According to USA Today, a new study indicates that the number of visitors to America’s national parks has risen over the past twenty years, but the amount of time they actually spend in the parks is going down. The National Park Service, which conducted the study, says that even though many of the parks, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, have seen record numbers of visitors in recent years, those travelers are actually spending 15 percent less time inside the park while they are there.
Park officials say that a major reason why visits are now shorter than they were two decades ago is that an increasing number of travelers are booking their accommodations outside the park boundaries. Many of the larger parks actually have rustic lodges and campsites that have been popular places to stay for years, but it seems that fewer visitors are choosing to book them when they make their vacation plans. This accounts for at least a portion of the decline in the length of visits, as the study showed that 4.5 million fewer guests stayed the night inside the parks in 2011 than they did in 1994. That’s down 25 percent in just 17 years.
It seems that the parks are as popular as ever but camping isn’t as viable of an option as it once was. This runs directly counter to market trends, which show that Americans have increased their spending on outdoor recreation an average of 5 percent over each of the past five years. Apparently that spending is going into other outdoor activities and travelers are electing to stay in a comfortable bed rather than a tent.
For the Park Service these trends aren’t necessarily alarming, just enlightening. The record number of visitors tells the NPS that travelers still want to visit the parks, they just have other plans on how to spend their time there. The challenge for the Park Service will be to adapt to the changes and continue to provide visitors with what they want and need.