Chairman Rockefeller Remarks on America the Beautiful: Promoting Our National Parks as Travel Destinations

April 27, 2010

JDR Head ShotWASHINGTON, D.C.—First, I’d like to begin by thanking Senator Klobuchar for holding this hearing. We all appreciate her commitment to creating American jobs through tourism – a powerful economic generator that should not be overlooked. I also want to welcome today’s witnesses. My friend Ken Burns’ documentaries never fail to move the people who watch them. We are enormously lucky he has trained his lens on our national parks. To all of our witnesses, thank you for your commitment to our national parks and for sharing your experience with us today. 

Our national parks are national treasures. They teach us about nature and the environment and our vast, beautiful country. They also serve as an economic catalyst in many areas of our country, helping to sustain communities large and small. In West Virginia, the national parks alone generate more than $50 million in economic activity every year, supporting more than 1,700 jobs. Park visitors also support hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and many other small businesses, generating millions in tax revenue. 

Today, I look forward to discussing how we can best promote our national parks. What can we do to improve visitors’ experiences? And how are national parks collaborating with the private tourism industry? What are we doing to reach people who may not have considered visiting national parks – including foreign tourists?

This year the Commerce Committee passed the Travel Promotion Act and President Obama recently signed it into law. The legislation establishes a public-private international advertising campaign to promote travel to the United States. That’s a great thing because these efforts could bring an estimated 1.6 million additional international visitors to the United States every year. And, when those visitors get here, I want them to take advantage of everything America has to offer. I want them to come to West Virginia and see Harper's Ferry, or hike along the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Or even go whitewater rafting down the Gauley River. It is the amazing experiences they have that will bring them back again and again.

So, I hope that, together, we can use market-based tools to learn about visitor trends, communicate with target audiences, and promote both good environmental stewardship and local economies. As our world goes online and grows more connected every day, we must be creative and find new ways to attract foreign and domestic tourists alike to our national parks.

Of course, the United States has major attractions in cities like New York, Las Vegas, and right here in Washington. But it is the hundreds of scenic, ecological and geological wonders in our national parks that help us better understand how Earth lives and breathes.