U.S. delays implementation of group fee for national parks

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Bison in Yellowstone National Park.
Bison in Yellowstone National Park. Photo Credit: Jeri Clausing

The National Park Service has delayed an expanded implementation of new fees on tour operators.

The application process has been moved back from Oct. 1 to Jan. 1 for entrance after April 1. Tour operators say they hope to use the time to persuade the NPS to reconsider the so-called commercial use authorization fees. In a letter this week to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the International Inbound Travel Association (IITA) requested a meeting and asked that the program be delayed a year.

At issue is a proposal to require coaches to pay a $300 permitting fee at each of the country's 400-plus national parks (the fee is already in place at some busy parks). That's in addition to per-person entrance and administration fees that range from $5 to $30 per guest. 

NPS plans to use the fee revenue toward park maintenance. IITA head Lisa Simon said tour operators recognize the need for more funding, but said the permitting fee puts an unfair burden on groups.

If the fee is implemented for all parks, tour operators likely will include fewer parks in their itineraries and spend more time at the most popular parks, exacerbating the problem of overcrowding.

The IITA has also proposed that the NPS implement best practices, which would enable the NPS to ban operators that allow their guests to misbehave.

"While the news of a delay was welcomed, three months is not enough time to address these larger issues of overcrowding and 'bad actors' in the group tour business," Simon said. "Plus, the program as currently designed will cause undue financial burden on group travelers, tour operators and surrounding communities. We need time and the commitment from Secretary Bernhardt that these matters will be addressed."

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