A well-intended measure to promote sustainability at U.S. national parks is backfiring for the tour operators that offer those destinations.
The reservation system, introduced at some of the most popular national parks earlier this year, often only allows bookings to be made within a few days or even hours of a park visit. It was designed to limit high visitor volume and better preserve natural resources.
But it is causing tour operators, who book months in advance, to lose bookings due to the short reservation window, especially for international travelers, who book anywhere from six months to a year ahead.
“If a family has long dreamed of visiting the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone and has planned, saved and scheduled their trip well in advance, they want to know their reservations to the park are booked and secure,” said Simon Russell, CEO of Authentic Vacations. “When we work with local national park suppliers and day tour operators and they cannot guarantee us a booked reservation within one of the parks, then we can’t give them the business and everyone loses — the traveler, us and the local supplier.”
In addition, most reservations must be made for parks that require them through Recreation.gov, a platform that National Tour Association (NTA) president Catherine Prather says is better suited for individual or family travelers and is “not designed for groups or tour operators.”
“Seventy-six percent of our tour operators package the parks,” Prather said. “The national parks are an important component or stand-alone feature of many NTA tour operators’ tours and packages.”
Foreign and domestic travel industry leaders are openly calling on the U.S. Interior Department to reform the reservation system and work with tour operators to find solutions that benefit visitors and also preserve the parks.
A letter drafted by the U.S.