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Implementing Technology-Based Visitor Counts in Parks: A Methodological Overview

John Basil Read, Margaret J. Daniels, Laurlyn K. Harmon


Historically, documenting visitor counts in park, recreation, and tourism spaces has been fraught with challenges that often result in data with questionable reliability and validity. However, these counts are necessary for managers in that they inform budgets, staffing, and policy. The purpose of this methodological study is to detail the processes involved in implementing technology-based counting systems within parks with the goal of assisting managers who wish to modernize visitor counting procedures. The first step involves a detailed site analysis, with considerations specific to park boundaries, access to power sources, the availability of WiFi, and whether lighting is needed for the technology to function. Once the site analysis is completed, the technology options can be considered, with the understanding that the accuracy of the counts will be impacted by visitor flow, focal area of interest, the number of counters utilized, whether visitors must be carrying WiFi-enabled devices to be counted, data transmission options, and access to dynamic features such as those that eliminate double counts. A case study approach was used to demonstrate implementation procedures, focusing on site and technology selection, then moving on to installation considerations, data collection, validation, data analysis, and management implications. The Korean War Veterans Memorial (KOWA), a National Park Service holding located within the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, DC, was selected as an optimal site based on semi-porous boundaries, consistent visitor flows, and ready access to power sources. After consideration of price, privacy, ease of installation, and ready access to data, 3D people counters were the chosen technology. The counters were installed in weatherproofed housings and mounted on lampposts that were situated at the two main entrance sites to the memorial. Analysis of twelve weeks of data indicated that the counting accuracy of the 3D counters was high, minimal modifications were needed, and visitor privacy was retained. A similar methodological approach can be applied by park managers within a wide variety of settings.

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Innovation; visitor counts; 3D technology; national park service; visitor privacy

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