Over Thanksgiving dinner, a public television travelog producer was discussing with family members where they planned to take their next vacation. His sister, who has taken her family to many resort destinations in the past, said she was considering a Disney Cruise. He asked if she’d ever taken the kids to a national park. She hadn’t and wasn’t considering visiting the parks. He was surprised and disappointed, and related the following.

His sister didn’t consider national parks as places her family would vacation, based on these factors:
1) Children greatly influence where the family vacations, today. They see advertising on national television programs that depict certain family vacations as filled with enticiing and fun activities for children and the entire family, but they never see commercials about the national parks. So, when parents ask kids where they would you like to go on vacation… the kids respond with places familiar to them or those they’ve seen on TV.
2) Working moms and dads want to relax on vacation. It’s their time to kick back and they’re not sure they can do that on a national park vacation.
3) National parks are a total unknown to today’s parents. Many have never visited the parks or have faint memories of them from visiting in their youth. They don’t know what they’d do on vacation in a national park, where they’re located, how to get there or why they should go.  When they are considering where to vacation, they only think of places they can imagine themselves visiting and enjoying.

As my friend in public television cautioned, ocean conservationist Jacques Cousteau said, “People will only preserve that they love.” If today’s Americans have little interest or experience in visiting national parks today, will they fight to preserve them in the future?

The National Park Service and National Park Foundation, with the assistance of GREY are developing a million dollar promotional campaign.  It begins with market research to better understand domestic visitation and opportunities to expand it.  A $500,000 social media campaign follows, but far more promotion is needed to change family travel patterns.  AdAge reports Disney spends “$124 million on measured media for its parks and resorts businesses.”  That’s what the national parks are up against for share of voice.

Innovative means of funding a competitive advertising effort must be considered, or we risk failing to connect this millennium’s generation to the parks.

We enlist the power of partnerships to promote visitation to America’s national parks!