Recreation.gov 2021 CX Profile

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Outdoor Recreation Reservations for Federal Lands

Recreation.gov, a Multi-Agency Initiative

Demand for reservations for outdoor recreation on federal lands around the country soared during the coronavirus pandemic, and it remains strong.

Recreation.gov is the centralized website where people find opportunities for these activities and make their reservations. Due to the high interest over the past year, some website visitors experienced frustration when trying to book places or activities. About a third of website users surveyed reported they were unable to complete what they went to the site to do, sometimes due to lack of reservation availability.

The Recreation.gov team is prioritizing understanding the experience of new visitors to the site, who typically rate their experience less highly than returning users. In response, Recreation.gov is developing new resources targeting these new customers, such as troubleshooting articles on web pages where new users typically have questions.

Service Overview

From whitewater rafting on Idaho’s Salmon River to ranger-led tours at Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, Recreation.gov provides an entry point to explore scenic federal lands and national treasures. The site acts as a one-stop shop for more than 32 million online users who seek to research, plan or book a trip.  

The site helps people reserve a campsite, research a future trip or purchase a ticket or tour. 

Primary customers

Any individual or group interested in visiting federal lands, waterways or monuments across the country. 

Key services provided to customers

  • Trip reservations.
  • Permits and tickets to high-demand events and activities, such as the White House Easter Egg Roll or visits to lighthouses on the Outer Banks.
  • Online publication of content about campsites and recreational activities, indexed for search, with sections containing user ratings, reviews and recommendations.
  • Trip planning resources, including a trip builder tool that features interactive maps.

Service Snapshot (all data for fiscal year 2020)

  • 67.5 million online visits.
  • 800,000 calls to the Recreation.gov contact center.
    • Average wait time: 13.4 minutes. (Note: Wait times for callers are typically two to five minutes but were much higher during the coronavirus pandemic due to staffing shortages and safety restrictions)
  • 5.5 million recreation reservations made.


Data Highlights

The amount reservations increased between fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2021, highlighting the site’s popularity and a high demand for outdoor recreation.

out of 5 stars: user rating of Recreation.gov mobile app among more than 112,000 reviews.

of customers said it was not easy to complete what they wanted to do on the site, often because they could not secure a reservation due to the limited availability of bookings.


Customer Experience Insights

Improvement from last year

Room for improvement

With demand for reservations soaring, the Recreation.gov team needs to understand both customer demand and recreation site constraints to communicate availability and meet customer expectations.

After closing in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some federal recreation sites began reopening later in spring and summer 2020. While reopening, these locations needed to balance increased interest in visiting federal lands with public health protocols such as capacity limits. In May 2020, the Recreation.gov team worked with Rocky Mountain National Park to pilot a feature enabling visitors to reserve a time to enter the park, rather than entering at any time, with the goal of spacing out visitors during the pandemic. While the timed reservation requirement was added for safety, analysis of customer reviews showed positive reactions to being able to enjoy a less crowded park, even if it might be less convenient or desirable to have to show up at a specific time. The team shared this success and worked with other national parks, including Yosemite and Denali, to implement timed reservations.

Ticketed entry and requirements for permits are improving the experience for some visitors.

Sample customer review

I really liked how easy it was to reserve my timed entry visit. I reserved it on the morning of and enjoyed that there weren’t too many cars driving through at the same time that I was…I really enjoyed the lack of crowds….I was able to take my time, go on short hikes…I highly recommend this lovely scenic drive.

However, the high demand for park access is frustrating many people who cannot get reservations. (see more below).

Recreation.gov has a customer-friendly mobile app.
  • The mobile app has earned 4.8 out of 5 stars from more than 112,000 ratings.1

The Recreation.gov team cites frequent user testing as critical to this success, along with fine-tuning the app in phases, adding more functionality and options over several years.

First-time visitors rate their experience on Recreation.gov significantly lower than returning visitors, leading the team to launch special features to cater to that audience.

Recreation.gov had 2 million new visitors in 2020, a 25% increase from the previous year.2 Many of these new users faced challenges in setting up accounts and understanding terminology unique to the site, leading to a satisfaction score among new users that was 15 points lower than overall for the site.

