Congressman Sam Farr Urges Recreation Community to Streamline Travel and Recreation Opportunities

U.S. Representative Sam Farr (D-CA) was the special guest at the January 2009 Recreation Exchange hosted by the American Recreation Coalition. Mr. Farr, a longtime champion of the outdoors and tourism, spoke on opportunities for outdoor recreation and travel through the economic stimulus package being readied for congressional action. Those opportunities will assist increased marketing, planning and partnerships. The Congressman called for a new effort to fight the “silo mentality” he finds in federal agencies and even local tourism organizations that ignores the public’s interest in finding great things to do across agency and local government boundaries. Mr. Farr also had high praise for programs like the National Park Service’s Centennial Challenge Fund, which matches government appropriations with private funding, saying, “If we put our heads together, we get more bang for our buck!”

With the House vote on the economic stimulus package less than 24 hours away, Mr. Farr outlined the $2+ billion in benefits for public lands that the package includes. The National Park Service (NPS) stands to receive $1.7 billion for deferred maintenance projects and another $100 million for the NPS Centennial Challenge, which will in turn accrue $100 million more from private sector partners’ matching donations. Other agencies, including the Forest Service, will also receive additional funding for readily doable projects. Mr. Farr pointed out that just the week before, the National Mall hosted one of the largest gatherings America has ever seen – an estimated 1.8 million people attended the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Mr. Farr emphasized the importance of maintaining and improving iconic sites like the National Mall that all Americans cherish. While questions about the specifics of the economic stimulus remain, Mr. Farr told the group it is clear that public lands funds will benefit thousands of American workers by sustaining existing jobs and helping to create new employment opportunities on America’s public lands.

Mr. Farr then discussed the direction and goals of the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus (CTTC), which he has co-chaired since 1997. Travel and tourism issues are extremely important to California’s 17th District – which he represents and which encompasses the state's central coast, including Big Sur and Monterey Bay. He talked about the value of caucuses in the Congress and accomplishments of the CTTC in the 110th Congress, including championship of HR 3232 – the Travel Promotion Act of 2007 – which gained House passage, and the introduction of HR 3670 – Improving Public Diplomacy through International Travel Act – which would help match grants for regional travel promotion.

Mr. Farr told the group he is excited about the new CTTC co-chair, U.S. Representative Roy Blunt (R-MO). Mr. Blunt, who voluntarily resigned from a top Republican leadership post last month, has been an active member of the tourism caucus and has co-sponsored several bills supporting the travel industry. In Mr. Blunt’s district in southwest Missouri, which includes the city of Branson, travel-related industries contribute $1.2 billion to the economy and employ 13,000 people. Mr. Farr says he is enthusiastic about the caucus’ plans for the 111th Congress, including expansion of membership, which is currently just over 100 members. He urged the audience to contact their congresspersons about joining the CTTC. Mr. Farr noted that with dozens of caucuses to choose from, Members of Congress will only join and devote time to those they know are important to their constituents. As outdoor recreation and tourism often go hand-in-hand, the outdoor recreation community would certainly stand to benefit from increased membership in the caucus.

The Congressman told the audience it is imperative that the recreation and travel communities work together to ultimately improve the quality of visitor experiences, emphasizing the need for visitors to feel they are having a “value-added” vacation. Mr. Farr’s goal for his district is to promote the idea of a “destination region” rather than a series of separate destination towns and resorts. He suggests using the Hawaiian island concept, where Hawaii’s local tourism industries are coordinated right down to the flower companies that provide free leis to visitors at the airport. “We should ask locals to think about what ‘must-do’ activities they would take their visiting relatives to do in their county, and then separate those activities into different categories by interests. Think of what we could accomplish if we did the same for surrounding counties and promoted comprehensive lists of activities for visitors to the area!” He also advocated focusing on “lineal connectors” between well-known areas like national parks so visitors do not miss the hidden gems along the way. Mr. Farr shared his conviction that these efforts cannot be accomplished effectively at the national level, but that the federal government can and should provide assistance to regional tourism communities. The economic stimulus is the perfect opportunity to cultivate local ideas for travel growth and improvement.

Through his role on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Mr. Farr is also working to ensure that major gateway international airports are particularly friendly environments for foreign travelers. With the weakened U.S. dollar, more visitors should be lured to our national parks from overseas than ever before. “We must be sure that their first step into our country is a welcoming one,” said the Congressman.

Furthermore, Mr. Farr stressed that as an industry, we must always consider how to improve ourselves and our methods. He mentioned as an example that he was impressed by a ranger on a recent trip to Canyonlands National Park. The ranger videotaped her interpretive talk so she could review herself later and even asked her audiences to critique her performance. We too must focus on consistently providing quality experiences to our guests.

Mr. Farr expressed his willingness to help keep recreation issues on the radar screen of the new Administration, and he was enthusiastic about utilizing President Barack Obama to promote America’s public lands. He stressed that promoting recreation issues between government departments is the perfect example of how we can work outside our mental “silos” to spread the message that recreation touches all aspects of American life. American Recreation Coalition President Derrick Crandall agreed that President Obama is a likely ally for outdoor recreation and showed the group a photo of an “Obama RV” driven by new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar with former Colorado Governor Roy Romer on board during the campaign season. Efforts are underway to host the Obama family at one or more national parks this summer.

Recreation Exchanges are hosted in Washington, D.C., by the American Recreation Coalition and feature guests who are influencing recreation public policy in America. Information on past and future programs is available at: www.funoutdoors.com.

If you would like to contact Congressman Farr, he can be reached as follows:

The Honorable Sam Farr
1126 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
(202) 225-2861, fax (202) 225-6791

Recreation Exchanges are made possible by the following sponsors:

American Association for Nude Recreation
American Horse Council
American Motorcyclist Association
Bureau of Land Management
Bureau of Reclamation
Kampgrounds of America
Motorcycle Industry Council
National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds
National Marine Manufacturers Association
National Park Service
National Recreation and Park Association
National Tour Association
Personal Watercraft Industry Association
Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service