By ABA Media
Over the past few years, fees at national parks around the country have been rising significantly at such popular destinations as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon to address the impacts of budget cuts. Seniors, long able to purchase a lifetime pass to national parks for only $10, are also facing an increase of 700 percent—up to $80. Those increases are likely to continue under the current administration but, for now, it’s difficult to discern exactly what the impacts may be—or when they will occur.
Previously, the price of senior passes had been stable at $10 since 1994, and national park fees in general had also been relatively stable since 2006, impacted by the recession and concerns over how price increases might negatively impact tourism. Obviously, any increases in costs related to tourism and tourist activity will have an impact on the motorcoach industry.
While park entrance fees may increase, what is of more concern to Tom Giddens, president of Pacific Coachways Charter Services Inc., based in California, are commercial use authorization permits. Whenever park entrance fees change, he says, those costs can be passed on to each motorcoach tour customer. Even though Pacific Coachways takes tour groups through parks that are part of the National Park System, each park has its own process and fee for the commercial use permits. Giddens says the Department of Transportation already makes certain that operators have insurance, a commercial license, etc. The additional permits sought by national parks are duplicative of existing DOT regulations.
“We would like to see one national permit and one standard permitting process for all of the national parks,” he says. “We routinely take tour groups into parks such as Joshua Tree and the Grand Canyon, for example, but when we receive a request to tour a park that’s new for us, we're faced with permitting processes and new commercial use permit fees that vary by park. We have one National Park System; we should have one permitting process to ease variations in regulations and fees for operators.”
Bob Hoelscher, a travel writer who writes the “Park It Here” column in ABA’s Destinations magazine, has been monitoring issues related to fees at national parks and said that, for now, things are on hold. While he says there will definitely be fee increases, at this point, no details have been released—or determined.
The key takeaway, says Hoelscher, is that nothing is likely to happen until 2019. So, for now, operators can “plan for 2018 as though it were 2017.”