Organisations designed to manage and maintain Protected Areas are often faced with limited financial resources to maintain and monitor protected areas to their fullest potential. Methods, such as “Willingness To Pay studies” (WTP) are used to assess the park visitors’ views and opinions towards fee systems and the potential of paying more in order to sustain an organisation’s role in nature management and conservation of national park resources.
The St Eustatius National Parks Foundation (STENAPA) is the non-governmental organisation with legal mandate from the Island Government of St Eustatius for management of the two protected areas on St Eustatius: the St Eustatius Marine Park (established 1996) and the Quill/Boven National Park (established 1997). There has been little change in the visitor fee structure since their introduction (Marine Park diving and yacht fees in 1998 and National Park hiker fees in 2001). Due to the dated fee structure, and the fact that income from fees has not yet covered park operation costs, STENAPA discussed a change in fees with the Executive Council of the Island Government in June 2006 and subsequently carried out a Willingness to Pay study in late 2006 using an Economic Tourism Survey. This survey was designed to ascertain the views and opinions about fees by tourists visiting National Parks in St Eustatius. The objective of the study was to find out whether tourists would be willing or not to pay a higher user fee in order to sustain the National Park system’s marine/terrestrial conservation objectives.
A total of 100 divers, 1 yacht and 50 hikers were surveyed during a four month period (10 August until 7 December 2006). The results from the surveys received from divers demonstrated that a clear majority (72%) are willing to pay more for the entry fee to dive in St Eustatius Marine Park. Most of the hikers surveyed (70%) were willing to pay more for the Quill/Boven National Park entrance fee; 26% were not willing to pay higher than the current price and 4% did not respond to the question. Insufficient yachters (1 yacht only) responded to the survey to allow this park user to be included in the analysis of results from the survey. A majority of park visitors would prefer a Multi-Pass system.
As a result, this Study proposes that fees should be increased for diving and hiking park users in St. Eustatius.
The WTP survey identified a problem with visitor awareness of park fees. The questionnaire interviews indicated that confusion over the existence and price of park tags was common amongst both hikers and divers. In particular, divers were not well informed about the existence and price of diving entry fees. This is related to the fact that divers pay for fees through the dive centres. It is hoped that existing plans to display new signage with information about park passes at the airport, park visitor centre and Quill National Park trail head will address this confusion. It is acknowledged that additional signage and brochures at dive centres and hotels is probably needed to fully address the problem, and ensure that park users are aware that they are paying a fee towards the national or marine park and know how much they have paid.