2012 National Park visitor spending effects: economic contributions to local communities, states, and the nation

Product Type: 

Contractor Report




Cullinane Thomas, C.M., C.C. Huber, and L. Koontz

Suggested Citation: 

Cullinane Thomas, C.M., C.C. Huber, and L. Koontz. 2014. 2012 National Park visitor spending effects: economic contributions to local communities, states, and the nation. NPS/NRSS/EQD/NRR—2014/765. Fort Collins, CO: National Park Service. 1-42 p.


The National Park System covers more than 84 million acres and is comprised of 401 sites across the nation. These lands managed by the National Park Service (NPS) serve as recreational destinations for visitors from across the nation and around the world. On vacations or on day trips, NPS visitors spend time and money in the gateway communities surrounding NPS sites. Spending by NPS visitors generates and supports a considerable amount of economic activity within park gateway communities. This economic effects analysis measures how spending by NPS visitors cycles through local gateway economies, generating business sales and supporting jobs and income.

The NPS has been measuring and reporting visitor spending and economic effects for the past 24 years; and for the past 14 years, these estimates have been made using the Money Generation Model (MGM2). For the 2012 analysis, the NPS in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has developed a new model (the visitor spending effects model, or VSE model) to estimate visitor spending and economic effects. This report starts by describing the new VSE model and how it differs from the MGM2 model. Next, an overview of economic effects analyses is presented, followed by details about the data and methods used for this analysis. The report concludes by presenting estimates of NPS visitor spending in 2012 and resulting economic effects at the local, state, regional, and national levels. Park-level spending and economic effects estimates are included in the appendix.

New in 2012 This 2012 analysis marks a major revision to the NPS visitor spending effects analyses, with the development of a new visitor spending effects model (VSE model). The VSE model replaces the MGM2 model. Many of the hallmarks and processes of the MGM2 model are preserved in the new VSE model, but the new model makes significant strides in improving the accuracy and transparency of the analysis. It is important to note that, because of this change from the MGM2 model to the VSE model, estimates from this year’s analysis are not directly comparable to previous analyses. The following bullets highlight the major differences between the MGM2 model and the new VSE model.

  • Both the MGM2 and the VSE models rely on economic multipliers derived from the IMPLAN input-output modeling system. The VSE model improves upon the MGM2 model by using unique IMPLAN multipliers for each park. Park-level multipliers are based on county-level data for the local gateway economies surrounding each park.
  • This year’s analysis uses the most current 2012 IMPLAN data (IMPLAN Group LLC).
  • Local gateway regions are redefined. As with the MGM2 model, local gateway regions are defined as all counties within a 60-mile radius surrounding park boundaries. The actual local gateway regions for the MGM2 model were modified from this rule set and tended to be smaller. For the VSE model, GIS data were used to determine the local gateway region for each park unit by spatially identifying all counties partially or completely contained within a 60-mile radius around each park boundary. This method creates a uniform definition of local gateway regions. The new larger gateway regions capture a greater portion of secondary spending, and thus result in slightly larger local secondary effects.
  • Visitor spending and trip characteristic data has changed for the VSE model from what were previously used in the MGM2 model. Although data used in both the VSE model and the MGM2 were derived from Visitor Services Project (VSP) surveys, the estimated generic visitor spending patterns and trip characteristic information differ. Generic profiles for the VSE model were developed using the VSP data categorized by four park types: parks that have both camping and lodging available within the park, parks that have only camping available within the park, parks with no overnight stays, and parks with high day use.

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    Related Keywords: 

  • NPS