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Know the West

Where have all the tourists gone?

  After all the worry and publicity about overcrowding at the Grand Canyon, the Park Service reported that visitation this summer has dropped by nearly 12 percent from last year. Not everyone is relieved; local businesses banking on a record-breaking flood of tourists are hurting. Theories about the decline range from the hot weather to foreign tourists' fears about their safety in this country, says Grand Canyon Assistant Superintendent Gary Cummins. Grand Canyon is not alone. Visitation this season has dropped at more than half the national park system units, he says. "I have a gut feeling about it," says Cummins. "It's not very scientific, but I don't hear as much German at the overlooks as I did last year." Foreigners normally make up about 40 percent of the park's visitors, but this year mail posted to other countries from the Grand Canyon is down by one-third, says Cummins. Some area business people blame the Park Service for scaring people away with grim predictions of crowds and traffic jams. "It appears that in preparing for the overcrowding of past years, the Park Service may have actually done its job a little too well," Grand Canyon Chamber of Commerce president Brenda Tormo told the Arizona Daily Sun. But Cummins says that if people are staying away because of the crowds, it's not publicity but word of mouth. "It's just common sense."