(Via Star Advertiser)
The National Park Service and its fundraising organization diverted a portion of what are supposed to be free tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial to tour companies for a fee, making it harder for “walk-up” visitors to take the national landmark tour, a former park guide said.
“What these guys were doing … was circumventing that whole system and taking from those tickets meant for people to walk in the door — and selling those directly to tour companies,” said John Landrysmith, who was an interpretive park guide for three years at the memorial.
Up to 525 of the walk-up tickets a day were made available to tour companies at $6 per ticket, according to Landrysmith and a National Park Service investigation into the practice.
The ticket also included an audio tour of the Arizona and its museum, which normally costs $7.50. The proceeds went to Pacific Historic Parks, the fundraising arm of the Arizona Memorial,
Fifty walk-up tickets were supposed to be available every 15 minutes throughout the day, while other tickets were committed through an online reservation system, Landrysmith said.
But at certain times there were no walk-up tickets at all because they had been diverted to tour companies in a package with the audio pay program, he said.
The free ticket includes an informational movie and boat trip out to the sunken battleship Arizona, but not the audio tour.
Landrysmith said he’d “have to stand there and watch people that had come around the world maybe, one time in their life (to see the USS Arizona), and have to tell them, ‘You know what, I’m really sorry, but we just don’t have any more tickets.'”
The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act prohibits the park service from charging a fee to visit the memorial.
Landrysmith said a park official involved in the sales told him “he was trying to make our park financially viable.”
A National Park Service investigation into ticket operations found results that were “very concerning.”
The review, dated March 7, recommended “further investigation by appropriate personnel.”
Paul DePrey, superintendent for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, which includes the USS Arizona, said Thursday the walk-up ticket diversion program was canceled in January.
He said the effort was both proper and legal.
“We really notice that there are many days and many programs (tours) where we just don’t have all of the seats filled,” DePrey said. “So what we were trying to do is take a look at those times and find out if there could be a way to create an incentive for visitors to come in and utilize the narrated (audio) tours.”
According to Landrysmith, who worked as a park guide from 2011 until February, when he quit after what he said was retaliation for complaining about the ticket diversion, a total of 150 Arizona tour tickets were available every 15 minutes throughout the day.
Sixty-five tickets were available online through recreation.gov for tour company purchase.
Thirty-five were available for online reservations by the general public.
The remaining 50 were supposed to be for walk-up visitors.
“They then began to sell those extra walk-up tickets before the general public could come in to access them,” he said.
Landrysmith said DePrey; Frank Middleton, a park ranger involved in the reservation system; and Carlton Kramer, vice president of marketing for Pacific Historic Parks, were part of the program.
Kramer referred questions to DePrey, and DePrey said he would also speak for Middleton.
Part of the ticket distribution had to do with the changing nature of how the tours are filled.
“We want to make sure that the system we use for distributing tickets to those groups is as optimum as possible,” DePrey said.
The park service is constantly re-evaluating how the tickets are being distributed, DePrey said.
Landrysmith said there have been three investigations of USS Arizona management in the past year and a half. The first focused on poor morale, the second on the ticketing system and the third, conducted recently, on ethical issues relating to the ticketing system, he said.
The March 7 results, which represent the second investigation, said the ticketing operation did not appear to be grounded in written policy and procedure.
The investigation noted that “a number of interviewees believe that park staff and the park association (Pacific Historic Parks) are involved in actions related to ticketing that may be unethical.”
The review team said tickets are distributed “in a manner that does not ensure fair and equitable distribution.”
“There are no written agreements in place that authorize (Pacific Historic Parks) to act as a ticket broker for the NPS,” the investigation stated.
Landrysmith, a former Schofield Barracks combat veteran who said he suffered ruptured discs in his back in a 2004 roadside bomb blast in Iraq, said he complained to a park service manager about the ticketing issues and then was continuously discriminated against.
“My schedule was changed immediately,” he said, and “little punishment things kept coming up.”
He admits there were some attendance problems because of his back injury and because sometimes he had to stand for eight hours.
“After a while my back would just give in,” he said.
He said he quit in February “because I had been discriminated against and disciplined basically for being the one who continuously said, ‘This is not right.'”
Landrysmith said the audio sales ticket diversion grew out of a VIP list for dignitaries, school groups and others under which tour tickets for those groups would be pulled out of the available walk-up tickets.
While Landrysmith talked of occasions in which walk-up tickets were not available, DePrey said the diversion of the tickets for tour company purchase was done to make sure Arizona tour programs were full.
“The diversion was to support the narrated (audio) tours, and that was occurring during times when we understood that there was less of a demand,” he said.
» The ticketing operation did not appear to be grounded in written policy and procedure.
» The park service did not track how many tickets went to individuals versus commercial operators.
» A number of those interviewed believed the park staff and Pacific Historic Parks were involved in ticketing actions that were unethical.
» Tickets were not distributed in a manner ensuring fair and equitable distribution.
» The park allowed Pacific Historic Parks to require payment for audio tours to gain access to tickets for earlier morning tours, calling into question whether the park violated its “no fee” mandate.