Proposed National Parks Fee Could Negatively Impact Group Tours

by Stephen B. Richer, DC Correspondent

A new proposal by the Trump Administration to alter fees for tour groups by increasing costs by as much as 400 percent in peak season has the potential to change the way tours are packaged and sold, particularly to the critical inbound market.

The proposal includes the following changes:

  • Increased fees at 17 of the most popular national parks during peak season, defined as the five contiguous months with the highest visitation. Fees as proposed would be three and four times the off-season rate.
  • Three different fees for tour companies—the Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) Fee, Management Fee, and Commercial Entrance Fee.
  • Implementation of the new fees on January 1, 2019, violating prior National Park Service agreements to notify the group tour industry at least 18 months prior to any new fees being collected.

A broadly based coalition of travel industry organizations, including the International Inbound Travel Association, is working with the National Parks Conservation Association to recommend a more robust general appropriation to address the $12 billion–infrastructure backlog, rather than increased visitor fees. Years of Congressional underfunding of this backlog has resulted in the massive needs for infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

Lisa Simon, IITA executive director, stated, “We have been long-term advocates for funding appropriate operations, programming, and upkeep of our national parks. Over a period of years, modest levels of appropriations have stretched the staffing, reduced programming, and generated a massive backlog in maintenance costs for our national parks. We have always requested better funding and have been enthusiastic supporters of new revenue streams, such as the public-private partnerships established in the National Park Centennial legislation.”

Simon commented further, “These new proposals to modify fees on tour groups with as much as a 400 percent increase is simply an outrageous way to address the backlog, which really should be from general appropriations. IITA has been a supporter of the trillion-dollar infrastructure proposal that has been a key element in the Trump Presidential campaign and the comments by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that the backlog would be part of that effort. Unfortunately, this proposal has yet to see any specific action.”

Inbound operators anticipate that these changes could adversely affect tourism by reducing the number of parks visited, changing the affordability of visiting the United States, concentrating visitation on the most popular and already overcrowded parks, and create a new barrier to grow additional visitation from key markets.

Increased entrance fees could put national parks out of reach for lower income Americans, which seems to violate the principles establishing the national parks in the first place.

“IITA, the leader in handling the international trade aspect of our national parks, will have a loud voice on these matters, as our national parks are very significant elements in a large portion of the itineraries offered by our members,” concluded Simon, who promised to keep this issue in front of both Congress and international and domestic park users.