Sightseeing Tours of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will be affected by the new CUA requirements installed by the Department of the Interior beginning APRIL 1, 2020. This includes all areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including but not limited too: Newfound Gap/Highway 441, Sugarlands Visitor Center, Little River Road, Cades Cove, Sections of the Foothills Parkway, and the Gatlinburg By-pass.
We have been working with staff from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to best understand how this will work, and here is the short version of the answer:
If you are a tour operator with a tour planned (after September 30, 2019) that includes the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) in any way, you will need to apply for and obtain a Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) from the GSMNP. The cost to apply is $300 for the company for the year.
After that, additional fees will fall into one of two categories:
- If you tour the park on your own, or with a local step on guide, you will be required to self report the number of guests on the tour in an annual report for your CUA and pay a $5 per person fee
- If you have purchased a package (including but not limited to lodging, dining, attractions) from Tennessee Express Tours, LLC., then TNET will self report the number of guests on the tour in an annual report and pay the $5 per person fee.
In addition, please note that all commercial vehicles are required to carry proof of proper insurance listing the United States Government as an additional insured.
Starting October 1, 2019, National Park Rangers may stop coaches and ticket those not in compliance.
* Those are the basics as we understand it, but again, this is just our understanding and we cannot be responsible if there are changes made or if this interpretation is incorrect. We have worked with park staff and believe this to be correct. If you have questions or disagree, please contact the Great Smoky Mountains National directly for clarification. My request is if you get a different interpretation, please let me know! Thank you – Bill Oliver, email@example.com
Things to note:
- Each National Park will require a separate CUA (we primarily deal with the GSMNP)
- Even though we have a CUA, our Tour Operator clients will have to have one as well, but only one $5 fee per person
- Coach companies must have a minimum required insurance policy listing the United States government as an additional insured
- There is no entry fee into the Great Smoky Mountains, but CUA fees are different
- After October 1, 2019, National Park Rangers may stop coaches and ticket those not in compliance
INFO STRAIGHT FROM THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE WEBSITE:
Road-based Commercial Tour CUA Information
The NPS is standardizing road-based commercial tour commercial use authorization (CUA) requirements and fees agency-wide. Currently, road-based commercial tour operators must deal with varying permitting processes and associated fees.
What is included in the standard process and when will it go into effect?
The standard process affects road-based commercial tour operations occurring after September 30, 2019. After that date, road-based commercial tour operators are required to:
- Obtain a CUA for each NPS unit in which they operate;
- Pay required CUA fees (see below), and;
- Submit mandatory annual CUA reports after each CUA operating season.
Until the standard process is implemented, road-based commercial tour CUA requirements and fees will vary from park to park. Please use the interactive map feature above to access individual park CUA webpages and learn about specific park requirements.
How does the National Park Service define a road-based commercial tour operator?
We define road-based commercial tours as one or more persons traveling by vehicle on an improved roadway on an itinerary that a company or individual has packaged and priced for leisure/recreational purposes. Road-based commercial tours generally provide no other visitor services except those incidental to road-based travel in an NPS unit (on-board interpretation and information, and incidental stops at visitor centers, restaurants, wayside exhibits, etc.). At the discretion of the park superintendent, however, road-based commercial tour CUAs may cover minor additional services such as guided day hiking.
Transportation-only services such as taxis, shuttles, and chartered motorcoach companies do not meet the definition of road-based commercial tours if those services are not prepackaged. Parks may issue these transportation-only providers a road-based transportation CUA if the park superintendent decides managing the use is necessary for preservation and proper management of park resources and values.
Who needs to acquire the road-based commercial tour CUA — the tour operator or the chartered motorcoach company?
The responsibility for obtaining a road-based commercial tour CUA will fall on the company that packaged, priced, and sold the tour. A chartered motorcoach company does not need a road-based commercial tour CUA if the tour company paying for charter service determines the origin, destination, and scheduling of the trip. A charter company advertising tours to national parks, however, meets the definition of road-based commercial tour and must have a road-based commercial tour CUA.
Parks may continue issuing chartered transportation providers a road-based transportation CUA if managing the use is necessary for preservation of park resources and values (e.g., limited or controlled parking availablity). When a tour company uses the services of a chartered transportation company with a road-based transportation CUA, the tour company does not need to secure a separate CUA unless the tour group disembarks from the vehicle while within the park.
How much are the standard road-based commercial tour CUA fees?
Road-based commercial tour operators will pay an annual $300 non-refundable CUA application fee for each submitted CUA application. 100% of collected CUA application fees stay within the collecting park and are used to recover the administrative costs of receiving, reviewing, and processing CUA applications and required reports. The NPS will adjust this application fee periodically to account for increased costs including inflation.
For operations in parks that collect an entrance fee, NPS will deduct a $5 per person CUA management fee from per-person entrance fees paid by road-based commercial tour CUA holders. Beginning October 1, 2019, road-based commercial tour operators will pay a per passenger entrance fee based upon the park-specific per-person entrance fee (XLSX, 13.7 KB). For operations occurring in parks without entrance fees, road-based commercial tour CUA holders will pay a $5 per person CUA management fee due upon submission of the required annual CUA report. 100% of collected CUA management fees stay within the collecting park unit and are used to recover day-to-day road-based commercial tour management and monitoring costs and to fund visitor experience improvement projects. NPS will adjust the management fee periodically to account for increased costs including inflation.