GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE: PROFILES ON THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE

Outdoor Recreation Reservations for Federal Lands

Recreation.gov, a Multi-Agency Initiative


Executive Summary

In late 2018, a multi-agency partnership completed a major overhaul of Recreation.gov, the central portal for booking outdoor adventures on federally managed lands. After a busy year of bookings in 2019, the team had to adjust to changing customer needs in the spring of 2020 as travel plans changed amid the coronavirus.

Customers find many aspects of the Recreation.gov website and mobile app to be simple, engaging and interactive. The well-organized website, with eye-catching images and advanced digital features such as a trip builder tool, is designed to help users plan and reserve trips in ways comparable to popular commercial travel sites.

Still, customer feedback suggests ways the site could improve and make transactions easier. In 2019, half of Recreation.gov users surveyed indicated the website was not easy to use, partially due to popular campgrounds getting quickly booked up and challenges using the search engine. Because the Recreation.gov team members regularly reviewed feedback, they were alerted to the issues and could then add features to the search engine and clarify the availability of recreation sites online. To continue improving the customer experience around booking reservations—a high priority issue—the team plans to increase the accuracy of campground maps and the quality of the images of local recreation sites.


Data at a Glance

4.8 out of 5 stars: user rating of the Recreation.gov mobile app as of September 2020   

of customers surveyed said it was easy to complete what they wanted to do on the site in fiscal 2019  

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 for the general public to access and explore scenic federal lands and national treasures. The site acts as a one-stop shop for more than 21 million online users each year who seek to research, plan or book a trip.

In 2019, the most common reasons customers visited the site were to 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 applicants (data for fiscal 2019 unless otherwise noted )

  • Trip reservations
    • 4.2 million transactions
      (4.7 million transactions in fiscal 2018)1
      • 3.9 million online reservations; 588,000 call center reservations; and 297,000 field location reservations.
  • Permits and tickets to high-demand events and activities, such as the White House Easter Egg Roll or a tour at the National Archives.
    • 400,000 permit-related reservations  
  • Publication of online content on campsites and recreation activities, indexed for search, with editorial sections containing user ratings, reviews, and recommendations.
    • 3,600 facilities and 103,000 individual recreation sites across the country identified.
  • Trip planning tools and resources.
    • Trip builder tool, which features interactive maps.


People Interact With Recreation.gov By

(All data for fiscal year 2019)

VISITING ONLINE

44 million

visits


(42 million in fiscal 18)

CALLING THE CONTACT CENTER

1 million+

calls

Reasons for calls:

  • Requesting information or checking on availability: 50%.
  • Making a new reservation: 25%.
  • Changing or canceling a reservation: 18%.
  • Other: 7%.
Average Wait Time for Calls

<2 minutes


Customer Experience Insights

Click tabs to expand

We gave an A to webpages that help users identify available campsites and nearby activities and experiences.

Website Experience:
How easy is it to navigate and understand online information? 

Reviewers looked at the pages from the perspective of people seeking to answer two questions:

  • What tent camping sites are available to me near Denver, Colorado, and how do I choose a site that best meets my needs?
  • What other activities or experiences are available near a camping site I am considering

Recreation.gov Grade

A


Strengths

  • Operates similarly to the way typical hotel or B&B sites do.
  • Has user-friendly design with a modern appearance and horizontal layout where a user can easily scroll down to find more, instead of having to click through multiple menus on the homepage.
  • Has well-organized design around several key tasks that a user can do (e.g., finding an adventure, planning a trip or exploring destinations).
  • Provides specific "hot topic" areas such as getting permits.
  • Is written in clear language that is easy to understand.
  • Contains interactive maps, visuals and GIS data to help users research and explore recreation options.

Standout Feature:

  • The trip builder tool enables customers to easily add multiple stops across the U.S. and find nearby camping or lodging. Users can book those sites online and send the itinerary to others.

Area for improvement:

  • Some of the language could be simpler. Terms such as “occupants,” “interagency & site-specific digital passes” and “amenity fees” could be written in a more reader-friendly way.
Figure: Well-structured site aids in user navigation (https://www.recreation.gov)
Figure: The trip builder enables a user to find and book lodgings across the U.S. (https://www.recreation.gov/trips/new)

Beyond enabling users to find and book sites, Recreation.gov provides content and articles to give people travel tips and ideas of new places they could visit. The site also provides recommendations for alternative nearby locations when places users sought to book are unavailable.

  • Users who visited the site for the purpose of researching a future trip reported a net promoter score—a commonly used customer experience measure—15 points higher than visitors who were making or modifying reservations or purchasing tickets.2
  • Under each site, users can write a “guest review” to share their experiences visiting specific campsites and offer suggestions to other visitors.

Relaunched in the spring of 2019, the app includes nearly all the same features as the website. In the last quarter of fiscal 2019, about 58% of users accessed the Recreation.gov website from their mobile devices, demonstrating the importance of having good mobile optimized interface for a service that many people use while traveling.

  • As of September 2020, the mobile app had earned 4.8 out of 5 stars from more than 12,200 users.

