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Utah groups want a more international tourist-friendly national park reservation system

Kate Groetzinger
Arches National Park introduced a timed-entry system earlier this year to manage crowds.

Nearly 400 tourism industry groups, including several from Utah, sent a letter to the National Park Service asking for changes to park reservation systems to better accommodate international travelers.

The letter states the need for the systems came from record visitation during the pandemic, but for the foreign travel industry to recover, reservation booking times need to be extended to 10 to 12 months out. Currently, Utah’s Arches National Park only allows people to get timed-entry tickets about two months in advance.

Shayne Wittwer, CEO of Wittwer Hospitality, which has hotels throughout southern Utah, said he supports protecting the parks from large crowds like the ones seen in 2021.

However, he also said people want to be sure they can enter a park before they commit to a big trip.

“The majority of people traveling from overseas are going to spend at least or close to a year planning,” he said, including the lengthy time it takes to secure a visa. “On top of that, they're looking at airfare, booking, hotels and where they haven't been before.”

Wittwer thinks a timed-entry system should be the last resort for crowding and that parks should consider other ways to improve visitors' experience, like more parking and shuttles.

At Ruby’s Inn near Bryce Canyon National Park, things are quiet for this time of the year. Hotel general manager Lance Syrett, another signatory of the letter, said making it easier for international travelers to visit could help his business, which heavily relies on them.

Even though Bryce doesn’t require a reservation to enter, he said these kinds of visitors often take a few weeks to travel through the region to several parks. Having some that require reservations a few months out, he said, could discourage people from visiting the area altogether.

“I think it's a no-brainer,” he said. “I mean … why can't they make a reservation that far out it? This makes no sense.”

The Utah Tourism Industry Association signed the letter as well. Natalie Randall, the executive director, said they were able to work with Arches to mitigate issues with international travel. Now, she said the park doesn’t require some large tour bus groups to have a reservation.

“These are complex issues that impact various businesses at the local level,” she said. “So having individual solutions regionally is really what we are supportive of.”

She and other state tourism leaders said they hope the next step is reassessing the pilot timed-entry program at Arches to make adjustments.

In a statement, National Park Service spokesperson Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles said they appreciate the feedback as they, “adjust and improve these management tools, and as we evaluate ways to ensure consistent and clear expectations for visitors planning park trips. We look forward to our continued communication with the travel industry on subjects of mutual interest.”

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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