Broke Mountain

Researchers have found that people are less likely to visit national parks during a recession, countering the hypothesis that tight budgets could drive tourists to nature instead of expensive amusement parks.

US national parks cover more than 84 million acres and help protect hundreds of endangered species. The swarms of tourists who visit every year generate revenue to support the maintenance of these reserves. But what happens when the economy turns sour? Budget-conscious families might decide to go camping and hiking instead of taking vacations at pricey theme parks, driving national park visits up. On the other hand, these destinations are so different that they “are unlikely to compete for the same segment of the marketplace,” the study authors write in Tourism Management.

The researchers studied five economic factors: the unemployment rate, personal saving rate, business cycle indicator, how consumers feel about the economy, and how much inflation consumers expect. The team then compared those indicators to US national park visit data from 1979 to 2009.

All five recession indicators were linked to lower park visits, the researchers found. For example, visits dropped by 2.3 percent when unemployment rose 1 percent. If the business cycle indicator suggested the country was in a recession during a particular month, visits were 10 percent lower.

Park managers could use this information to anticipate drops in revenue, the authors say. The next step is to find out whether people are visiting local or state parks instead. Roberta Kwok | 25 October 2012

Source: Poudyal, N.C., B. Paudel, and M.A. Tarrant. 2012. A time series analysis of the impact of recession on national park visitation in the United States. Tourism Management doi: 10.1016/j.tourman.2012.07.001.

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