Government Shutdown: How it Could Impact Travelers


The looming possibility of a government shutdown could impact travelers across the country, particularly at government-run museums and national parks.

The Washington Post estimates 500,000 people could be turned away from the National Zoo and the Smithsonian museums located on the National Mall, where peak visitor season is underway for the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas tells the news outlet museums could lose millions of visitors, depending on how long the shutdown runs. Museums have already sold 23,000 advance tickets for IMAX theater shows and lunches this month, and thousands more show up each day to watch films, purchase meals, and buy souvenirs from museum gift shops.

According to the news outlet, in the advent of a government shutdown a "skeleton staff" will feed animals at the National Zoo and guards will still keep watch, but no visitors will be allowed in.

Meanwhile, MSNBC is reporting tourist-dependent businesses, such as those around Yellowstone National Park, are concerned about the impact of a possible government shutdown.

"It will hit (the park employees') pocketbooks, but it could also set the park back in being able to open on time," Bill Berg, president of the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce, just outside the park's north entrance, tells the news outlet.

"If the park doesn't open on time, it's definitely going to be a financial hit for businesses that already struggle with a highly seasonal economy."

Business owners are saying the mere possibility of a government shutdown might already be causing potential travelers to forgo planning summer vacations.

"If I were planning a vacation, I might look somewhere else until the government gets their act together," John Heine, executive director of the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, tells MSNBC. "Potentially our numbers could plummet because of the fear people have in losing money (with a closure)."

During previous government shutdowns in 1995 and early 1996, the National Park Service lost approximately 7 million visitors when 368 sites were shuttered. National monuments and museums were closed to another 2 million.

At the same time, about 200,000 travelers were left waiting for passports when the State Department stopped processing applications. The third annual "Passport Day" is actually planned for this Saturday, which should give people who work Monday through Friday a chance to put in passport applications at passport offices and agencies – if the government stays open.

Air traffic controllers and other essential workers kept on their jobs during previous government shutdowns, and are expected to do so again.

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