Today, US Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) introduced the Explore America Act which supports the expansion of cultural heritage tourism by strengthening the Preserve America Grant Program.
Officials say that changes to the program will help attract more visitors to American landscapes and cultural heritage sites in the National Parks System, enhance existing programs, and increase collaboration between communities and the federal government.
“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 Sen. 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.”
The Preserve America Program was established by Executive Order in 2003 to support state, tribal, and local government 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.
“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 Sen. 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.”
The Explore America Act would amend the Preserve America Grant Program to:
· Provide technical assistance. The bill directs the Departments of Commerce and Interior, and the Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation to provide technical assistance in lieu of monetary funds.
· Focus on economic growth. It directs the Secretary of Commerce to coordinate with the Secretary of the Interior and the ACHP to evaluate how the program can increase job creation, boost economic growth, and promote tourism.
· Increase accountability. It establishes program metrics to measure effectiveness and report findings to Congress.
· Prioritize community coordination. The bill directs collaboration with gateway communities (communities adjacent to National Parks) by providing financial and technical assistance, tourism development and promotion, visitor management services, and access to federal resources.
“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.”
“Protected areas, particularly World Heritage sites and National Parks, are some of tourism’s biggest attractions, and a key driver of economic activity in surrounding communities,” said Don Welsh, president and CEO of Destinations International. “Visitors to US National Parks spent an estimated $18.4 billion in local gateway regions in 2016, generating thousands of jobs and significant tax revenue for these communities. Destinations International supports any legislation that helps foster a better relationship between governments and local stakeholders, empowering them to share their unique stories with visitors and expand the economic benefits of tourism.”