The implementation of standardized Road-based Commercial Tour (RBCT) CUAs and fees is DELAYED and will not occur starting October 1, 2019. This decision also delays implementation of increased commercial entrance fees. Parks with existing RBCT CUA requirements may continue to issue and manage CUAs according to existing practices including charging appropriate fees. We will provide more details in the near future.
In the meantime, if you have questions please review the Q&A document because an answer to your question is likely included. If you question is not answered you may submit it by email and we will do our best to respond or incorporate our response in the Q&A document.
What is a CUA?
A commercial use authorization (CUA) allows an individual, group, company, or other for-profit entity to conduct commercial activities and provide specific visitor services within a national park unit. The National Park Service (NPS) issues CUAs to manage a wide-range of commercial visitor services in addition to road-based commercial tours. Depending on the park, this can include guided mountaineering and backpacking, bike tours, kayak trips, photography workshops, scuba diving classes, fishing trips, and much more.
Federal law mandates the NPS issue CUAs only for commercial activities and visitor services that:
- are determined to be an appropriate use of the park,
- will have minimal impact on park resources and values, and
- are consistent with the park purpose, management plans, policies, and regulations.
Why does NPS require CUAs?
The requirement is in 36 CFR 5.3 - It is illegal to conduct business in a park area without a permit, contract, or other written agreement. Additionally, Public Law 105-391 Section 418, passed in 1998, provides NPS the authority to issue CUAs to allow business operations and requires NPS to collect a reasonable fee for CUA administration and management.
Do I need a CUA?
You may not conduct commercial activities in a park unit without a valid CUA!
A CUA is required if you provide any goods, activities, services, agreements, or other function for members, clients, or the public that:
- take place at least in part on lands managed by the National Park Service,
- use park resources, and
- result in compensation, monetary gain, benefit, or profit.
Each individual park allows specific commercial activities. Use the CUA map feature below to locate the park in which you want to commercially operate and click the park link to access information about available CUA opportunities.
How do I apply for a CUA?
CUAs are managed at the park level. Applications and associated information, including any additional documentation requirements, are available through each park's website or CUA office. Early planning helps ensure you have a CUA in-hand before you start commercially operating. Use the interactive map tool above to access specific park CUA program webpages. We are working to create a centralized system allowing online application submission and expect the system to be in place in 2019.
All parks use the standard OMB approved CUA Application (NPS Form 10-550), but are able to add conditions specific to that CUA service type. It is important to reach out to individual parks for applications including those specific conditions.
What fees do I need to pay?
***See Road-based Commercial Tour CUA Information section (below) for road-based commercial tour CUA application fee information
You are required to pay a nonrefundable application fee each time you submit an application. The application fee amount is currently determined by each park, with the exception of application fees for road-based commercial tour CUAs (see below). This fee allows the park to recover costs associated with processing and approving or denying your CUA application.
***See Road-based Commercial Tour CUA Information section (below) for road-based commercial tour CUA management fee information
In addition to the application fee, you must pay a management fee that allows the park to recover costs associated with managing CUAs. This fee varies because each CUA type requires a different degree of management and monitoring. Refer to individual park websites or contact the park CUA office to find out more about required management fees.
Market Price Fee
***This Market Price Fee section does not apply to road-based commercial tour operators.
Since 2015, parks can charge a market price fee in order to recover all costs associated with the administration and management of the CUA program. You still pay the application fee when you submit your application, but this amount is credited back to you when you pay the market price fee at the end of the operating season. In other words, the market price fee covers both the application fee and management fee previously described.
The market price fee is based on a percentage of your revenue earned from in-park or park-based operations. You are required to report this information each year when you submit the mandatory annual report (see below). The market price fee is based on the following:
- < $250,000 earned from park-based operations - 3% of gross receipts (minus application fee)
- $250,000 to $500,000 earned from park-based operations - 4% of gross receipts (minus application fee)
- > $500,000 earned from park-based operations - 5% of gross receipts (minus application fee)
You can find specific information about fee amounts and payments, and due dates by checking individual park websites or contacting the park’s CUA office.
What am I responsible for after I get a CUA?
Failure to submit required reports or misrepresentation of reported statistics or earning will result in denial of your next CUA application.
As a condition of the CUA, all CUA holders in the NPS are required to complete the annual CUA report (NPS Form 10-660). The form includes questions about visitor use statistics, reportable injury data, and gross receipts earned from operations in the NPS. The information requested and collected by the annual CUA report is Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved. The annual CUA report is due early in the calendar year for the preceding operating year (e.g., report for 2018 will be due in early 2019). Additionally, some parks require you to submit a monthly CUA report (NPS Form 10-660A) that includes questions only about visitation statistics and reportable injury data.
All parks use the OMB approved reports, but are able to add information requests specific to that park (e.g., how many times did you access a specific lake). Park specific reporting forms and associated information are available on each park website or by contacting the park CUA office. Use the map feature above to access individual park CUA websites.
We are working to create a system allowing online submission of these required reports and expect the system to be in place in 2020.
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, implemented at a future date, requires road-based commercial tour operators 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.
Parks may request and receive a waiver to opt of the standard road-based commercial tour CUA requirements and fee under very limited circumstances. The road-based commercial tour CUA standard requirement and fee waiver guidance provides parks a process for requesting a waiver. Parks receiving a waiver may still require other types of CUAs, including transporation CUAs. Commercial operators should contact individual park CUA program staff to learn about specific park requirements.
Currently, the following parks have received a waiver to opt out of road-based commercial tour CUA requirements:
Stones River National Battlefield
Fort Frederica National Monument
Independence National Historical Park
Adams National Historical Park
Appomattox Court House
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
Petersburg National Battlefield
Steamtown National Historic Site
Richmond National Battlefield
Maggie L Walker National Historic Site
Salem Maritime National Historic Site
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 packages, prices, and operates 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. 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.
For more information on commercial services, visit NPS Concessions. For information about tourism in the National Parks, visit the National Tourism Program.
Last updated: August 14, 2019