Lexington based touring group affected by government shutdown

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comOctober 12, 2013 

The office of the Lexington-based National Tour Association has become "Shutdown Central" for the thousands of travel professionals affected by the closing of national parks, museums and monuments, according to the association's spokesman.

The tour association is collecting its members' suggestions for tour operators with groups who need substitute sites and activities, and are posting the ideas online at NTA online.com, said Lisa Simon, president of the National Tour Association.

"Right here in Lexington is the headquarters of a global association of tourism professionals, and we've really had to snap into action to help members connect with each other when so many attractions closed all at once," said Bob Rouse, spokesman for the tour association.

One member, the Louisville-based Shockey Tours and Charters, currently has 54 people from Kentucky — including 26 from Lexington — and Indiana on a tour to New England. They were not able to visit Acadia National Park in Maine as a result of the partial federal government shutdown, said Shockey General Manager Denny Bridges

The group also missed a tour of a nuclear-powered submarine in Connecticut and the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, said Shockey tour escort Kathy Staud.

Since the national park was closed, Staud said they found other activities and arrived in Bar Harbor, Maine, early. Still, she said, "the things we missed cannot be replaced."

Similarly, Bridges said a charter group traveling from Lexington to Washington D.C. last week was "greatly affected."

It has caused traveling groups to think outside the box a bit.

Rouse said NTA members have pulled together to find other activities. Mount Vernon, George Washington's home, and the International Spy Museum, which are not operated by the federal government, have been alternatives, Rouse said.

NTA officials said Friday that, under a new policy, the U.S. Department of Interior is allowing individual states to provide the funding to reopen national parks for public visitation. The policy will allow decisions to be made by each state for selected parks and for fixed time limits, depending on funding.

But Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear, said "at this point, we don't have enough information to determine whether the federal government's initial offer is feasible here in Kentucky."

Richardson said news that the federal government was allowing states to reopen national parks using state money is "helpful."

"However, a great deal of detail is still unknown, such as states' opportunity for reimbursement, how long those parks could operate, and the level to which those facilities could be reopened to public use," Richardson said.

Preliminary results of a survey that's still being conducted by the National Tour Association show 82 percent of the NTA members responding to the survey said they have been affected, according to Simon.

With only 12 percent of members providing a dollar figure for lost revenues, estimates of economic loss as of Wednesday were at $14 million, she said.

Nearly half — 46 percent — have had customers cancel because of the closures, and more than a quarter — 26 percent — have been forced to postpone tours until the federal government reopens the attractions, an NTA release said.

More than half (57 percent) of the NTA members who responded to the survey said they have refunded deposits for tours.

"This survey shows just what you'd expect to see by the abrupt closure of America's immensely popular attractions — tourism is suffering because of the shutdown," Simon said in the news release. "Our members are hurting — from Alaska to the Virgin Islands — wherever federal sites are shuttered."

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears

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