New Mexico Tourism Department Secretary Michael Cerletti recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify before the Subcommittee on National Parks on slumping attendance, including Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
According to a press release, the secretary appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Resources subcommittee on behalf of the Western States Tourism Policy Council, a consortium of tourism offices in the 13 Western states including New Mexico.
Visitation to national parks, monuments, recreation areas and national historic sites has been flat or even declining for quite some time, Cerletti said. It is a trend demonstrated at Carlsbad Caverns as well, down from 457,631 visitors in 2003 to 413,786 last year and 52.8% since its peak year (1976, with more than 876,500 visitations).
“These visitation trends are disturbing because they mean that many Americans are not receiving a greater appreciation of the wondrous beauties of nature, outdoor life, history and culture of our country,” Cerletti said. “They also mean that many businesses in gateway communities and beyond those communities (motor coach tour companies, outfitters and guides, RV parks and campgrounds, hotels, restaurants, purveyors of outdoor equipment and supplies and others) are missing potential customers and losing revenue. Most importantly, however, these trends will reduce popular support for the national parks, a costly outcome.”
Cerletti said he will recommend to the subcommittee that the National Park Service cooperate more aggressively with state tourism offices and departments, as well as private sector tourism and recreation businesses, in designing and implementing marketing and public relations campaigns.