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 Arcadia - Bar Harbor
The Acadia – Bar Harbor area is served by many heavily-utilized traveler information systems oriented very much to tourists, including:
- 511 Telephone and Website
- Transportation Alternatives Webpage
- Maine Office of Tourism Telephone Service and Website
- The Island Explorer Website
- Acadia National Park's Website and Telephone Information Number
- Maine Tourism Association Website
- Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce Website
In general, the trend of traveler information systems in this area is one of growth. Anecdotal information from the providers indicates that usage of their websites is very robust, and there has been a reduction in use of phone-based requests for information as a result. Based on the results for the Acadia National Park traveler information study, the following results were found:
- The number of telephone and web-based sources of traveler information in the region of Acadia National Park suggest that tourists are well served with abundant information about transportation and tourism in the state. Public and privately funded sources are available that provide visitors with information on travel conditions and travel options.
- Although it is not possible to identify the proportion of tourists using the 511 phone system, it is likely fairly low as 41 percent of Maine residents were aware of the 511 system but only 17 percent of reported using the system. Maine DOT estimated that callers who selected the Acadia menu item from the phone system accounted for about 6-7 percent during the 2003 summer months, a period when volume of calls was low relative to the winter period. It is inconclusive whether the goals of informing tourists about real-time traffic conditions were actually occurring at this point in time through the 511 system.
- Eighty seven percent of those who had used the service said they found it "valuable" or "very valuable."
- A survey of 928 visitors revealed that visitors rated the traveler information sources very highly (86 percent or more) and the vast majority (78 percent) reported that using the information systems again on a future visit would be a pleasant experience.
- Forty three percent of visitors who used the real-time parking information reported that they changed the time they visited a destination, 38 percent changed destinations, and 44 percent said it helped them to use the free shuttle bus system.
- Visitors who used the traveler information systems associated with the buses said that the systems made it easier to get around (>80 percent), saved time (69-80 percent), and helped them decide to use the bus (67-80 percent).
- Usage of traveler information sources, especially those related to tourism, are robust. There has been only one year of 511 phone and website data collected, and therefore trends were not yet apparent. However, phone usage appears to be doing well. The state intends for it to serve as a central means for accessing both transportation and tourism information, because the Office of Tourism's call center is directly connected to 511.
- Links between information sources are either not present or not easy for travelers to use. Tourism websites in particular don't facilitate access to Maine DOT information. While tourists may need and want information relevant to their trip-making, there is no consensus in the tourism industry on what to provide and how to provide it. Businesses worry about negative images that factual traffic and parking information may convey to visitors.
- While key informants tended to support the idea of providing tourists with an integrated set of information, there was no agreement on the appropriate content of traveler information systems and method of dissemination.