Interstate and international visitors to the Northern Territory will have to come with deeper pockets from 2022, as the NT Government confirms its plan to expand national park entry fees.
- Territory residents won’t be forced to pay for day trips
- Tourism operators say future park fees should go towards national park upkeep
- Tourists appeared prepared to take on the added burden
Some of the Territory’s most popular spots, like Litchfield National Park near Darwin and Nitmiluk National Park outside of Katherine, are slated to be among those soon requiring a paid entry permit.
An NT Government spokeswoman said park fees in the Territory had not increased for the past 20 years.
“Fees provide funds for improvements to our parks and reserves,” she said.
Previously, all NT Government-run national parks have had free entry for all visitors. However, the Territory’s two biggest federally-run tourism drawcards, Kakadu and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Parks, already have paid permit systems in place.
A spokeswoman for Parks Minister Selena Uibo said NT locals would be exempt from having to pay for short trips to the parks.
The NT Government flagged the possibility of fees for national park entry in 2019, amid a raft of measures being discussed to help repair its debt-ravaged budget.
Mixed reaction from industry
The head of the Top End’s tourism peak body said he feared new national park fees could further burden the region’s fragile industry, which is already struggling to adjust to day-by-day changes to hot spots and border closures.
Tourism Top End chief executive Glen Hingley said the fees would be “yet another impediment that’s put on businesses that makes their business unviable in these uncertain times”.
Mr Hingley said there had been no consultation so far, and no information from government on the proposed fees or when they could be introduced.
Tourism operator Rob Wood, who runs Ethical Adventures, a tour guide company in Litchfield, said he wasn’t concerned about losing business as long as the fees were kept reasonable.
“In principle, I definitely agree with user-paid price entry and anything they can do to add funds to managing national parks,” Mr Wood said.
He said it could even enhance the park if the funds were dedicated to conservation and management.
Interstate tourists say they’ll pay
Victorian tourist Jack Collins and a group of his friends were enjoying Buley Waterhole in Litchfield National Park on Saturday, and he said he’d be happy to pay to return to the park
“I’d 100 per cent come here, tell my family about it, happy to pay to come here,” Mr Collins said.
Terrina Fernando, who has moved to the Territory from Sydney, felt the same way.
“I’m from Sydney and all our national parks have parking fees and that sort of park-use fees, so its not something that’s unusual for me,” she said.
But Territory man Jesse James said he was worried a fee to access previously open parks would restrict those who couldn’t afford to pay.
“[My friends] wouldn’t come as much, no way, they don’t have jobs, they couldn’t afford,” Mr James said.
The spokeswoman for Ms Uibo said changes to park passes wouldn’t happen this year, but flagged that they would be included in the 2021 budget, due around November.
She said the government was also considering an online booking system, while price changes to camping and multi-day walking trips are also being reviewed.
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