The Western States Tourism Policy Council (WSTPC) is a consortium of twelve western state tourism offices, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Hawaii, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Inspired by the 1995 White House Conference on Travel and Tourism, which urged greater regional attention to the interrelationships between Federal lands, the environment and tourism, eight western states in 1996 formed the WSTPC. Since its establishment, the mission of the WSTPC has remained: To advance understanding and increase support for public policies that enhance the positive impact of travel and tourism on the economies and environments of states and communities in the West.
In September, 1997, a notable Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the then eight states of the WSTPC and nine Federal agencies, including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Highway Administration. The signatories pledged to share information and provide mutual support and cooperation on common programs and projects.
So successful was the MOU that it has been renewed and expanded twice -- in November, 2001, between then eleven western states and two additional Federal agencies, the Department of Commerce Office of Travel and Tourism Industries and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and in February, 2008, between the current twelve WSTPC members and nine Federal agencies (including as a new agency the Small Business Administration while dropping the Natural Resources Conservation Service). At least two or three times each year, the WSTPC and its Federal partners hold joint meetings to discuss issues and concerns and to plan projects, especially regional intergovernmental conferences.
WSTPC-Federal Partners Conferences
Since it was formed a decade ago, the WSTPC, its Federal partners and other Federal agencies have held eight highly successful regional conferences:
1996: Tourism and the Public Lands – Lake Tahoe, NV
1997: Cultural Tourism in the West – Los Angeles, CA
- 2009: Policy Forum on Gateway and Tribal Communities (co-sponsored by the Southeast Tourism Society and the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association)
Not only have these conferences attracted as many as 500 attendees, they have produced tangible results with a significant impact on western tourism. For example:
The 1996 Conference on Tourism and the Public Lands was the first such conference to bring the public and private sectors together to address this topic and led directly to the 1997 MOU.
The 1998 Gateways Conference resulted in the subsequent drafting and introduction in Congress of the Gateway Communities Cooperation Act and in the establishment of the National Alliance of Gateway Communities, the first national organization solely dedicated to the interests of gateway communities.
The 1999 Transportation and Tourism Conference was the first ever devoted to this critical topic and led to increased industry support for the national scenic byways and transportation enhancements programs, and to the later formation of the National Travel, Tourism and Recreation Coalition for Surface Transportation, which was succeeded by the current Tourism Highways Coalition.
The Conference on Facilitation of International Travel in 2000 was another industry first and marked the WSTPC’s involvement in issues pertaining to the treatment of international visitors to the U.S.
The 2002 Gateways Conference further explored the impact of the Federal land agencies on gateway communities and had a significant impact on Federal land agency policies affecting gateways, notably the 2007 National Park Service Management Policy.
The 2005 Conference on Recreation in the West on the National Forests and BLM Lands developed an agenda of policy proposals.
The 2009 Policy Forum on Gateway and Tribal Communities amplified this agenda with additional policy recommendations.
Market Development Cooperator Program
In 2002, the WSTPC received a three-year Market Development Cooperator Grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce. In the first ten years of the MDCP, the WSTPC was one of only three travel and tourism organizations to receive this award. As a result of this cooperative agreement with the Commerce Department, the WSTPC implemented a $1 million program dedicated to educating western gateway communities about the potential benefits of international visitation and how to attract more visitors from other countries.
Western Governors Association Get Out West! Initiative
The WSTPC was one of the first organizations consulted when this 2011-2012 WGA Initiative to promote and support tourism and recreation in the American West was being planned and is now part of the GOW Advisory Board. The WSTPC played a key supportive role in the formulation and implementation of this important WGA Initiative to ensure that it would have a positive, continuing impact on tourism in the West extending beyond the single year originally planned. This collaboration will also provide an opportunity for a closer partnership between the WSTPC and the WGA on tourism related issues.
Public Policy Issues
The WSTPC has always had as its primary mission supporting public policies that enable travel and tourism to have a more positive impact in the West. The WSTPC strategy has been to identify emerging issues and determine their likely impact on western tourism, to work with allies and friends in the industry and in Congress and government agencies and to communicate its views and positions to policy-makers.
