Traveler information systems, such as websites and phone systems that provide information on traffic congestion, incidents and weather, have also been implemented in tourist destinations, such as National Parks and their surrounding communities. The objective of this study was to examine four tourism areas in the United States in detail and to investigate how the traveler information systems serving those areas have addressed and impacted tourists and the tourism environment. Case studies were conducted on four sites:
- Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine
- Branson, Missouri
- I-81 Corridor in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia
- Salt Lake City, Utah
The analysis of each of the four study sites included review of available data pertaining to:
- The design and operation of the system. Focus was on tourism content and orientation toward tourists in the systems’ user interfaces, such as using tourism landmarks in addition to or instead of place names or roadway designations that are less familiar to non-locals.
- User awareness and system usage data, such as historic data on web site sessions and telephone call volumes.
- Customer satisfaction surveys or focus groups.
- Interviews with stakeholders associated with each of the four study sites.
Findings from Shenandoah Valley, VA
The 175-mile long Shenandoah Valley is a popular tourist destination located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Valley runs northeast-southwest in Western Virginia. The biggest attraction is the 300-square mile Shenandoah National Park, located in the northern half of the Valley, just east of Interstate 81.
According to an on-going study of transportation and traveler information issues at Shenandoah National Park, the Park does not experience major traffic congestion. However, internal major park roadways do become congested, especially at entrance stations and parking areas, during heavy visitation periods—the fall in particular. Traffic conditions along Interstate 81 are typical for a heavily traveled interstate route: roadway construction and incidents can create significant localized traffic congestion and delays.
The traveler information system for the I-81 Corridor/Shenandoah Valley is "511 Virginia." The system is nearly unique in the extent to which it fully integrates a very large volume of information of interest to tourists, including food, lodging and attractions. The system also includes a private sector component—it is operated by a regional telecommunications provider under the Virginia Department of Transportation's direction. Whereas, basic listings are free, businesses can purchase enhanced listings on the website and phone system to increase their visibility to customers.
The evaluation includes tourist awareness and usage findings from four analyses: tourist focus groups, a state-wide telephone survey, a caller intercept survey of 511 users, and data. The evaluation included customer satisfaction results for 511 users in general, in both the 511 phone survey and website survey sections. Major findings were:
- Customers were highly satisfied with the website for traffic related information (e.g., 63 percent for the Travel Conditions page) but satisfaction levels were somewhat lower for the other types of information (e.g., 43 percent for Tourism and Attractions pages).
- Phone system users are very satisfied with the system: 99 percent said they would use it again and the average rating of the usefulness of the system was 4.5 out of 5.
- The 511 phone system appears to impact traveler decisions. When asked what made the 511 system useful:
- Most common response (27 percent) was that 511 helped to make travel decisions. Several respondents indicated that they specifically used the information they found on 511 Virginia to help them decide to switch to Route 11 when they heard on 511 Virginia that I-81 was experiencing back-ups.
- The next most common response (10 percent) was "useful information."
- Only 2 percent of respondents identified "services information" and only 0.06 percent identified "tourism information."
- Forty-nine percent of all callers indicated that they had changed their plans based upon what they had heard on 511 Virginia. Of those who indicated that they had changed their travel plans, the most common type of change was a change in route (78 percent). The next most common type of change (8 percent) was to cancel/reschedule the trip.
The focus groups, statewide survey and 511 caller intercept survey included few findings specific to tourists' awareness and usage of the system. These results were:
- None of the 8 tourists that participated in the tourism focus groups had heard of 511 Virginia. This may be because most of them live outside the I-81 Corridor and may not have been exposed to 511 Virginia marketing. However, when considering results from all focus groups, including session with residents and commercial vehicle operators, 41 percent (out of 41 participants) had heard of 511 Virginia.
- The statewide awareness survey indicated that 9 percent of respondents from outside the 511 Corridor had heard of the system. Seven percent of those who were aware of the system had used it, amounting to less than 10 people.
- Thirty-nine percent of 511 phone survey respondents identified themselves as tourists. Most of them (57 percent) were in-state tourists.
The Shenandoah Valley traveler information system is being used by tourists, who express a fairly high degree of satisfaction with the system, but the tourist user base is fairly small. Increasing awareness of the system among both the general travel audience and tourist travelers is one of the priorities of the system operators.