As the U.S. government enters its sixteenth day of a partial shutdown, some effects are beginning to surface in the travel industry.
Roughly three-quarters of the government has been impacted by the lack of a funding resolution. Here is a listing of the travel-related services that will or will not be affected if the shutdown continues:
• Federal workers that are deemed “essential,” including air traffic controllers and TSA employees, will continue to work, although they will not receive a paycheck until the shutdown ends. Hundreds of TSA officers called out sick from work last week at four or more major airports, according to a report by CNN, leaving many to assume air travel could be disrupted if the shutdown carries on much longer.
• The State Department said it will continue to offer passport and visa services during the lapse of appropriations, claiming processing times are currently not impacted. They are urging customers to keep their scheduled appointments. U.S. embassies and consulates also remain open for U.S. citizens traveling abroad.
• Travelers looking to apply for any Trusted Traveler Programs, including Global Entry Status, might experience a delay in applications, according to a notice on the government site that says the website is not currently being “actively managed” and will not be updated until after funding is enacted.
• Nineteen Smithsonian museums and galleries, along with The National Zoo, announced on Jan. 2 via social media that they are closed until further notice.
• Some national parks are operating and remain accessible to visitors, however access may change without notice, according to a statement on the State Department’s website, so travel advisors should monitor the situation closely. The U.S. National Park Service announced yesterday that it would begin using reserved money from visitor fees to fund operations of the parks affected by the shutdown. Currently those that are open lack staffing and access to park facilities like restrooms, as well as services like security, trash collection or road maintenance.
According to a statement from P. Daniel Smith, deputy director of the National Park Service, the agency will begin using entrance, camping, parking and other fees that are typically saved for future projects to keep parks open. “After consultation with the Office of the Solicitor at the Department of the Interior, it has been determined that these funds can and should be used to provide immediate assistance and services to highly visited parks during the lapse in appropriations. We are taking this extraordinary step to ensure that parks are protected, and that visitors can continue to access parks with limited basic services.
“In the coming days, the NPS will begin to use these funds to clean up trash that has built up at numerous parks, clean and maintain restrooms, bring additional law enforcement rangers into parks to patrol accessible areas, and to restore accessibility to areas that would typically be accessible this time of year. While the NPS will not be able to fully open parks, and many of the smaller sites around the country will remain closed, utilizing these funds now will allow the American public to safely visit many of our nation’s national parks while providing these iconic treasures the protection they deserve.”
Smith did not specify how much money would be spent, nor did he say which of the 418 national parks and units – including national battlefield sites, memorials, scenic trails and seashores – will get the extra help.
Visitors should go to www.nps.gov and select “Find a Park” for additional information on access to parks and sites in a particular area.
What advisors and suppliers are saying Meanwhile, on the front lines, one travel advisor and a tour operator who offers national parks tours reported how the government shutdown was impacting their business.
“I actually have one client who called me last week to price out a vacation for them,” said Steven Gould, president of Goulds Travel in Clearwater, Florida. “We went through an itinerary from Los Angeles down to the Mexican Riviera, and also an all-inclusive package to Aruba. After getting everything situated for them, I called to apply the deposit and they said they had to wait because of the government shutdown affecting their jobs. We’ve been fortunate enough to not notice a huge impact from the shutdown, but it is certainly putting people on edge.”
Paula Twidale, executive vice president of Collette, commented: “The government shutdown takes a toll on tourism in many away. The essential employees that are working are not receiving their normal wages and their families are impacted. There may be access to national parks, but government services are non-existent, which means the natural resources will erode over time.
“Collette’s ‘Winter in Yellowstone’ tour is operating as planned, but without park services, the parks will be compromised the longer the shutdown is in place. Our national parks are already underfunded by $12 billion and, without proper appropriation of funds, we are contributing to their destruction. The long-term impact of a government shutdown is bad for tourism, our economy, our country and the American people.”