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Leading travel, tourism and recreation leaders gathered at the U.S. Department of the Interior and used an unusual format to share and discuss information about how America’s parks and great outdoors can be marketed effectively internationally and to younger and more diverse population segments, according to an announcement from the National Park Service (NPS) and National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA). The 90-minute session was moderated by NPS Director Jon Jarvis and included three data-rich presentations followed by discussions with four experts.

The program – Marketing Parks and the Great Outdoors to All Americans and More International Visitors, Too! – was produced jointly by the National Park Hospitality Association and the National Parks Promotion Council. The session had a live audience of national leaders in recreation, conservation, historic preservation and tourism, and was livestreamed nationwide. It is available here.

Brand USA President Chris Thompson began the session with a presentation on Why the Great Outdoors Sells to Today’s Travelers, noting that research on messages most capable of delivering the ambitious goal of the National Strategy on Travel and Tourism to return the U.S.A. to prominence in the international tourism market yielded a clear indication that America’s outdoors is both attractive and a fresh topic, and highlighted a new large-format feature film now being shot.

Millennials and the Outdoors was the focus of a second presenter, David Bratton of Destination Analysts, a leading consultant to destination-area marketers. He related the outdoors message to five key Millennial “drivers,” and emphasized that Millennials could be attracted once outdoors awareness is achieved. A third presentation, Fortifying the Outdoor Legacy for Latino Americans, was delivered by Carlos Alcazar, Managing Director of The Tombras Group. Carlos emphasized that Latinos are already big outdoors users, but often seek different experiences from more traditional visitors to the outdoors and also want to be invited to and made welcome in parks.

Discussions on the three topics involved the presenters, moderator Jarvis and four expert responders: Jerry Jacobs Jr., principal, Delaware North Companies and member, U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board; John Peters, president, USA Today Travel Media Group; Ken Dowling, partner, GREYnyc; and Stephanie Meeks, president, National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The session was designed to complement and support efforts of the NPS to prepare for its 100th anniversary in 2016 and to use the anniversary to ensure the relevancy of parks, and their widespread benefits, to the nation’s changing lifestyles and demographics. The presenters and responders supported increased connectivity as a vital ingredient for the future of parks and the outdoors, and also agreed on the importance of storytelling as a feature of parks – from the distant wildlands to the urban places with rich historic and cultural attributes.

Despite fiscal and other challenges, the assembled experts were optimistic that inclusion in Centennial discussions of populations now underserved by parks and the great outdoors would help ignite social media and peer-to-peer networks which would complement traditional family efforts and recreation community outreach efforts.

NPHA Chairman Terry MacRae, whose company transports visitors to the Statue of Liberty, Alcatraz and other park locations each year, praised the active involvement of the NPS in the program and in efforts to invite all Americans to enjoy their legacy of parks. “America’s parks are cherished today and will remain that way if NPS and its partners work seamlessly and reach out to those who are not now directly benefitting from our parks. Increased visitation will bring new resources allowing for better care for our parks. A key message of the session was that we have discussed changes affecting parks. Now it is time for action to respond to change.”

The NPHA leader also noted that NPHA plans additional public forums to discuss key park issues, including a focus on the role of parks in helping Americans be healthier and improved operational coordination between key tourism, recreation, conservation and cultural interests.