Guided by customer research specifically focused on new users, the team set up a landing page that people go to immediately after creating an account, which introduces them to the recreation reservation process and terminology in more detail. They also introduced help center and troubleshooting articles on webpages that typically raised questions for new users. The added information, for example, provides users with help on setting up an account whereas previously, the assistance was located on a separate FAQ page.

While these help features provide useful resources and information for new customers, additional focus on the overall design and content of Recreation.gov could help ensure the website is more user-friendly for all customers.

About a third of Recreation.gov users surveyed were unable to complete the purpose of their visit, sometimes because the location they wanted to book was unavailable.

Top reasons customers couldn’t complete the purpose of their visit on Recreation.gov included the limited availability of campsites (28%), technical issues (22%) and difficulty finding information (22%).

Reservations on Recreation.gov almost tripled between fiscal 2019 and fiscal 2021, as demand for outdoor activities swelled. The surge in requests led to booked-up campsites and other facilities in federal parks. And it left many visitors unable to complete the purpose of their visit, which was to make reservations at their desired destination.

The Recreation.gov team is helping to assist disappointed customers through a recommendations engine that shows availability at nearby locations. The team also aims to provide users with more information about the recreation sites they originally sought to visit, such as when there might be openings.

Users would like better maps and more photos of campsites and other facilities.

The website’s repository of maps and campsite photos has increased, yet many of the places open to visitors have not provided these features, which would be helpful for making an informed decision about which campsite to reserve and are frequently requested by customers. To address this issue, the Recreation.gov team focused on the federal employee experience and made it easier for park rangers to upload campsite images and maps to the website. In 2020, the team launched an app that enables facility managers to upload photos from their phone directly to the website, rather than having to go to an office to upload them via computer, as they had previously.

Delivering Outdoor Recreation Opportunities Equitably

Recreation.gov provides access to some of America's most scenic public lands and national treasures—and the team aims to provide a portal for all Americans to easily access these lands regardless of income, race, or other characteristics. They collaborate with organizations such as Latino Outdoors and Outdoors Afro to promote recreation opportunities people can book on the site and understand how people from different communities seek out and experience public lands.

Still, language barriers may prevent people from taking advantage of the website or the call center, both of which offer content and assistance in English only.

Leading Customer Experience Practices

The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in both government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget. 

Organizational Commitment

Organizational Commitment

A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.

The agency:

1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.   

N/A - multi-agency initiative

Not assessed because this is a multi-agency program. However, customer experience is a key element in the contract and work statements that guide how Recreation.gov is managed.

2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.

N/A - multi-agency initiative

Not assessed because this is a multi-agency program. However, customer feedback measures are used to assess performance in the contract and work statements that guide how Recreation.gov is managed.

3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.

N/A - multi-agency initiative

Not assessed because this is a multi-agency program. However, a Recreation Management Committee, with members from each agency that contributes to Recreation.gov, helps guide improvements to the site.  

Ease of Customer Interactions

Ease of Customer Interactions

Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs.

For the most common services provided, customers can:

1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice.  

Yes

Customers can book campsites, buy tickets and complete other common services online, over the phone and through webchat.

2. Obtain status updates through online self-service. 

Yes

Customers can use webchat on Recreation.gov to check the status of refunds.

3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.

No

Recreation.gov does not frequently respond to customers comments or questions on its Facebook or Instagram pages. The service does not have a Twitter account.

4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.

No

Information on Recreation.gov is available only in English, other than some content about a site in Puerto Rico, which is available in Spanish.

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.

The agency:

1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.

Yes

Recreation.gov collects and publicly shares customer experience data for its services in line with OMB guidance.

2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.

Yes

Recreation.gov provides open-ended comment opportunities in its website and contact center surveys and uses various analytic methods to identify emerging themes and monitor trends in this feedback. Recreation.gov also monitors reviews on its mobile app, campsites and on social media.

3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.

Yes

The Recreation.gov customer research team weekly relays findings to product teams and works with them to analyze the customer feedback and identify and implement solutions.

