Midst the dire dialogue and discussion that has come with the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic on every sector of the U.S. population and its economy, the travel and tourism has scored an unqualified victory as the U.S. National Park Service has announced that it has withdrawn plans to increase commercial tour entrance fees at U.S. national parks—the most popular generic destination for international visitors to the United States—and will not implement a nationwide commercial use authorization (CUA) requirement for road-based commercial tours* in national parks.
The NPS proposal had called for a $20-per-person fee and, originally, was to have gone into effect on April 1, 2020. (Its implementation was twice delayed) Individual parks may still charge CUA fees, which differ from park to park, with some charging nothing, while others, such as the Grand Canyon National Park, have a schedule of fees that can still make it a costly venture for a tour operator.
Since the NPS announced a couple of years ago its intent to establish a uniform fee at all parks, the U.S. Travel Association, NTA, the American Bus Association, and U.S. domestic tour operators as well as U.S.-based receptive tour operators lobbied incessantly against the move. But the response of the NPS was, essentially, to ignore the industry’s pleas.
To illustrate, this is how the NPS last November summarized the industry’s comments on the proposal during the open-comment period for the changes:
“This is a huge win for NTA and all of the travel associations that lobbied against the proposed changes to the CUA program. While the word standardize sounds positive and efficient, the significant expense and extra paperwork for tour operators would have been anything but positive,” said NTA’s president, Catherine Prather, “and the twice-delayed rollout of the plan reflects the confusion that surrounded it. To those of you who shared your concerns about the plan with the NPS and your legislators, thank you. Our voices were heard.”
“But our work continues,” she added. “There still exists a patchwork of CUA costs and requirements for the many national parks that require road-based commercial tour CUAs. Parks that issue road-based commercial tour CUAs may continue to do so and will charge current CUA fees. But we can at least take comfort in knowing that parks that have not issued such CUAs before cannot start doing so now.”
* According to the National Park Service, the definition of a “Road-based Commercial Tour” is one or more persons traveling by vehicle on an improved roadway:
—On an itinerary that someone has packaged and sold for leisure/recreational purposes, and which,
—Provides no other services except those incidental to road-based travel in an area unit of the National Park System (on-board interpretation and incidental stops at visitor centers, restaurants, wayside exhibits, etc.).
Note: Transportation-only services such as taxis and shuttles do not meet the definition of Road-based Commercial Tours because those services are not prepackaged.