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 Salt Lake City, Utah
Salt Lake City is a medium to large-sized urbanized area located in North Central Utah. The most significant tourist activity in the Salt Lake City Region is skiing and snowboarding. Approximately a dozen major ski resorts are located within 60 miles of the Salt Lake City area. The roadway network in Salt Lake City is defined primarily by three Interstate routes:
- Interstate 80, which passes east-west through the northern portion of the urban area;
- Interstate 15, which passes north-south through the central portion of the urban area; and
- Interstate 215, which forms an inner-loop beltway.
In addition to fixed route and demand-responsive bus transit, Salt Lake City public transportation options include two Light Rail Transit (LRT) lines. Traffic congestion is a factor in the Salt Lake City, but it is not severe. Congestion levels in Salt Lake City are about average compared to other major metropolitan areas of similar size.
The Salt Lake City traveler information system is "CommuterLink," which includes a website (http://www.utahcommuterlink.com/) and a 511 telephone traveler information system (866-511-8824 for callers from outside of Utah). Traveler information is also disseminated through the dynamic message signs and highway advisory radio components of the comprehensive Salt Lake regional freeway management system (FMS). The CommuterLink system was launched in 1999. The telephone information system migrated to the three-digit 511 number in December 2001, just prior to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
During the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, both the CommuterLink website and the 511 system included a main menu item for "Olympics." The Olympics information consisted of directions to events and daily schedules.
Aside from the Olympics, the UDOT approach has been to provide a quality source of traveler information without regard to whether the end user is a local resident or visitor. Currently, neither the CommuterLink website nor the 511 system include any explicit tourist content nor are their user interfaces in any way oriented to tourists. Prior to the Olympics, over the period May 1999 to October 2002, monthly user sessions to the website ranged from about 8,000 to about 37,000 and averaged about 20,000 sessions per month. Website usage spiked dramatically during the Olympics (February 2002) to almost 181,000 sessions per month.
There are no usage data for the CommuterLink system specific to tourists. Nevertheless, the usage data that UDOT regularly tracks and an evaluation of the CommuterLink system performed by UDOT during the 2002 Winter Olympics Games do provide an indication of overall usage parameters. The Olympics evaluation considered the entire Salt Lake City ITS system and featured an array of data collection activities, including analysis of the CommuterLink website and 511 system usage data. The following summarize the major findings of that analysis:
- Usage of the website spiked dramatically during the Olympics, experiencing over 52 million hits over the 17-day period compared to 8 million hits for a normal 17-day period in July.
- Seventy six percent of the website users only used the site once. The Olympics evaluation contains no information on the percentage of website users who selected Olympics information. However, it does report that about 5 percent of the website visitor sessions were from outside the United States. Usage of the 511 phone system was also much higher during the first few days of the Games than during preceding months. During the first few days of the Games there were between 3,000 and 4,000 calls per day to the system. Over the remainder of the Games, volumes dropped down to between 1,000 and 2,000 calls per day, where they remained over the next three months.
- The duration of 511 calls averaged around 2 minutes and remained steady over the course of the Games.
- Usage of the 511 phone system was highest between 3 PM and 7 PM, with 48 percent of daily calls. There were relatively few calls (4 percent) associated with the AM commuting period of 6AM – 9AM.
- Approximately equal numbers of callers to the 511 system requested information on Traffic, Transit and the Olympics.
The results of the customer satisfaction survey during the Olympics evaluation revealed that:
- A substantial percentage of visitors were aware of the CommuterLink system, with more visitors aware of the website (41 percent) than the 511 system (25 percent).
- Usage lagged significantly behind awareness among visitors. Only 14 percent of visitors had used the website and only 4 percent had used the 511 system.
- Visitors expressed a high degree of satisfaction with CommuterLink with satisfaction higher for the website (98 percent) than for the 511 system (75 percent).
- Among both residents and visitors, traffic information is the most popular type of information. 100 percent of residents consulted the website and 75 percent used the 511 system for traffic information. Among visitors, 61 percent used the website and 63 percent used the 511 system for traffic information.
- As would be expected, Olympics information was more popular among visitors (39 percent for the website and 42 percent for the 511 system).