Tourist Troubles: Potential Government Shutdown Could Stifle Museums, Parks

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Tourists at the 2011 National Cherry Blossom Festival could face a change in plans if the government shuts down Friday

Getty Images / Jewel Samad/AFP

While the looming government shutdown dominates political discussion, implications on a personal level don’t always enter the conversation.

But if lawmakers can’t reach a resolution, tourists across the country will feel the effects.

The timing of the budget crisis coincides with one of Washington’s biggest tourist attractions: the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The three-week-long festival culminates Saturday in a parade that paces National Park Service grounds. According to the festival’s Web site, Friday’s outcome could affect the parade’s location and postpone other Cherry Blossom events scheduled to take place on the Washington Monument grounds.

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As tourists flood to the city, the Smithsonian Institution expects about 500,000 visitors to its free museums and zoo this weekend — visitors they would turn away in the case of a shutdown. The Washington Post reports that Smithsonian’s museums have already sold 23,000 advance tickets for lunches and IMAX theater shows for this month and expect thousands more on a daily basis. Bitterly disappointed tourists and a loss of revenue could be in the forecast for D.C. museums.

The Smithsonian’s nine-museum collections house the Hope Diamond, Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and the Apollo lunar landing module. While the Washington area has private museums a-plenty, expensive admission tickets aren’t nearly as appealing to visitors expecting the cost-effective culture experience that the Smithsonian museums offer.

A shutdown would also close the National Zoo, thereby keeping the giant pandas hidden from the public eye. This news may upset tourists, but animal lovers shouldn’t worry: in this case “Ich bein ein Berliner” doesn’t bear weight. If the government shuts down, a small staff would still care for the creatures.

The issue isn’t contained inside the beltway; rather, national parks across the country fear closings as well. NBC reports that while April isn’t a peak tourist month at destination parks like Yellowstone, the uncertainty caused by a shutdown could hurt them in the long run, as tourists may avoid planning summer vacations that depend on government funding.

Other national parks have more pressing worries. April 12 marks the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the Civil War. At Fort Sumter in South Carolina, a week-long series of events has been planned for years. Location really matters here and thus, the historical significance of commemorative festivities rides on the National Park Service’s operating ability. The AP reports that if the park closes, hundreds of war re-enactors may be without a place to stay and cannon shots would be fired from non-federal land nearby rather than from the fort itself.

As the deadline for lawmakers approaches and the likelihood of a shutdown seems to increase, America’s tourism industry fears its impact. Between passports and parks, there’s certainly cause for concern.

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