Does Supply & Demand Apply to Parks? NPS Propose Fee Hikes During Busy Months

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Have you ever taken an Uber on a busy Saturday night, only to be shocked by the prices due to a surge in the area? Then you’ve been given a recent reminder of the basic principles of supply and demand. The additional fees that occur when you ride during a “surge” is something that will make you reconsider your plans for a late night out.

But consider this: would you reconsider your plans to visit a National Park if the price rose 250%?

Because that’s exactly what’s being proposed.

The National Park Service is suggesting the implementation of higher fees for some of its busiest parks, especially those in the West, in order to curb the crowds and improve visitor experience.

Here are a few details, but more information can be found on this project proposal site, which is accepting public comment until November 23, 2017.

The proposed fee hike would impact 17 National Parks during the following times:

May 1-September 30 for Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Denali National Park, Glacier National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Olympic National Park, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park
June 1-October 31 for Acadia National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Shenandoah National Park
January 1-May 31 for Joshua Tree National Park
The suggested fees increase significantly for many of these parks. For example, Rocky Mountain National Park currently charges $20/vehicle regardless of the day you visit. The proposed fees would bump that up to $70/vehicle. All of the fees would help fund long-needed repairs for aging infrastructure.

Back in early 2016, Disney made the decision to follow a similar guideline – charging up to 20 percent more for admission during peak hours such as holidays and weekends. Not coincidentally, park attendance rose 10% prior during the last quarter of 2015 (up from the previous year). This rise in visitation meant additional crowds and wait time for attractions. In order to maintain Disney’s standard as the “Happiest Place on Earth,” it only made sense for them to raise rates and control the crowds. This encouraged visitors to find an off-peak day to take advantage of lower prices and fewer people.

Of course, Disney, NPS, and Uber aren’t the only companies to adopt dynamic pricing for their products and services. The question lies in how these principles will be perceived and adopted by visitors for public parks. Will there be a backlash from the public if they are unhappy with the higher fees? Will that in turn lower demand and reduce revenue overall?

Time will tell, but my hunch is that higher fees won’t send the NPS down the tank. Everyday, more and more people are realizing the necessity of parks to our physical and mental well-being. And there’s something about finding quiet within those giant landscapes that provide true value and meaning to your experience. To me, that’s worth an extra $50 any day.

Not to fret… If you think ahead, you can avoid all of this by purchasing an annual pass instead. It’s $80 for the year for all National Parks, so you can make your money back (and more) just by visiting two parks during peak days.

What do you think about the proposed fee changes? Do you support it, and if so, why or why not?

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