Park, NTA searching for solution to Alcatraz ticket problem

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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Negotiations between the National Tour Association (NTA) and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) over tour operator access to Alcatraz were encouraging according to both sides.

NTA president Hank Phillips said NTAs purpose was to more fully understand [GGNRAs] issues and to work together to find solutions short of cutting off ticket sales to the travel industry. The GGNRAs chief of public affairs Richard Weideman said he wanted the same thing.

We are completely open to solutions, Weideman said. We have developed a strong relationship with the tourism community over the last 15 years and we dont want to alienate a constituency that brings so many people to the park. I would rather work with someone who brings 20 to 40 people on a bus than to have 15 to 20 cars in the parking lot.

However, Weideman said, the U.S. Attorneys office, and the legal department of Blue & Gold Fleet, which is the concession operator of Alcatraz, warned that the agency and the concession were at risk of litigation over whether the system for distributing tickets is fair and equitable.

Alcatraz, which receives 1.3 million visitors a year, is pushed to absolute maximum capacity, as demand soars while the capacity is fixed, Weideman said. There are many different kinds of packagers and resellers competing for the tickets, some totally legitimate, some less so. One result is that the average price people pay for the $16 ticket is $51 to $59.

Another problem is that as some wholesalers have grown and merged, their demand for tickets has increased to the point that the agency cannot accommodate everyone.

They [the lawyers] told us we should stop the system in 30 days, Weideman said. That was in the middle of summer when we are moving 5,300 people a day through Alcatraz.

Short of a solution, the agency agreed to cut off the ticket sales Jan. 1, when current contracts expire. But if a solution to the distribution system can be found, Weideman said GGNRA will use it.

Weideman, an active industry participant who regularly attends the Travel Industry Associations Pow Wow and other industry events, said, I have talked to my friends in the travel industry and I told them, Put your mind to it. If someone finds a solution, or reinvents a solution that has been used somewhere else, its a win for the agency. Im cautiously optimistic. The industry is very creative. If theres a solution, well find it.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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