Recently announced new requirements for commercial tour operators bringing visitors to any of its 415 national parks, monuments and historic sites.

Effective October 1, 2019, tour operators will be required to obtain Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) permits and submit end-of-year Management Reports. The new policies also require tour operators to pay three fees per park: a CUA application fee ($300 per park annually), per-person entrance fees where applicable and a Management Report fee ($5 per visitor they brought into parks for the year). When charged a per-person entrance fee, tour operators will not be required to pay the $5 per-person management fee. Instead, NPS will allocate that amount from the entrance fees paid.

Most national parks have not required tour CUAs or permit fees in the past, and few have required the management fees, so these new requirements will require significant changes to operators visiting multiple national parks.

The International Inbound Travel Association has been and will continue working with the National Park Service and U.S. legislators to ease the administrative and financial burdens the new requirements will have on tour operators. One positive outcome of IITA’s advocacy is an online application system that NPS is developing for tour operators to apply and pay for all CUAs in one place at one time. Operators will also be able to file (and pay) end-of-year Management Reports.

Among the concerns IITA has expressed to the National Park Service are:

• Substantial cost increases for tours already sold due to the inability to include in tour pricing. With international consumer laws, tour operators will have to fulfill their itinerary obligations.

• Disproportionately higher cost to group tour visitors compared to independent visitors

• Lesser-known/visited parks would be eliminated from tour itineraries to keep costs down. The parks that want more visitors will be left wanting, while the parks that are overcrowded will remain overcrowded.

Other potential changes on the horizon include proposed reservation systems for some highly visited parks like Acadia, Arches and Zion. Reservations for tour operators/groups would be managed via CUA permits.

As currently proposed, tour operators would need to submit CUA applications by December 31 of the prior year and list all dates and estimated number of participants across all groups, at which point they would be collectively considered and scheduled by the park. Tour operators will not be able to include parks in their early bookings/itineraries nor will they be able to accept late bookings.

IITA’s U.S. inbound/receptive operators want park visitors to have the best possible experiences. Therefore, IITA will continue working with the National Park Service to find reasonable solutions for ease and access to America’s greatest attractions for international visitors.

As policies for tours to national parks continue to be moving targets, international tour operators can rely on their IITA inbound operator partners to be in-the-know and ready to service their groups seamlessly, as they expertly navigate the complexities of the U.S. National Park Service and business/legal requirements of the CUA program. For more information, contact IITA at headquarters@inboundtravel.org.