Thursday, November 04, 2010

Marketing Yosemite

Well, not quite that extreme, but market principles are worth a look to deal with national park problems, as this article in the Los Angeles Times reports.

An excerpt.

“Ken Burns makes amazing documentaries, but even more amazing is that the Oct. 15 fluff piece on national parks by Burns and Dayton Duncan, "Preserving national treasures," made it to print in The Times.

“The article can be summed up as such: National parks are wonderful, and thank you President Obama for saying that. Unfortunately, there's no meat, no proposals, just nostalgia. But "where's the beef" when our antiquated parks could use a real makeover?

“Burns and Duncan rightly pay homage to Yosemite, "the home of spectacular waterfalls, silent groves of ancient trees and an unequaled alpine wilderness." They go on to highlight record attendance "in the midst of an economic downturn," similar to park attendance going up during the Depression.

“But relying on recessions and depressions to boost park attendance is a bad business model. In other words, national parks can't compete against other venues in good times; they can only compete when Americans don't have jobs or money. Moving parks closer to self-sufficiency would ensure their viability in the good and the bad times.

“So what does park visitation look like when the economy is thriving? Not great. Park visitation peaked in 1987. And in 2008, fewer people visited the national parks than they did 20 years ago. As the Economist cautioned in July 2008, when Americans lose their interest in the national parks again, "they will become less willing to pay for them through taxes."

“Regarding infrastructure, the National Parks Conservation Assn. notes that despite millions in stimulus money, chronic underfunding has left a backlog of about $8 billion in maintenance and preservation. The result: leaky sewer systems, crumbling roads and dilapidated buildings.

“Perhaps it's time to revisit the original vision of the national parks system. As noted by Holly Fretwell, the author of "Who is Minding the Federal Estate?," the park service's first director, Stephen Mather, believed that the ability to set appropriate fees and retain park receipts was important for responsible management, as doing so created a direct tie to those visiting and managing the resource. Under Mather's leadership, five parks became operationally self-sufficient, including Yosemite.”