This project addresses two related research questions. First, how does climate variability and water availability affect recreational visits to national and state parks in the Southwest? Second, what are the economic impacts of weather and environment-induced changes in visitation?
Parks in the study area received more than 35 million visits annually. These visitors spent more than $1.3 billion per year, generating more than 35,000 jobs. Although a small part of the overall Southwest economy, this employment and spending was quite important to local, rural economies. Accurate forecasts of visits to parks, and to tourist sites in general, were of great value to the tourism industry. Tourist services were seen as highly “perishable” goods. For example, a vacant hotel room unused one night cannot be “stored” and used again.
Although national and state park planning documents acknowledge the importance of climate on park visitation patterns, statistical analyses of park visitation have not included climate, water availability, or other environmental variables in their estimation. The project used multivariate regression analysis to examine the contribution of climate and other environmental changes on park visitation, controlling for other factors (such as spatial patterns of economic and population growth). The project used an input-output model to examine how climate and environmental change affect spending, income, and employment in areas around parks.
We collected annual cross-section, time series data of visits to state parks in Arizona and New Mexico, and southwestern national parks. For national parks, we also collected monthly visit data and obtained data on visit forecasts made by the National Park Service Public Use Statistics Office. That agency also provided us with the data and programs of the forecasting models the Park Service uses to forecast annual visitation to each national park. In addition, economic and geographical data was collected and used to develop indexes of market potential for each park and of spatial competition between parks. Other control variables included fuel prices and exchange rates.
Changes in visits were mapped into local economic impacts using the MGM2 (Money Generation Model Version 2). The MGM2 model (developed at Michigan State University for the National Park Service) is an input-output model specifically designed to examine impacts of changes in national park visits. The model accounted for multiplier effects of spending. It provided estimates of direct, indirect, and total effects of changes in visitor spending. Outputs included changes in local sales, personal income, value added, and jobs.
Major findings of this project include:
One example to illustrate the approach to mapping changes in regional water availability to local economic impacts. Between 1999 and 2003, the level of Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area fell 78 feet, and the number of hikers, boaters, anglers, and others who typically visit Glen Canyon fell by an estimated 212,000 visitors (controlling for other factors). We estimate that this drought-induced reduction in visits led to a loss of $14 million in local sales and nearly 300 jobs. The model can be applied to examine positive shocks as well, such as benefits of post-fire restoration efforts.
Leones, J. and D. Dunn. 1999. Strategies for Monitoring Tourism in Your Community's Economy. Arizona Cooperative Extension, The University of Arizona.
Leones, J. and G. Frisvold. 2000. Park Planning Beyond Park Boundaries: A Grand Canyon Case Study. In National Parks and Rural Development: Practice and Policy in the United States. G. Machlis and D. Field (eds.) Washington, DC: Island Press.
Stynes, D. 2005. Economic Significance of Recreational Uses of National Parks and Public Lands. Social Science Research Review 5:1-36.