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Government shutdown would mean financial hit for Grand Canyon tourism

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For businesses in Flagstaff, a city surrounded by national parks and monuments that draw tourists from all over the world, the possibility of a shuttered Grand Canyon National Park is hard to swallow.

“I’ll lose $60,000 to $70,000 on Monday alone if I have to start refunding money,” said Steve Hatch, owner of rafting company Hatch River Expeditions and president of the Grand Canyon River Outfitters Association. “This will be a huge financial loss to everybody in the community.”

Hatch said Thursday that he’s been fielding calls from tourists and calling to warn those scheduled to launch rafting trips next week.

About 70 percent of the Flagstaff’s annual visitors make the trek to the Grand Canyon and tourism brings in more than $500 million to the city annually, said Heather Ainardi, director of the Flagstaff Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Steve Cundy, a field director for The Wildland Trekking Co., which offers hiking and backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon, said April is among the busiest months of the year for his business.

“If it were to shut down for a week we’ll be faced with having to refund thousands of dollars,” he said.

Even if shutdown goes into effect at midnight Eastern time Friday, the deadline for an agreement on the federal budget, Cundy said he hopes travelers with plane tickets and hotel reservations will still make the trip.

Inside Grand Canyon National Park, all nonessential employees would be sent home if a closure happens, including those at Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which runs seven lodges, a ranch and five restaurants. The hotels have a combined 900 beds, said spokesman Tom Mesereau.

“The Park Service is telling us people will have 48 hours to leave upon a closure and then the hotels must be empty,” he said.

The company is working to reschedule trips and refund deposits, including refunding unused portions of trips, Mesereau said.

Shannon Marcak, a Grand Canyon National Park spokeswoman, said the closure would also include all viewpoints, pullouts, parking lots and roads other than State Highway 64, which runs from Cameron to the park.

During the weekend of April 10-11 last year, the park brought in about $110,000 in entrance fees, she said, and a week of South Rim entrance fees in April is about $487,000.

Marcak declined to comment on the park’s preparations for the potential shutdown.

It wouldn’t be the first time the park has shut down. In 1995 the country’s nearly 400 national parks were closed for 21 days during a budget impasse.

Paul Wiener, an associate professor at Northern Arizona University’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, said the economic multipliers of a Grand Canyon closure would hit Flagstaff.

“People who have reservations, when they hear about it, are going to cancel, which is a loss of revenue, which means businesses won’t schedule employees,” he said. “And then you have the additional purchases that tourists make of retail products, at grocery stores, restaurants and lodging.”

It’s difficult for businesses to plan for something that’s so uncertain, Wiener said.

“It’s going to cause a great deal of disruption for all the businesses in and everybody who works in the park and anybody whose business has a substantial component of people who are going to and coming from the park. It’s not going to be fun for anybody,” he said.

Kathleen Andereck, director of Arizona State University’s School of Community Resources & Development, said the biggest impact would be on travelers, frequently coming from other countries, whose vacations are destroyed.

“Potentially this was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for them and now the reason they were coming here was gone,” she said.

Arizona national parks by the numbers:

• 22 national parks, monuments and historic sites.
• 10,546,150 visitors in 2010.
• $659,180,000 estimated economic benefit from national parks, monuments and historic sites in 2009.
• 215,486 hours donated by volunteers in 2010.

Source: National Park Service

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