Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sounds of a Death Knell Grow Louder

More than 4-in-10 Americans now use navigation apps on smartphones or tablets when they travel, contributing to why only a fifth of one percent of Americans now find roadside billboards worth the desecration and blight their advertisers enable.

In-vehicle navigation systems also continue to proliferate, with mobile app giants such as Apple, Google and Microsoft helping to bring the price down dramatically.

Vehicles sold in North America with the systems installed will grow by another 13 million by 2019, up a full third annually since 2009 when I retired.  That year only 5% of North American adults used navigation on their phone and tablets didn’t exists.

Overall, nearly 8-in-10 Americans now use travel-related apps such as these when they travel, making all the more inscrutable the disconnect that lawmakers where I live have unconstitutionally surrendered much of North Carolina’s forested roadside to out-of-state billboard companies.

Some of my favorite apps for travel are CoPilot GPS (driving, riding or walking,) Tripit, Pet Friendly , AAA Roadside, Airport Remote Monitor, Weather Underground (to see live radar,) Code Red, My Park Pro, National Parks, Pandora and Rhapsody

Jeep (dealer locator,) Harley-Davidson Trip Planner, Google Maps, BP Rewards Finder, Fly Delta, Kindle and IB Reader, various apps for banking and credit cards and of course those that let me monitor my home while I am away.Modern Traveler

An app that is particularly useful is Road Ahead.  It shows all businesses within a radius of each highway exit.

This is useful for those curious beyond what they find on exit logo wayfinding signs including the few who still cite this need as a justification for billboards.

Ironically, the logo sign program for food, lodging, fuel and in many states now, attractions, were authorized in the 1965 Highway Beautification Act intended to eliminate all billboards except those in industrial zones.

Hah!  Those we still see today are a circumvention of that federal law enabled by the cozy relationship between state and local politicians, billboard companies and complicit or cowed regulators.

I am among the 18% globally who now prefer to receive travel reminders and alerts from these apps via text message vs. the 86% of Americans who still prefer to be alerted via email.

I am not sure what to make of the 9% who don’t want reminders at all except that they must never forget or run into delays.

Only 5% of Americans now book their travel in person, less than any other area surveyed.  This has been one of the most monumental changes in travel during my 65 years since birth or the 40 years since my now-concluded career in destination travel promotion began.

I’ve driven more than 60,000 miles on a variety of cross country routes since I retired less than four years ago and I’ve rarely been mislead by GPS navigation, even in remote mountain valleys and along country roads and lakeshores.

One of the most important responsibilities of those in my former profession of community and destination marketing is to make absolutely certain local officials are regularly resubmitting updated GPS information.  If construction detours are provided, then it needs to be updated even more frequently and by time of day.

Indianapolis came to mind during the Durham Bulls sweep of the Indians in the playoff last week leading up to the Triple-A Governors’ Cup, which is one step from the National Championship game with the Pacific Coast winner.

The only two areas I’ve had GPS problems in repeatedly were Indianapolis and Kansas City.  But the only way DMO execs there will know is to regularly “mystery-shop” routes both to, through and around their communities as though they were a traveler.

This includes trying to find key visitor facilities and features and then reporting problems.  There should also be convenient ways provided on desktop and mobile-enabled websites where visitors can easily and quickly report problems to aid this process.

Lodging facilities are notorious for using inaccurate locations in the names of specific properties, almost always in a hope that the obfuscation will mean they reap business from unsuspecting travelers.

Sometimes businesses even obtain vanity postal delivery boxes, such as those available in  Research Triangle Park here, which is not a city but a Durham postal substation meant for tenants of a 7,000-acre campus located four miles from Downtown Durham.  Some are obtained by businesses that are actually located as far as an hour away.

Don’t get me started on the visitor-related facilities that deliberately distort their proximity to an airport, a cruel joke to travelers who want to be close to an airport for a very critical reason: to be able to drop a rental car and catch a flight with minimal logistics.

Fortunately GPS navigation systems and map apps protect travelers.  They go by physical location and cities, towns and counties, not obsfucatated facility names or P.O boxes or street delivery addresses deliberately misassigned by the United States Postal Service to businesses and residents different from their true physical location.

This insanity is just one of the bureaucratic mistakes contributing to the demise of this once incredible institution, a slight of hand it learned from businesses that try to deliberately misrepresent their locations.

Many years ago, the Durham community marketing organization had to plot and submit coordinates for visitor facilities and corporations who used PO boxes or did not have physical street delivery addresses so that GPS navigation services could find them.

A GPS doesn’t lie or distort locations like people try to do.  So if you find your address is is inaccurate, it probably isn’t the fault of the technology but of an area that is asleep at the switch when it comes to providing updated data.

It might also be a victim to a lot of deliberate misinformation when it comes to physical locations but not for long.

Faced with obsolescence, billboard companies grow increasing desperate.  For many years, finding manipulation of government insufficient, many have resorted to illegally poisoning trees.

Until the final death knell occurs, should any illegal “jamming” of GPS signals occur, FBI agents should look first into billboard companies.

Those who remain honorable, and there are some, are probably preparing to surrender billboards that create blight along roadsides, in favor of hoping to find ways so that Google Glass technology can voice-toggle on and off virtual billboards for those who feel nostalgic.

A truly win-win-win.


Anonymous said...

Well done, buggies and the "buggy whip" industries are somewhat analogous to the billboard companies. Some of the buggy companies managed to switch to making car bodies, ie, "Body by Fisher". I guess that it's hard for a bunch of crooks to switch to doing something useful.

Lisa Harris, President said...

I did an informal windshield survey of billboards on Alabama's interstates a few years ago. Only about a third actually provided useful traveler-related information. The new apps (I like IExit developed by an Alabama company) are inherently more useful than billboards, in large part because billboards long ago quit being travel guides anyway.