“I remember when you had to call to find out availability, but campsites were first come first served. I am SO IMPRESSED with all the new improvements. The app is beyond easy with lots of good info on choosing which site you'd like, when it's available, and reserving and paying for it at the same time!”
—User from February 9, 2020


“I enjoy using Recreation app. It has great information and have always kept me informed on my reservations. It also keeps track of your past and future reservations. Every time I have confidence that I have a reservation, that's a good feeling when you're on the road!
—User from February 25, 2020

An online satisfaction survey, launched in the spring of 2019, revealed that many customers had a hard time completing what they needed to do. Inability to complete tasks was largely attributed to limited availability of campsites (20%); technical issues (20%); and difficulty finding information (35%).

The Recreation.gov team generated insights from online surveys, call centers, website analytics and usability testing to discover that customers were frustrated by not being able to make reservations for popular sites, which would get booked up for months within a few minutes of becoming available. In addition to making quick improvements, such as adding new help articles to the online FAQ section, the team made substantive upgrades to clarify the availability of recreation sites and added features such as filters and auto suggestions to the search engine.

Recreation.gov website survey3
Q3 Q4
I am satisfied with the service I received from Recreation.gov 58% 60%
I was able to accomplish what I wanted to do on Recreation.gov 51% 54%
It was easy to complete what I needed to do. 47% 49%

Customers indicated that because maps did not accurately display specific campsite locations and photos were not always available, it was often difficult to make an informed decision about what campsite to reserve.

  • 25% of customers who provided suggestions to the site recommended improving the quality and availability of photos and maps, according to the customer satisfaction survey.

To address this, the team is providing local facility managers with guidance and tools to verify GIS data used to create maps, and to easily upload recent, higher-quality photos.

To encourage customers to explore and enjoy federal lands with friends and family, the social media team combined high-quality, inspiring images of parks and other locations with a fun, lighthearted tone in website content. Through weeks of stay-at-home orders and park closings due to the pandemic, the team used creative ways to keep users engaged, such as posting trivia questions about federal recreation sites and instructions on how to set up a kid-friendly indoor campsite at home.

In early 2020, the team launched Facebook and Instagram campaigns such as #MoreSceneTimeLessScreenTime to motivate users to make summer plans for scenic destinations.

When customers request support on Facebook, the social media team refers them to the contact center, which is open 14 hours a day and can be reached by phone, chat or email. The social media team also uses social listening tools that systematically examine what customers are saying online and how they feel about the website. Through these tools, for instance, the team found Facebook comments about the challenges people had with modifying their existing reservations. Team members fixed the issue and alerted customers about the improvements.


“One of the most helpful things about ongoing listening is that it really does help prioritize. We can see where the volume of requests are coming in from, and what we need to pay attention to.”
—Janelle Smith, Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Forest Service, Recreation.gov Program


Connecting on Social Media

As of September 2020, the agency’s social media presence included: 


Facebook

(@Recreation.gov)

Joined: June 2010



Followers: 84,700



Total likes: 83,400


Instagram

(@Recreation.gov)

Joined: May 2014



Followers: 94,900



Total posts: 1,615


YouTube

(Recreation.gov)

Joined: January 2012



Subscribers: 427



Total views: 27,000

Social media practices

Posts almost daily?
No



Includes multimedia content?
Yes



Responds to customers?
Yes – occasionally

For background information on these metrics and our full methodology click here.

How Recreation.gov Services Quickly Shifted During the Coronavirus

The Recreation.gov team quickly shifted its focus when the coronavirus pandemic closed most federally managed recreation sites. Rather than promoting visits to federal lands, the team provided updates on the operational status of locations and connected customers with local site managers who could give them more details. 

Team members got creative in order to stay connected with customers during a time when people may not have been using recreation services. They highlighted options for making virtual visits to public lands, providing tips for how people could get to know their “nature hood,” and offered games and scavenger hunts to help children enjoy nature near their homes during the pandemic.

Comments on social media helped the team keep a pulse on issues customers faced during the pandemic. Facebook posts revealed that some people had difficulty requesting refunds for canceled trips. The team responded to the posts and clarified the process for contacting local site managers to request a refund.

As recreation sites began to reopen, Recreation.gov worked with site managers to inform people of steps they were taking to protect visitors’ health, such as making only every other campsite available for reservations and using timed and ticketed entry to limit traffic. 

Indicators that the Customer Experience is a High Priority 

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Commitment to Customer Experience

The agency:

Includes high-quality customer experience in its strategic goals.


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


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


Shares meaningful customer feedback with the public.

Customer Service Basics 

For the most common services provided, customers can: 

Complete frequently used transactions online.


Easily find information to call an appropriate representative.


Schedule in-person appointments.


Obtain status updates.


Has a process for standardizing across channels the information and guidance provided to customers.

Customer Feedback 

The agency collects and analyzes data and information on customer perceptions:   

Of specific interactions, including website visits, phone calls and in-person appointments. 


Of a customer journey through a series of interactions or multistage processes that build toward a specific goal.


Of the overall service the organization provides.


Through qualitative research, such as customer interviews, focus groups, analysis of social media comments or direct observation.


Through a structured analysis of comments about the service left on social media channels.

More details about our methodology

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