Following are some of the major issues and activities on which the WSTPC has had significant influence:
Gateway Communities. The WSTPC has been responsible for significantly increasing the recognition of gateway communities in Federal lands policies. It stimulated the 1999 formation of the National Alliance of Gateway Communities efforts and worked with the NAGC to draft the Gateway Community Cooperation Act the first legislation ever to focus on gateway communities. Although not finally enacted by Congress, this historic legislation, inspired several agency actions that have made gateways much more meaningful partners with the Federal land agencies that are their neighbors, most notably in the 2006 NPS Management Policies, which for the first time directs NPS management staff to work closely and cooperatively with gateway communities.
Recreation Fees. The WSTPC supported strengthening and expanding the recreation fee demonstration program, and was a key player in supporting the 2004 Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, which authorized a ten-year fee program.
Federal Lands Budgets. The WSTPC follows the Federal budget and appropriations processes and supports adequate funding for Federal land agencies’ programs and activities beneficial to tourism and recreation.
Recreation One-Stop. In 2002, the WSTPC was instrumental in convincing the Department of the Interior to substantially revise its plans to develop a Federal “one-stop” national vacation planner on the Internet that could have enabled anyone to plan and make reservations and other arrangements for trips throughout the country in direct competition with state tourism offices and many private sector travel companies. As a result of the WSTPC’s intervention, the Department decided to limit its proposal to a website for complete and timely information about recreation opportunities on all the Federal lands with links to state tourism office and other industry websites.
Role of State Tourism Offices in Public Lands Planning. The WSTPC has consistently advocated an increased role for state tourism offices in the planning and implementation of Federal land agency planning processes. As a direct result of WSTPC efforts, such a role for state tourism offices was explicitly recognized in the proposed national recreation lakes system, the final Forest Service’s 2008 national recreation plan, the final 2006 National Park Service Management Plan and the National Park Service 2009 National Tourism Strategy.
NPS Management Plan. As noted, the 2006 NPS Management Plan, which guides management decisions by all park management staff, was significantly shaped by WSTPC recommendations, including directing closer cooperation with gateway communities, collaboration with state tourism offices and recognizing the importance of NPS staff working closely with the tourism industry. These three major provisions had never before been included in NPS Management Plans.
National Park Centennial Initiative. The WSTPC played a key role in helping shape this proposed historic increase in funding for the national parks proposed by President Bush. The Centennial Initiative would have generated up to $3 billion in public-private shared funding for the national parks in the decade preceding the 2016 celebration of the centennial of the National Park Service. The WSTPC was instrumental in ensuring that the final program would have accepted marketing projects on the national parks and that state tourism offices could help sponsor and administer those projects.
The Centennial Initiative was not continued by the Obama Administration, which gave priority instead to the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.
Increasing Role and Importance of Tourism at Department of the Interior. The WSTPC is currently working with the DOI Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs to achieve greater recognition and involvement of tourism in departmental public lands programs and policies, including the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative and the National Travel and Tourism Strategy (see below).
International Marketing of U.S. as Tourism Destination
American Travel Promotion Act. The WSTPC supported the American Travel Promotion Act (Foley-Farr Act) in the 107th Congress, which would have allocated $100 million to state tourism offices to be used for international tourism marketing programs.
$50 Million International Tourism Marketing Campaign. The WSTPC strongly supported passage of this provision in the 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Act and submitted extensive comments to the U.S. Department of Commerce with recommendations about its implementation. The WSTPC opposed subsequent reductions in funding for this initiative.
Travel Promotion Act. The WSTPC strongly supported this historic legislation introduced in 2007 and enacted in 2010 that establishes the Corporation for Travel Promotion (Brand USA) as a permanent $200 million public-private international marketing organization to market the U.S. as the world’s premier tourism destination. When enacted in 2010, the TPA included two provisions championed by the WSTPC: (1) It strengthened the research role of the Commerce Department’s Office of Travel and Tourism Industries. (2) It gave State Tourism Directors two seats on the Board of Directors of the new Corporation for Travel Promotion, the only industry segment with more than one seat.