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Footnotes and Methodology

Footnotes

  1. Since its release in 2019, the Recreation.gov mobile app for iOS has earned 4.8 out of 5 stars based on more than 112,000 ratings; the Android version has a rating of 4.7 stars out of 5, based on 9,504 ratings.
  2. https://www.performance.gov/cx/dashboard/actionplans/2020/2020-hisp-action-plan-multi-rec.pdf
  3. The customer satisfaction survey was launched in May 2019 using Qualtrics website intercept. Response options used a 5-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” The percentages for each question represent the percentage of customers who responded “agree” and “strongly agree” for Q1 and Q2 of fiscal 2021.

Customer experience indicators methodology

The Partnership and Accenture developed the following list of practices to understand how agencies prioritize the customer experience, and steps they can take to improve. The list is based on research about effective customer experience practices in government and the private sector, and aligns with practices in a customer experience maturity self-assessment for agencies developed by the Office of Management and Budget.

Organizational Commitment

A strong commitment and plan from agency leaders to prioritize customer experience is essential for sustained progress.

The agency:

  1. Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.
    • Criteria: a) customer experience with the agency’s services is listed in the strategic plan as one of the organization’s top priorities, or a supporting goal of one of the priorities b) the strategic plan provides specific actions the agency will take to improve customer experience 
  2. Specifies customer feedback as a key measure of the organization’s performance.
    • Criteria: There is a performance measure included in the agency’s strategic plan, annual performance report or agency priority goals that is based on feedback directly from customers. 
  3. Has a senior executive with the responsibility and authority to lead efforts to improve the customer experience across the organization.
    • Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s organizational chart and online descriptions of leadership positions, the agency has an executive who meets the following criteria: a) customer experience is that executive’s primary responsibility b) the executive reports to the head of the organization or a deputy c) the executive’s work spans all major service delivery channels (e.g., online services, contact centers, face-to-face services).

Ease of Customer Interactions

Interactions with the federal government should be easy, transparent and designed around user needs.

For the most common services provided, customers can:

  1. Complete common transactions using the service delivery channel of their choice.
    • Criteria: Based on a review of the agency’s website, customers have multiple options to complete common transactions including going online, calling, using webchat and visiting field offices or other physical locations. 
  2. Obtain status updates through online self-service.
    • Criteria: customers can get real-time updates through an online self-service channel that provides estimated timelines.
  3. Receive a response to feedback or answers to questions over social media.
    • Criteria: Does the agency respond to questions through the direct message feature on Facebook and Twitter, or in the comment section of posts? To assess this, we examined social media posts on the service’s primary account across a three-month period. “No” indicates the agency never or rarely responds to comments; “partially” indicates the agency responds sometimes, but not consistently; and “yes” indicates the agency responds to comments on a frequent and consistent basis.
  4. Access online information and support in languages other than English.
    • Criteria: “No” indicates content is available only in English and translation features are not available on the website; “partially” indicates that some content or services are available in English and Spanish; “yes” indicates that content or services are available in English and Spanish and additional languages.

Listening to Customers and Acting on Feedback

To understand and prioritize customer needs, agencies should collect, publish, analyze and act on feedback.

The agency:

  1. Collects meaningful customer experience data across interactions and service delivery channels and shares it with the public.
    • Criteria: In alignment with the Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, the agency shares customer feedback with the public and that: a) represents multiple service delivery channels b) provides details into different aspects of the experience (i.e., beyond overall customer satisfaction)
  2. Collects and analyzes first-hand customer feedback to understand customers’ experiences, based on their own words.
    • Criteria: In alignment with Office of Management and Budget’s guidance on customer experience measurement, in customer or user research such as interviews, focus groups, surveys and other feedback mechanisms, customers can describe their experiences in their own words, and the agency has automated analytic capabilities to identify and act on insights that emerge from customer feedback data.
  3. Aggregates and analyzes customer feedback across channels and programs, and shares feedback with relevant staff members so they can act on it.
    • Criteria: Agency has an automated system to collect feedback across multiple channels and programs into a centralized location, analyze it for insights, and share those insights with relevant agency business owners or other appropriate colleagues responsible for taking action. The agency also tracks the impact of actions taken in response to customer feedback.

This customer experience profile was produced in collaboration with Accenture Federal Services.