National Parks Pay Off

Nature is on sale and it pays a commission. Popular national parks in the Western United States and Canada offer clients stunning beauty, outdoor recreation, drive destinations, value pricing in fall or winter and the flexibility of booking close to departure. And, park concessions boost lower-season visitation by paying commission to travel agents.

By: Maxine Cass

Nature is on sale and it pays a commission. Popular national parks in the western United States and Canada offer clients stunning beauty, outdoor recreation, drive destinations, value pricing in fall or winter and the flexibility of booking close to departure. And, park concessions boost lower-season visitation by paying commission to travel agents.

USTOA’s informal mid-2002 survey of 60 tour operator member companies found national parks second only to Las Vegas as an individual destination product for tour and vacation packages.

“Interest in national parks has been strong for the last five to six years,” said Bob Whitley, USTOA president. “Americans want to see the beauty of the country.”

The beauty of a park is a given, but there are reasons that visiting a park close to home can be sold to clients concerned with political and economic uncertainty. NFO Plog’s 2002 American Traveler Study of 9,000 respondents found that short distance leisure car travel is projected to rise 18% this year.

“Anecdotally, there are more people driving to their destinations, to be in control of what’s happening,” said Brian Deckel, director of sales and marketing for Delaware North Park Services, concession operator in California’s Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. “They are saying, ‘With my family I can go when and where I please.’ ”

“We definitely saw a return and enhancement of interest in American values [after Sept. 11],” said Rick Hoeninghausen, director of sales and marketing for Yellowstone National Park Lodges. “An American destination in the outdoors gets visitors back in touch with family and tradition.”

Canadian Holly J. Wood, regional public relations director at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in the Canadian Rockies, echoes this trend in her travel plans. Her late October holiday itinerary will include Zion, Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon national parks, and she may go through Yellowstone on the way. At the Canadian Rockies Fairmont properties the Fairmont Banff Springs, Chateau Lake Louise and Jasper Park lodge rooms usually booked for August through October are available because guests are booking at the last minute.

“Don’t assume we are sold out,” said Stephanie Brist, Glacier Park Inc.’s sales director in Montana. While the seven in-park lodges close in early September, until then, “many people feel that we book up a year in advance, when in reality lots of times people are able to get rooms on a walk up,” she said.

How can agents tap into these last-minute decisions? Brist advised agents: “Think outside the box when planning a vacation. Offer horseback riding, golf, whitewater rafting, boat tours, guided fishing hikes and scenic raft floats. You get paid commission, and the guests love to prebook.”

“If I were a travel agent, I would understand the routes into a park and what’s close, like the Western Heritage (near Yellowstone) and other national parks (Grand Teton) and public lands nearby,” Hoeninghausen said. “Hotels outside the park pay commissions good ones and that’s an enhancement.”

As weather turns colder in the mountain parks, visitation decreases and crowds evaporate. National parks, including Banff, Jasper and Yosemite, have downhill ski areas. Those three, plus Yellowstone and Sequoia, have cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Yosemite and Yellowstone have well-organized educational programs, which take clients into the wilderness to spot wildlife and walk, ski and snowshoe with an expert guide.

Commissionable Info

Here’s a rundown on park facilities and the commission they pay.

" Glacier National Park. Seven lodges, open from May to early September, pay 5% commission on all accommodations, in-park transportation, including Red Jammer touring cars, lake boat tours, whitewater rafting, guided fishing hikes, horseback riding, scenic raft floats, golf, pre-booked meals and box lunches, air and Amtrak tickets, discounted car rentals and FIT tours. Call 406-892-1105. Web site: www.glacierparkinc.com.

" Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The resort pays 10% commission on the Ski the Canadian Rockies package, which includes room, breakfast and a lift ticket, for $125 per person, double, from Nov. 15 to Dec. 20. Call 800-441-1414. Web site: www.fairmont.com.

" Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge. The popular destination pays 10% commission on its Scrooge Ski package, which includes a Fairmont level room, breakfast, lunch and dinner credit vouchers and a lift ticket, for $113 per person, double occupancy, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 20. Call 800-441-1414. Web site: www.fairmont.com.

" Yellowstone National Park. The park pays 5% commission on all winter accommodations, packages, and Yellowstone Association Institute (www.yellowstone association.com) winter programs. The Winter Kickoff Special package offers a 25% discount on regular room rates at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Dec. 21-26 and at Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Dec 18-21.

The three-night Winter Family package at Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Thursday through Sunday from Jan. 2 to Feb. 23, 2003, includes a YAI guide, three breakfasts and lunches, snowshoe rental, one hour in a hot tub, ice skating and in-park transportation, for $393 per adult and $268 per child. Call 307-344-7311. Web site: www.travelyellowstone.com.

" Yosemite National Park. All lodges pay 10% commission. The Yosemite Lodge Midweek Special offers a two-night minimum, nonholiday Thursday-through-Sunday stay, for $89 to $99 per person, per night. The Longer You Stay at the Ahwahnee Midweek Special is offered Thursday through Sunday (except holidays) from Nov. 3 to March 31, 2003. The rate is lowered each day, from $299 for one night to $219 for the fifth night. Call 559-252-4848. Web site: www.yosemitepark.com.

" Sequoia National Park. Wuksachi Lodge pays 10% commission, from Nov. 3 through March 2003, on rates of $69 per night, double, excluding holidays. Call 888-252-5757. Web site: www.visitsequoia.com.

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