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Providing a fantastic parking experience can be a tricky balancing act between customers, technology, local initiatives, and so many other factors. Nowhere is this more true than in destination towns and tourism hot spots, where seasonal visitors and traffic fluctuations create their own unique challenges.

In our May 2021 webinar, Parking & Tourism, we dove headfirst into the complexities of creating great parking experiences in vacation destinations. Led by ParkMobile’s David Hoyt (CRO), we tried to shed some light on this important topic by gathering a diverse panel from tourism spots big and small:

  • Evan Miller, MPA (Projects Coordinator – City of Rehoboth Beach, DE)
  • Mark Lyons, CAPP (Division Manager, Parking/Mobility – City of Sarasota, FL)
  • Nicole VanNess (Transportation Mobility Director – Traverse City Downtown Development Authority, MI)

There were many interesting points brought up during our hour-long discussion, but these are some of the highlights:

Most Places Don’t Have a Parking Problem, But a Walking Problem

Surprisingly, most of the panelists noted that even in the busy seasons, the availability of spaces wasn’t necessarily the biggest issue on their plate. Instead, a common complaint they faced was not whether they had enough parking but the availability of parking nearest to the most popular places. As Evan put it, “there’s plenty of parking, but not where people want it.”

As a result, all three panelists have been working hard on more mobility and transportation initiatives to encourage better parking utilization overall. By giving people more options such as free shuttle buses, they hope to cut down on congestion in the downtown areas and create a better experience for visitors. In Sarasota, Mark mentioned that one of their top priorities heading into the upcoming year is a new trolly system to take visitors to the Barrier Islands.

Collaboration Between Parking and Local Residents and Businesses is Key

During the peak seasons in many tourism spots, the local population ends up getting outnumbered by incoming visitors. These seasonal surges can nearly double the population in some areas, which has a huge effect on traffic. So, when considering parking rates or policies, it’s vital to balance the concerns of the local population against potential revenue from outside visitors.

Overall, the panelists agreed that they consistently found success forming close relationships with local businesses and residents. As Mark put it, to effectively grow the parking operation in Sarasota it “wasn’t enough to just go out and collect coins” but to be proactive about addressing challenges. Evan and Nicole also noted how the local community acted as a first port of call for feedback about new policies or ideas since they have an invaluable, firsthand view of parking usage.

The More Ways to Pay, The Better The Experience

All the panelists at different points mentioned the rising popularity of contactless or mobile payment. However, they also emphasized how important it was to provide multiple ways to pay. Enforcement for areas with large numbers of temporary visitors can be challenging, but people tend to be more compliant if payments are easy to make. It’s also worth noting that if people are not using contactless payment for parking back home, they simply may not want to download an app.

Nicole mentioned that ParkMobile’s added functionality to pay by text or QR code helped drive adoption of mobile payment even further. Mark also said that remote payment was by far the most popular payment method. Now that ParkMobile offers many non-app payment methods, is considering rolling out smaller mobile-only payment areas.

2020 Was a Year To Experiment With New Ideas

Tourist destinations were hit particularly hard at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. However, with many reliable revenue streams disrupted, there were more opportunities to get creative with parking and curbside management policies. For instance, to help support local businesses, it was vital to designate sidewalks and parking spaces for new uses like outdoor dining or curbside pickup. In Rehoboth Beach, Evan’s department implemented a “meterless monday” to encourage residents to engage with local businesses, a policy that was so popular that they plan to keep it for the foreseeable future.

In particular, the pandemic highlighted parking’s role to play in the downtown areas and the local economy as a whole. Close collaboration and the willingness to adapt were both essential parts of both meeting the unique challenges of the pandemic and as a roadmap for success moving forward.

Want to Hear More?

One final note worth mentioning is that all of our panelists were feeling optimistic about the future. Travel is starting to pick up again, and many tourism destinations are seeing revenue and numbers that are meeting or exceeding pre-COVID levels.

If you’re interested in watching the full discussion for more in-depth information, you can check out the Parking & Tourism webinar on-demand.