ROCKY HARBOUR — The fee freeze at Gros Morne National Park could be coming to an end this year, and local tourist organizations are watching what could happen if visitors have to pay more to enter one of the province’s most popular destinations.
Parks Canada has launched a public consultation process on proposed fee increases once the freeze, which was initiated in 2008, ends in March. According to a prepared news release, Parks Canada is proposing future fee adjustments be in accordance with the Consumer Price Index to respond to annual inflationary operational costs.
Parks Canada said most fees will be limited to an adjustment not exceeding the two-year cumulative percentage of the average Consumer Price Index, which would occur in two-year intervals thereafter, beginning in 2013. It says the fee freeze will continue for 18 months after the consultation process ends for commercial operators.
Go Western Newfoundland chairperson Maria Matthews understands the reasoning. The cost of doing business is going up, she said, but that doesn’t mean people won’t be visiting Gros Morne or the rest of the region.
“I think people are going to be coming here anyway,” Matthews said. “I don’t see there being much of an effect on the local level, the park has associated costs that need to be paid for.”
And that is the reason she doesn’t see a problem.
“I don’t believe Parks Canada are doing this for the sake of raising fees,” she said. “I think everything is going up and at the end of the day sometimes you have to make an unpopular decision.”
Trails, Tales and Tunes festival organizer Shirley Montague said from her Norris Point home that slightly higher-user fees probably wouldn’t be the “end of the world,” but she does have concerns.
“I’m hearing through the grapevine that tourists are finding it expensive to do things in the park,” she said. “It’s not just park admission fees, but operator costs as well.”
Montague said she’s been advocating for an event pass for the park for those who would like to take in some of the festivals throughout the tourist season.
“No one wants to see a raise in fees, but I think it seems to be the climate of the day,” she said.
Depending on what is decided from the public process, towns within Gros Morne could be impacted as well. Trout River has historically been particularly challenged in attracting visitors given its geographic location, about 40 minutes past Woody Point. However, Mayor Paul Matthews said a small adjustments in fees probably wouldn’t have much of an impact. Still, he said, he’s keeping an eye on the situation.
“To the extent that we are tourist dependent, and we’re literally at the end of Route 431, we’re probably more sensitive than most in terms of attracting tourists,” he said. “But a Consumer Price Index level raise probably wouldn’t affect us that much, there are increases in other areas, like Marine Atlantic fees, that would probably affect us more."