Obama encourages tourism to national parks
Washington • Some of Utah's most famous travel destinations might be a bit more crowded this summer if a new White House effort is successful.
President Barack Obama issued an executive order Thursday, aiming to boost international tourism to the United States in an effort to spur job creation. Part of the initiative seeks to promote visits to national parks, including Utah's scenic redrock country.
Delivering a speech at Florida's Walt Disney World, the nation's top tourism destination, Obama called tourism "the No. 1 service that we export." He said nearly 60 million international visitors helped the industry generate over $134 billion in 2010.
"That's what this is all about â¦ helping our businesses all across the country grow and create jobs; helping those businesses compete and win," Obama said. "Ultimately, that's how we're going to rebuild an economy where hard work pays off, where responsibility is rewarded and where anybody can make it if they try."
Obama's goal is to make it easier to visit America. His order includes calls for speedier visa processing, a visa waiver program for qualified applicants and shaking up appointees to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board.
A new interagency task force will encourage sojourns to the country's "national treasures." With Utah's five national parks, 10 national monuments and more than 40 state parks, the Beehive State is a prime target and could reap benefits from more visitors.
International tourism is a "very significant" part of Utah's economy, said Leigh Von der Esch, head of the Utah Office of Tourism.
"Utah is absolutely the perfect destination for the international traveler," Von der Esch said. "The international visitor knows Utah because it's been on the silver screen. They all want the John Wayne experience. They all want to see our national parks."
But often, the problem is getting them here. Von der Esch estimated 80 people in July had booked tickets but couldn't enter the country because of a visa snafu.
"We have counties in the southern part of the state where 70 percent of their advance bookings are international," she said.
Already, Von der Esch said Utah has a tight network with Brazil.
"Brazil has been a very important partner with our ski resorts," she said. "Park City has been very active in South America and Deer Valley, and other ski resorts have hired many Brazilians."
Obama charged the tourism-promoting task force with developing efforts to push tourism forward in the coming months. The Department of Interior must create a strategy to deliver to the president within 90 days.