost the economy approximately $300 million each day, based on the impact of government employees not receiving their salaries.

Andreas and Annika Nilsson arrived in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, but on Tuesday morning the brother and sister were left wondering what to do with their travel time after the monuments and other tourism hot spots in the District shut down.

"Our plan was to go to the Air and Space Museum today," Annika Nilsson says. "It's sad that it won't be open before we leave tonight."

Tourism business is already being damaged by rumors that certain travel services will halt as non-essential government services close during a government shutdown, says Patricia Rojas-Ungar, vice president government relations for the U.S. Travel Association. Rojas-Ungar says her group has instructed its trade association members, including hotels, car rental companies, airports and state tourism offices, to tell their members of Congress about tourism business they are losing and to ask them to negotiate on a deal that would end the shutdown.

[MORE: Government Shut Down as Lawmakers Bicker Over Obamacare ]

"You have to think about the local economies that depend on business servicing these sites," Rojas-Ungar says.

Since the start of the shutdown, Rojas-Ungar says she has been on the phone with federal agencies about whether basic travel services will continue to be offered. Non-immigrant visas will continue to be offered because that division of the State Department has a reserve of fees generated from issuing those visas to fund their operations, she says. Passports will also be issued, she says.

"The average overseas traveler spends about $4,500 when they come to the U.S., so those travel visas are a crucial source of capital," Rojas-Ungar says. "Part of the problem we are experiencing is that our business is a perception business. Whether or not there is actually a disruption, people hear rumors that they might not get passports or visas, and they rethink their travel plans. The confusion that causes is a disruption in itself."

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