Glenn Hamer and Debbie Johnson
Lost in the battle in Washington over whether and how to fund the Affordable Care Act and over whether and how to raise the debt ceiling, is the very real pain the government shutdown is inflicting on Arizona business. This pain is especially acute in Arizona’s tourism sector, where the closure of the state’s 22 national parks, including the Grand Canyon, is harming small businesses and rural communities whose financial stability is directly tied to visitor traffic.
We give Congress and the White House the benefit of the doubt that their actions this week are motivated by a desire to do what’s best for the country. But the unintended consequences of the government shutdown are equating to tens of thousands of visitors being turned away from our state’s most popular attractions and scores more who are cancelling or postponing their trips, equating to potentially millions of dollars in lost revenue and harm to private sector jobs.
Tourism is one of Arizona’s leading export industries. It represents an economic sector responsible for nearly 200,000 jobs in our state. The Grand Canyon alone supports over 7,300 jobs. In 2011 the park welcomed 4.3 million visitors who spent over $467 million.
Adding insult to injury is the National Park Service’s refusal to negotiate with state officials and our travel industry leaders to find a way to keep the park open with state dollars. Given an opportunity to ensure the crown jewel of the national park system stays open, the federal government has instead opted to walk away from the negotiating table.
Arizonans know political games when they see them. In a poll commissioned by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, nearly 70 percent of respondents said they believe the president and Congress should negotiate a solution to re-open our national parks.
The estimated 18,000 visitors per day who have traveled to Arizona from far and wide are leaving our state disappointed. Our international visitors from Canada, Europe and Asia don’t care that the president, Harry Reid and John Boehner can’t figure out how to work together, they just want to experience what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see one of the natural wonders of the world.
Somehow all 50 states have figured out a way to pass a budget and keep their governments open. The feds should pay attention. Congress and the president need to end this impasse, re-open the federal government and re-open our national parks.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Debbie Johnson is the president and CEO of the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association.