Visitor entrance fees aren’t the only ones set to climb in a recently released National Park Service proposal.
Included in the proposed hike are fee increases for companies bringing buses and vans of tourists into parks. Motor coaches sized to bring dozens of people into Grand Canyon National Park, for example, could be required to pay $900 to $1,200 each, up from $300 now.
On top of that, Grand Canyon National Park in August handed down an increase in fees charged to all other non-road-based, non-concessionaire companies doing business in the park.
In Grand Canyon, the changes could together impact a total of 563 businesses that hold commercial use authorizations, allowing them to provide a service to visitors in the park.
Businesses said the changes, both proposed and implemented, mean that in addition to entrance fee increases, costs for tour and recreation services in the park could inch upwards as well.
“We’re going to pass (the fee increases) along to people on tours. We still have to make money or else we're not in business so in the end it’s hurting everybody,” said Glenn Tamblingson, owner of Flagstaff-based Canyon Country Tours.
For operators of commercial road-based tours, the National Park Service is proposing a new $5 per-person management fee on top of vehicle fees specific to cars, vans and buses associated with commercial tours.
Vehicles would be subject to either off-season or peak-season prices that in Grand Canyon range from $80 for a sedan to $600 for a large motorcoach hauling more than 57 people, with those rates doubling during peak season months.
Before, the fee at Grand Canyon was $8 per person for vehicles with 25 people or less and $300 for vehicles carrying 26 people or more.
Tamblingson estimated he would increase prices about 10 percent to cover the proposed fee increases.
He said the proposed system would be a headache more than anything else. That's because the $5-per-person management fee is assessed at the end of the year, along with annual reports, which requires more bookkeeping compared to paying everything at the time of a trip, Tamblingson said. He said he would prefer a flat per-person charge paid upon entering the park that would encompass increased vehicle rates as well as the management fee.
Apart from the Park Service-wide fee proposal for road-based tour operators, Grand Canyon National Park this summer implemented a new management fee for all other commercial use authorization holders, from companies renting bikes and river rafting equipment to those leading day hikes or photography workshops in the canyon. Initially, that fee was set at 3 percent to 5 percent of a company’s total revenue beginning in 2018, which was a shock to many, especially those that had already set prices and accepted reservations at those prices for next year, said Lee Soifer, manager of Ceiba Adventures, which rents boating equipment for Grand Canyon river trips.
Before, there was a flat $200 to $400 fee for commercial use authorization holders, he said.
But 3 percent to 5 percent represents a significant chunk of revenues for these types of companies, Soifer said. According to a 2013 survey of tour operators worldwide by the Adventure Travel Trade Association, companies grossing between $1 million and $5 million annually report a net profit margin of 11.4 percent.
After writing letters and having discussions with the park, the businesses were able to get those fees lowered to between 1.5 percent and 2.5 percent for at least next year, Soifer said. An official with the park did not respond to requests for confirmation of that arrangement.
It was a compromise that business owners were happy about, though that doesn’t mean customers won't see prices increase, Soifer said.
“You can expect industry-wide that folks will be increasing prices or adding on the park service fee in addition to what they are charging on invoices,” he said.
Like visitor entrance fees, the commercial use authorization fees go toward park improvements. All commercial use authorization fees stay within the collecting park and go to fund rehabilitation projects for buildings, facilities, parking lots, roads, and wayside exhibits that would enhance the visitor experience, according to a news release from the agency. The fees will also cover the administrative costs of receiving, reviewing and processing commercial use authorization applications and required reports, the agency stated.