Park fee increase for January 2021? Perhaps...

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In a press release published yesterday, the Governing Council of Galapagos indicated that it had started a process for the revision of the Galapagos Park entrance fee.    It explained that they established a deadline of 31 January 2019 for coming up with a new fee and that the new fee would come into effect a year after having been agreed to (e.g. 1 January 2021 at the latest).

The current fee for entering the Galapagos is $100 for adults and $50 for children under 12.   Ecuadorians and residents of Ecuador (e.g. expats living in Ecuador) pay $6 and $3 respectively, while residents of the Andean and Mercosur Community of nations pay $50 and $25 respectively.

The fee is distributed as follows:

 

The park entrance fee is used for financing conservation and management activities of the protected area under the responsibility of the Park, as well as for sustainable development activities carried out by municipal governments in the islands (e.g. improvement of basic services, education projects, sports, health, environmental sanitation, provision of environmental services and services directly related to tourism. 

The fee has been $100 since the early 1990’s.   Back then, an 8 day cruise could go for $1,000 or less (granted, most of the ships back then tended to be poorly converted fishing vessels where everyone had to share one bathroom, and a shower was available only when rain fell from the sky).  Today, an 8 day cruise ranges in price from $3,000 (low end) to as much as $8,000 or more.   During that time, the number of visitors has increased from about 10,000 / year to about 265,000 in 2018 (nearly 200,000 of which are land based).   Moreover, the Galapagos population has increased from perhaps 12,000 to 30,000 or more. 

Growth in visitation and in population has led to greater demands on the part of the Galapagos National Park Service to manage tourism, carry out conservation activities and ensure that regulations are respected.  The argument for an increase in fees is a pretty strong one. 

Despite that, one might be surprised that locally, there is a fair degree of opposition.   There is a fear among mom & pop tourism related services that increasing the fee will discourage visitors from coming to the islands.   When the fee represents 1-2% of the price of a Galapagos expedition cruise vacation (international travel, all associated costs), one could argue that doubling it will not pose a major hurdle for those considering such a trip.   Even for land based visitors whose budget is not overly restrictive, a $100 fee currently represents perhaps 2.5% – 3% of the cost of their 8 days in the islands.   Of course, for the low end backpackers (remember those days? I do…), $100 can currently represent up to 10% or more (even over 34% of in-situ costs in the case of one intrepid backpacker who boasted of having spent $291 for 7 days in Galapagos![1]).

Though a higher fee may indeed discourage the very lowest spenders, at the end of the day, these people don’t leave much beyond crumbs for the local community.  $291 in 7 days, or barely $40 / day, less the cost of goods sold / overhead, likely results in a net gain of $15 / day for the locals (divided among a back alley restaurant, the local shop owner, and the flop house owner).  Will Galapagos miss this kind of visitor?

Galapagos is unique on the planet.  There is no other place on Earth where one can swim with penguins, sharks, sea turtles, sea lions, walk among giant tortoises, shoo away finches as they try to steal a grain of rice from your plate, watch a 1,000 dolphins leaping out of the water, and get close to the state of mind reached by Charles Darwin, back in 1835, when he started thinking about the origin of species.  

A higher park entrance fee is justified and overdue.    

 

[1] See http://kictravels.com/2018/05/22/backpacking-galapagos/

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