TEA 21. The WSTPC strongly supported the tourism-friendly provisions of the 1997 and 2005 Federal highway reauthorization legislation, especially the national scenic byways program and the transportation enhancements program. In 1997, the WSTPC also successfully urged the Federal Highway Administration to adopt an expansive interpretation of a TEA-21 provision authorizing funding for highway tourist welcome centers, so that welcome centers do not have to be located only on national scenic byways to qualify for funding. In 2003, the WSTPC led successful industry efforts in Congress to preserve transportation enhancements as a dedicated set-aside.
2012 Federal Highway Reauthorization. In 2011, the WSTPC formed and continues to lead the Tourism Highway Group, the only national tourism coalition that actively supported the 2012 reauthorization of the Federal highway reauthorization. The coalition worked to alert and mobilize the industry, Congress and the Administration about the importance of highway reauthorization to all of travel and tourism. Other industry members of the coalition included the AAA, American Bus Association, National Tour Association, Destination Marketing Association International, American Motorcylist Association, American Recreation Coalition and U.S. Travel Association.
Facilitation of International Travel
Visa Waiver Program. The WSTPC successfully supported making the visa waiver program permanent, as passed by Congress in the year 2000 and has always supported the expansion of the program, with successes in 2007 and 2009.
Section 110 Repeal. The WSTPC was again an industry leader in successfully urging Congress in 2000 to repeal Section 110 of the 1996 Immigration Reform Act, which would have required identification and documentation of every in-bound and out-bound international traveler to the U.S. at both air and land points of entry. The concern was that this would have resulted in significant congestion at these entry points and discouraged many visitors to the U.S. (This provision was later adopted by Congress in the aftermath of 9/11.)
INS Proposed 30-Day Visa Rule. The WSTPC was among the first to recognize the potential adverse impact of this proposed regulation on the tourism industry and its efforts resulted in a 2002 Congressional hearing on the issue and eventual withdrawal of the proposed rule in early 2003.
Machine Readable Passports. The WSTPC joined other tourism organizations in objecting to a 2003 U.S. State Department proposal that would have required all visa waiver countries to use machine readable passports (MRPs) by October 1, 2003, a full seven years before the previous 2007 deadline. Responding to industry pressure, the State Department delayed enforcement of this requirement until the statutory date.
EPA Study of Environmental Impact of Travel and Tourism.
The WSTPC was the first tourism organization, in the spring of 2000, to recognize the potential negative impact of this draft study on travel and tourism. Following extensive comments by the WSTPC and other industry organizations and several meetings with EPA staff, the study was substantially revised before its uneventful publication in 2002.
Sierra Club v. Hawaii Tourism Authority
The WSTPC immediately recognized in 2000 the potential precedent-setting impact of this litigation on travel and tourism in every state and on the ability of state tourism offices everywhere to perform their tourism marketing function. The WSTPC retained counsel in Hawaii and worked closely with the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Office of the Attorney General of Hawaii in developing the most effective legal strategy to respond to this threat. After nearly three years of consideration, the Supreme Court of Hawaii in early 2003 dismissed the case.
National Travel and Tourism Strategy
The WSTPC strongly supported the development of the 2012 National Travel and Tourism Strategy. The WSTPC organized the first industry meeting following the formation in January, 2012, of the Presidential Task Force on Travel Competitiveness that eventually produced the National Travel and Tourism Strategy. The WSTPC submitted comments to the Task Force that focused on the role of the national parks, forests and other Federal lands on international and domestic tourism. The WSTPC recommendations were endorsed by the Western Governors Association, the American Bus Association and the National Tour Association.
Summary and Conclusions
In its first sixteen years, the WSTPC has become the most respected and influential regional tourism policy organization in the country. It has influenced the outcome of dozens of public policy issues with great potential impact on travel and tourism in the West and throughout the nation. It has organized innovative and productive educational conferences that have resulted in new industry programs and initiatives. It has developed productive relations with more than a dozen Federal agencies that have a significant impact on tourism and has fostered alliances with most national and regional tourism organizations.
July 11, 2012