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.
Based on the findings of the study, the following recommendations are made to current and future traveler information system operators and their partners:
- Make traveler information systems more useful to tourists. It is important to target tourists in the marketing and promotion efforts and ensuring that user interfaces (e.g., websites, 511) are oriented towards tourists, instead of focusing solely on adding tourist-specific content. The Shenandoah Valley, VA, experience in particular suggests that the appeal of the Virginia's 511 system for tourists may be the same as that of other travelers: traffic information. While more traditional tourism information may also be of use, the most effective way to make systems more useful to tourists may be to increase tourist-oriented marketing and insure that place names and other aspects of data format and the user interface are meaningful to tourists (e.g., as in Orlando, where road segments can be accessed based on the tourist attractions they serve.) As short-term users, tourists have less to gain from a traveler information system than daily commuters and, therefore, are less likely to tolerate inconveniences and data quality problems on travel information systems.
- Integrate traveler information into existing tourism information systems, rather than doing the reverse. This study has focused on traveler information systems and how they incorporate or link to tourism information. Given the challenges for transportation agencies in trying to engage and effectively serve tourists, it may be that working from the opposite direction would be equally or more effective. That is, incorporating traveler information into tourist information sources. The best approach likely features data integration on both sides.
- Conduct vigorous marketing and promotion with the goal of educating tourists on the benefit of traveler information and how best to utilize the system, rather than simply promoting awareness. Travelers often face a large amount of information, especially in high-density tourist areas. Based on survey data, key informant interviews, and on-site observations by the study team, most traveler information systems are not very visible, for they do not stand out within the dense information environment and ubiquitous roadside clutter. It is likely that tourists, who may be less motivated to actively seek out information that may allow them to avoid congestion and figure out transportation alternatives, are even harder to attract. Intensive and continuing marketing efforts are necessary. In addition to simply establishing the name, phone number and website address, those efforts should include education on how to use the system and its benefits to users.
- Establish long-term commitments to operations and maintenance. The Branson case study revealed that a number of the TRIP (Travel and Recreation Information Program) components that were originally deployed were no longer operational, or not operating as intended. The reasons for these difficulties include technical, funding, and institutional issues. This is especially a problem in cases where a non-local entity is responsible for design and implementation of a local traveler information system. In such cases, once the original deployment funding is gone, and if the implementer has not established adequate on-going program funding, the fate of the system depends on local stakeholder commitment.
- Continue to explore revenue-generation models but don't assume that they will significantly defray costs in the near-term. It may be useful to continue to experiment with various revenue-generation mechanisms, but in the case of systems implemented by public agencies, it should be expected that public funds will be necessary to fully support on-going system operations and maintenance.
- Reach out and coordinate with tourism stakeholders; leverage their expertise and capacity for reaching tourists directly and educating them regarding the value and the use of traveler information systems. The ability of transportation agency-operated traveler information systems to provide significant benefits to tourists and tourism is greatly enhanced through coordination with tourism stakeholders. These stakeholders are the experts about how to reach tourists and what information is important to them. If tourists are considered a significant subset of traveler information system users, tourism stakeholders should be involved in the design and operation of the system. Such partnering during design will also promote long term support from the tourism community, which represents a valuable existing resource for getting the traveler information message to tourists.
- Investigate tourists' needs and preferences to ensure the most useful and desired information is provided to tourists. If a transportation agency operator of a traveler information system is serious about serving tourists, before simply adding seemingly tourist-relevant information, investigate what tourists really want. This includes the type of information desired and how they prefer to get it. It also includes consideration of how these needs and preferences may vary by type of tourist (e.g., families versus senior couples), type of tourist environment, stage in the travel planning and trip-making process (e.g., pre-trip versus en route), and transportation mode. Coordination with tourism stakeholders is of course important but they should not be expected to have all the answers; their interactions with tourists usually focus on tourism information (attractions, lodging, etc.) rather than on traveler information.
- Be sensitive to tourism stakeholders' concerns about scaring off tourists with congestion information. In both Acadia and Branson case studies some tourism stakeholders expressed serious concerns about the potential for traffic delay and incident information to “scare off” potential tourists, who might still be evaluating alternative destinations and conducting pre-trip planning via the Internet. Managing this concern can be as simple as discussions with tourism stakeholders to promote mutual understanding of concerns and objectives. It could also entail some fairly subtle crafting of the traveler information message and how and when it is disseminated, especially in cases where very detailed information is being provided about specific local streets and other facilities that could have a direct negative impact on adjacent businesses.
- Be patient and persistent and don't count on dramatic near-term successes. As with traveler information in general, significant benefits of traveler information for tourists and promotion of overall tourism will come only over time. Many travelers are not yet in the habit of proactively consulting information—for making a concerted effort to inform themselves—in order to avoid delays and hazards. It will take time and persistent efforts to modify those ingrained attitudes and behaviors, and it is likely to be harder to do with tourists than with daily commuters. In addition, don't "sell" a traveler information system on its potential to generate dramatic short-term benefits to travelers in general or to tourists. Make sure that those who commit funding and who decide whether it continues understand not only the importance of traveler information but also that benefits will increase over time.
The lessons narrated above are some of the key steps in the successful implementation of traveler information systems in tourism areas in order to improve the mobility and customer satisfaction.
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