WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Jack Reed (D-RI) today introduced the Explore America Act, bipartisan legislation that would encourage job creation and allow local communities to play a larger role in the development and promotion of tourism for premiere American landscapes and cultural heritage sites in our National Parks system.
“Louisiana communities, urban and rural, have rich histories. They should have a bigger say in how their stories are shared with visitors and tourists,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Reforming the Preserve America Grant Program will improve the experiences of millions of families who visit national parks each year. This increases the positive impact this tourism has on local economies.”
“Every year, Hawai‘i sets new records for tourism growth in our state, but for too many people, it doesn’t feel like that growth is helping small businesses, families, and young people who are looking to build a life in Hawai‘i,” said Senator Schatz. “This bill is about returning control to the people who live in the places everyone else wants to visit. It gives local communities the chance to see more benefits from tourism, including better jobs, and it puts the story of Hawai‘i in the hands of our own residents. This is what international visitors and tourists are looking for—authentic experiences that tell a story and have a history. With this bill, we can strengthen what Hawai‘i has to offer, and make sure local people benefit along the way.”
“Cultural heritage tourism provides an authentic view into our nation’s past and allows the public to learn about and enjoy the various cultural histories of gateway communities across our nation,” said Senator Reed. “This effort will also stimulate local economies and create jobs in the tourism industry. National Parks and Heritage Areas are among our nation’s greatest assets, and I am proud to join my colleagues in this bipartisan effort to help communities display their history and natural beauty while simultaneously building their economies.”
In December, Cassidy’s office participated in a Louisiana Rural Tourism Meeting hosted by Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser in Avoyelles Parish.
The Preserve America Program was established by Executive Order in 2003 to support state, tribal, and local governments’ efforts to preserve and enhance heritage tourism. The grant component of the Preserve America Program is a matching partnership between the Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation and the Department of the Interior that supports heritage tourism at the state and local levels.
The Explore America Act amends the Preserve America Grant Program to attract more visitors, enhance existing programs, and increase collaboration between communities and the federal government. It does so by:
- Providing technical assistance: The bill directs the U.S. Commerce and Interior Departments and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to replace funding with technical assistance grants.
- Encouraging economic growth: The bill directs the U.S. commerce secretary to coordinate with the U.S. interior secretary and ACHP to evaluate how the program can increase job creation, spur economic growth, and promote tourism.
- Increasing accountability: The bill establishes program metrics to measure effectiveness and report findings to Congress.
- Prioritizing community coordination: The bill directs the U.S. interior secretary to partner with gateway communities adjacent to National Parks to improve tourism development and promotion, visitor management services, and access to federal resources.
“Hundreds of gateway communities across the country rely on the national parks for their economic vitality,” said Bill Hardman, the president and CEO of the Southeast Tourism Society. “The Southeast Tourism Society enthusiastically endorses the Explore America Act, which builds on existing parks tourism to encourage partnerships between the National Park Service and local stakeholders, and empowers gateway communities to leverage cultural and heritage tourism assets to promote visitation and to better tell the stories of these communities.”
“Place-based preservation matters,” said Alan Spears, director of cultural resources at the National Parks Conservation Association. “The Explore America Act provides the National Park Service with enhanced ability to partner with gateway communities across the United States to better leverage their local cultural and historic resources through heritage tourism. The National Parks Conservation Association is pleased to support this bill that empowers communities to promote pride of place.”
“In 2016, National Parks welcomed nearly 331 million visitors, spending $18.4 billion in gateway communities and supporting thousands of American jobs,” said Victoria Barnes, a senior vice president at the U.S. Travel Association. “The Explore America Act supports the future growth and vitality of gateway communities by strengthening collaboration between local stakeholders and the federal government to enhance visitation and access federal resources. We thank Senators Cassidy and Schatz for introducing this bill and for their leadership and support of America’s travel and tourism industry.”