The tourism economy continues to struggle in national parks across the country, although Grand Canyon appears to be drawing a little better than some of its sister sites.
The National Park Service as a whole received 7 million fewer visitors through the first five months of this year when compared to 2002. That’s a 7.7-percent decrease. Grand Canyon, which has numbers available through the first six months, saw an increase of 1.43 percent parkwide. Still, numbers are far below the levels reached around the turn of the century.
“We’re selling more rooms than we were last year, primarily to domestic visitors,” said Bruce Brossman, director of sales and marketing for Xanterra Parks and Resorts. “Group tours are steady with last year, but not growing. Foreign in-bound visitors — Europeans and Asians — are certainly lacking and we see that in some of our add-on sales, particularly in retail purchases.”
Greg Bryan, who manages the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn in Tusayan, said business is slowly coming back.
“It seems to be holding its own; no huge gains with a slow return of the foreign visitor,” Bryan said. “We’ve seen a larger increase in visitation by domestics. It’s just going to be a slower return than in earlier years. Lead time on reservations are much shorter than a couple of years ago. The people are shopping.”
The stagnant tourism economy can be felt elsewhere in Arizona, such as Sedona.
“The volume is not there ... the domestic visitor is carrying us right now,” Brossman said. “That’s exactly what we predicted and it’s unusual when that comes true. But in this case, it’s true.”
Many lodges have been running summer specials, such as Xanterra’s Yavapai Lodge getaway package. The Squire Inn’s Bryan says his staff remains positive for the rest of the season.
“We’re pleased with the visitors coming,” he said. “We’re thinking positive about the balance for the summer.”
Brossman said the group tours that descend on Grand Canyon in September may not be there this year.
“We’re getting a lot of walk-ins, we’re a little soft in September, primarily because of a lack of group tours,” Brossman said. “That’s always been heavy for group tours. It lags in July and August and then picks up in September.”
One plus for some visitors is the availability of rooms. Along with all the choices in Tusayan, tourists may be able to get into such hard-to-book places as the El Tovar because of frequent cancellations. Brossman said Xanterra got a lot of cancellations recently because of the British Airways strike.
Looking at the numbers, Grand Canyon had 1,853,856 visitors through June, compared to 1,827,691 last year. But the difference has been at more remote sites. Overall numbers for the South Rim are actually down.
The number of vehicles through the South Entrance Station has decreased 2.59 percent, although bus passengers are up 6.62 percent and train visitors are up 7.13 percent. Total for the South Rim, visitation is just barely down 0.34 percent.
At other sites in the park, increases through the first six months have been seen at the East Entrance (10.17 percent), North Rim (4.37 percent) and Lees Ferry (0.94 percent). Numbers are down at Tuweep (6.73 percent) and Grand Wash (0.80 percent).
The NPS public-use report for the first five months showed a visitation decrease in 73 percent of national parks.
“The East Coast had severe weather in February resulting in a system decrease of 2.1 million,” the report reads. “The War in Iraq in March distracted Americans from visiting the parks, leading to a one-month decrease of over 1.6 million visits. April continued the downward trend with 1.3 million fewer visits while May had 1.9 million fewer visits.”
The hardest hit sites were in the East. For example, the District of Columbia sites are down 1.9 million visits with 14 of the 17 units reporting a decrease.
Virginia had 15 of 17 units report a decrease, totaling 1.8 million visitors. The news is much the same in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.