ARC's Crandall: Be Proactive in Sequestration
The prevailing opinion in the outdoor hospitality industry is that efforts to reduce federal spending by cutting back on all government services, including the nation's public lands, will be bad for private RV parks and campgrounds as well.
The deadline to avoid implementation of the so-called sequestration is Thursday (Feb. 29). Otherwise, the cutbacks take effect on Friday.
"I wish I could tell you there will be no impact," Derrick Crandall, president of the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), told Woodall's Campground Management. "The impact will be a lot less than a lot of the hype in the media, and less than the impact of rising gasoline prices over the last month."
However, he said the current crisis is a good time for the private sector (RV park and campground owners as well as RV manufacturers) to be proactive with the federal government and help scrutinize their expenditures.
"Owners can sit back and accept those cuts, then complain to members of Congress or they can look for a sustainable solition to become a partner with federal programs we would like to make sustainable, no matter what happens," Crandall said.
"First of all, whether or not sequestration happens in its current form, we're looking at a lean period for budgets of National Park Service (NPS) and other public land providers," Crandall said. "Sequestration gets all the (current) spotlight, but the overall budget projections for federal agencies that now serve a billion visitors are not good for the next several years. It is an issue that everybody in the recreation field should be looking at."
The private sector is good at operating on reduced budgets – businesses routinely do so during lean times, Crandall said, but the concept is almost alien to the federal government.
"Most of us had our personal budgets affected by the downturn in the economy starting in 2007," he said, "but the recovery spending of 2008-2010 allowed the federal agencies to continue without any impact from the recession."
Crandall opposes across-the-board cuts in agencies like the National Park Service, because such cuts would cut "muscle and bone as well as fat."
Instead, Crandall is taking this opportunity to ask agencies like the NPS, which faces a $115 million cutback via sequestration, to work with the private sector for the betterment of both.
ARC is asking groups known in the industry as destination marketing organizations (DMOs), such as chambers of commerce and convention and visitors and bureaus, located near federal lands to begin deploying some of their financial resources to public lands.
- In Bend Ore., an area with several national forests, ARC suggests DMOs use some of their advertising dollars to help with mountain bike patrols, apps and websites and sponsor joint programs. Rangers could be paid by the private sector to give interpretative programs at nearby privately owned campgrounds.
Something akin to this already occurs on cruises to Alaska in which NPS rangers come aboard the ships in Glacier Bay and elsewhere to talk about glaciers and whales. The service is paid by the cruise lines.
"It’s time for campgrounds to say if it would enhance the experience of our guests by having a park service ranger coming in to give presentations, now is the time we should pick up some of the costs," Crandall said.
Crandall said the NPS collects $300 million in fees annually but could expand that by more than enough to offset the 5% cutback that is coming through sequestration just by making entrance fees more reasonable. The biggest parks charge $25 per vehicle, no matter whether it contains two people or eight people and no matter whether they're staying for an afternoon or a week.
An airport charges for parking based on length of stay; parks should begin doing the same, he said.
"It’s time for us to say if you go into Yosemite and spend a week, you pay more than for a family that spends an afternoon there. The American public is willing to pay more in entrance fees and to campsites if they know the agencies will give them good value," he said.
The NPS derives 93% of its operating funds from government appropriations; that percentage should come down as users pay more of their fair share, Crandall argued.
In a similar vein, "International visitors probably should pay more or not be able to buy an America the Beautiful pass that is good for a year for $80. International visitors need to pay something (a premium) that reflects American taxpayers are helping to pay for national parks. It's time to no longer subsidize those visits to national parks."
He'll raise this argument again next week when he addresses the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) at the RVIA's annual meeting in Florida.
Statue of Liberty Dilemma
The government's outdated way of doing business in times of disaster, such as following Superstorm Sandy last fall, is another example of how the federal government should amend its ways, Crandall said.
The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which provide the federal government $20 million in concessioner franchisee fees annually, were closed immediately following the storm and remain closed. The closing has led to the layoff of 500 workers who manned the ferry service and work with private concessioners. The ferry service was halted because docks on the island were damaged.
Yet, the day after the storm hit, concessioners met with NPS officials and offered to rebuild the docks. NPS said "thanks" but let's wait until the Congress acts with disaster relief, Crandall explained.
Eventually, Congress passed legislation to provide the funding to return the island to normal.
"Sometime before 2014, we'll have the Statue of Liberty reopened to the public," Crandall said, but it could be much sooner if the government had followed private enterprise's lead.
Similarly, Crandall said the Statue of Liberty could be run more like a business if its hours of operation were extended. Until the storm hit, the last boat of the day left at 3:30 p.m.
"If we kept the Statue open until 10 p.m., you could see beautiful sunsets over New York Harbor and increase annual visitation of 4 million to 5 million or 6 million," Crandall estimated. This increased visitation would raise current venue of $80 million by another $20 million to $30 million, he said.