Across the Potomac in Arlington, the combined effects of a slump in tourism and canceled trips related to the government shutdown has resulted in up to a 50 percent drop in hotel revenue, according to Cara O’Donnell, a spokeswoman for Arlington Economic Development. “It’s a mix of meetings of government business and contractor events that are being canceled, school groups and leisure travel,” she says. “It’s really hurting us.”
Travelers, meanwhile, are quick to blame their travel problems on the shutdown, even when the connection is tenuous at best. Don Fairley, a retired marketing executive from Long Beach, Calif., says that he endured a 1½-hour wait at customs in Houston after flying in from Frankfurt, Germany. “It was a total mess,” he says.
Helene Ward and her husband were returning to Washington Dulles International Airport from Athens on Oct. 2 when they were met with “inordinately long lines” at customs. Ward believes that their two-hour delay was a direct result of the shutdown, even though customs officers aren’t supposed to be affected by the furloughs. “There was only one customs officer,” she remembers. “It was bad enough for Americans to see how dysfunctional our government is, but shameful for foreigners to see us at our worst.”
While these problems, both real and imagined, may pale in comparison with the disaster that some predict will occur if the U.S. government defaults on its debt — a possible result of the legislative brinksmanship — I can’t help adding my own tale of woe. I’m scheduled to start a three-week tour of America’s Western national parks, including Yellowstone and Grand Teton, on Monday. Even if all the parks reopen, Reynolds says that it will take weeks for them to be fully up and running smoothly.
I don’t know how to break it to my kids, ages 6, 8 and 11. Maybe I should start by telling them a little bit about how our government works — or doesn’t work.
There’s no substitute for a closed museum or park. You can’t replace a visit to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, because there’s nothing on Earth like it. Thanks to the closings, our trip, and many others, could end in disappointment.
Perhaps the only real solution is to let Congress know how unhappy you are about your foiled travel plans. An e-mail or phone call would do the trick, but experts agree that the best opportunity to express your disapproval may be at the ballot box.
E-mail Christopher Elliott at email@example.com.