Stretching approximately 1,200 miles from Florida to Texas, the Gulf Coast is home to 64 million Americans. With popular destinations like Corpus Christi, Destin, and the Florida Keys, it’s no surprise that tourism is a key contributor to the economies of the Gulf States. But tourists are often concerned about the overcrowding on these beaches. Tourists and locals want beautiful, clear beaches where they don’t have to struggle to park or struggle to find a place to enjoy the shore. So how do you avoid congestion on these beaches and preserve the land for future generations? According to new research to be published in the journal Land economythe answer may be entrance fees.
Entrance fees are collected at the entrances to the beach and allow semi-exclusive access for a beach visitor. Research by Roger von Haefen, professor at NC State University, and Frank lupia professor at Michigan State University, suggests that imposing entrance fees on crowded beaches along the Gulf Coast could ease congestion while generating much-needed funds for maintenance and repair projects. Their research, which combines an economic model of beach attendance with survey data, also shows that entrance fees would be less of a burden for local visitors than for out-of-town visitors. Such a charge could have a disproportionate impact on low-income families, although means-tested discounts may compensate for this.
Beach congestion is a classic example of what economists call an “externality”, von Haefen says. Externalities arise when individuals only consider their private benefits and costs and not the spillover effects of third parties. If visitors factor in the congestion costs to which their presence adds and therefore make fewer trips, all beach goers would benefit. Inspired by a long tradition in economics, he proposes to impose an entry ticket by which visitors pay a fee proportional to the external costs generated by their trips.
The researchers developed an economic framework for beach trips that models how people would react to entrance fees to Gulf Coast beaches, and then used survey data collected in 2012 and 2013. The data were collected from 41,000 telephone interviews with residents across the United States and include information on how often they have visited Gulf Coast beaches in the past six months.
There is already evidence that in addition to solving beach overcrowding, entrance fees would infuse beaches with much-needed funds for repair projects, personnel and maintenance. For example, the state of New Jersey and many European countries use the revenue from entrance fees to fund large-scale projects such as food and beach restoration.
“Federal funds allocated to public lands and national parks have been insufficient for decades, and therefore a backlog of maintenance and repair projects has accumulated,” said von Haefen. New government funds to address this backlog were allocated with the Great American Outdoors Act of 2020, but “real funding needs remain. This is where the entrance fee income comes in.