While reservation systems are not appropriate at all national park sites, any action by the Interior Department to expand new reservation systems for parks should be preceded by engagement and discussion with national park constituencies, including gateway communities, tour operators, and those that provide transportation to and through parks.
On Monday, 388 travel industry organizations—including 297 domestic and 91 international organizations—sent a letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and National Park Service Director Chuck Sams calling for reforms to the visitor reservation systems in the national parks.
Specifically, reservation systems with short booking windows and inconsistent procedures are not workable for international travelers and international tour operators, many of whom plan travel a full year in advance.
The letter proposes that reservations be allowed 10 to 12 months in advance, and that reservation systems are consistent across parks that implement them.
The reservation systems were largely implemented in the wake of record visitation that occurred at some of the country’s most popular national parks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Supporting international visitation
Overseas travelers made up more than a third (35%) of the 327 million visitors to national parks in 2019 and are crucial to the economies of national park gateway communities. With international inbound travel spending not expected to recovery until 2025, it is crucial that the sector can continue—and accelerate—its recovery without impediments.
“The national parks are some of the biggest draws for overseas visitors, but the short booking windows make it nearly impossible for visitors to plan their trips,” said U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes. “By extending the booking window to at least 10 months, we can ensure that the parks remain open and welcoming to overseas visitors while protecting our cherished wildlife, landscapes and natural resources.”