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Natural sites: 5 solutions to improve access to car parks

Since the health crisis, there has been a surge in tourism to natural sites. Indeed, domestic tourism has increased dramatically since 2020: 89% of French people going on holiday in July/August 2021 have chosen France as their destination, despite the lifting of departure restrictions in Europe (1)! After various confinements, the French want to be as close to nature as possible, to disconnect from urban areas, to contemplate beautiful landscapes in one of France's many national and regional nature parks, such as mountain sites, calanques, etc.

However, this mass tourism is making access to natural tourist sites increasingly complicated... Car parks are quickly saturated because there are generally few parking spaces nearby. Illegal or opportunistic parking is on the increase and is becoming dangerous both for visitors, as it can cause accidents, and for the site itself, as it can damage the environment. In addition, access roads to the site are often unsuitable and one-way, leading to frequent traffic jams that inconvenience visitors and local residents alike. The risk of accidents is increased, visitor comfort and satisfaction are greatly reduced, and local residents express their dissatisfaction.

The compatibility of mass tourism with the preservation of the natural site and the living conditions of the local residents seems questionable, yet various solutions are possible: here they are!

Measuring and communicating visitor numbers using a counting system

Natural sites are sorely lacking in data on the availability of car parks in real time, and yet this is possible thanks to the installation of a simple counting system! Solutions such as Affluences enable you to avoid overcrowding on your natural site by optimising your visitor flows. By installing one or more counters on your site, you'll have a precise overview of all visitor flows: traffic, occupancy and even waiting time at the entrance to your site! You'll even be able to differentiate between different types of traffic: pedestrians (children, adults), bicycles, cars, camper vans, etc. What's more, these traffic counters are perfectly suited to the constraints of protected nature parks.

Thanks to a datavisualisation interface, you can control and use the visitor data for your car parks at a glance, and make the most of it: adjust staff schedules, opening times, signage and even measure the effects of public policies to encourage soft mobility!

The Affluences solution will also allow you to set up alerts if the maximum capacity is exceeded, so you can monitor your visitor flows in real time.

Finally, it's essential to communicate these attendance figures to your visitors so that they can consult them at any time and choose to come at the right time. In this way, you can smooth out traffic flows, reduce car park saturation and improve visitor comfort and satisfaction!

Creating new car parks

Building new car parks is one of the best ways of improving access to your natural tourist site, as it will increase your parking capacity. We advise you to build them as far away from the site as possible, or at a lower altitude for mountainous sites. In this way, you preserve the beauty of the site without adding a new parking space to its landscape. For example, the classified site of the Canigou massif built a car park below the access road and hidden by vegetation in the Esquena d'Ase area in 2018. Visitors are therefore obliged to park in this new area to access the Cortalets refuge or the Canigó peak, which are 1000 metres higher (2).

Furthermore, you can only extend your existing parking areas if you have the space to do so and if this does not further damage the environment.

Finally, it is strongly recommended that you incorporate the planting of your car parks into your development project. This will enable you to preserve the biodiversity of your site, and therefore reduce your impact on the environment, while preserving the authenticity of the landscape!

Making shuttles available to visitors

The remoteness of new parking spaces inevitably means that your visitors will need to use public transport to get to the tourist site, particularly for people with reduced mobility, the elderly or young children. Shuttles are generally the ideal solution for this type of journey, and we recommend that you choose thermal or electric shuttles to reduce your environmental impact. The service can be free or for a fee - it's up to you! You can even offer this service from nearby towns, villages or even stations to relieve traffic congestion near the site.

It's vital to work with your region, the tourist offices and the managers of the natural sites to ensure that your offer best meets visitors' needs and expectations.

The Syndicat mixte de Gestion des Gorges de l'Ardèche has set up a shuttle bus network in collaboration with the Auvergne - Rhônes-Alpes region, serving 8 different stops (3). It is accessible from the bus station car park, where the Vallon Pont d'Arc Tourist Office is also located, and serves the upstream and downstream beach sectors of the Pont d'Arc, with a terminus at the Pont d'Arc Belvédère car park. The shuttle can therefore be used to travel from one point to another in the Gorges de l'Ardèche!

The shuttles are generally available to visitors during the summer period, from June to September, but if you already have a people-counting solution, you can carry out a detailed analysis of your visitor numbers to find out which months, days of the week and even times of the day you should be using the shuttle!

Equip yourself with an online booking solution

An online reservation system is also a good way of improving access to your car parks. If you allow your visitors to book slots in advance of their visit, they will be guaranteed access on the day!

When they book, they will naturally give priority to the least busy slots, which will automatically smooth out your traffic flow. Finally, thanks to this system, you can be sure not to exceed your maximum capacity, as you can monitor the use of your car parks in real time. So you can ensure the safety of your visitors!

Last summer, for example, the Parc National des Calanques introduced compulsory free parking for visitors to the Sugiton and Pierres Tombées (4) creeks. Overcrowding in summer (around 2,500 people a day), which exacerbates soil erosion and does considerable damage to this protected Mediterranean area, prompted the Calanques National Park to introduce this reservation system. The two calanques are now limited to 400 visitors a day in summer, which will ensure the long-term preservation of these exceptional sites!

We recommend that you complement this online booking solution with the use of a counting system: by combining the two, you'll be able to optimise your visitor flows as much as possible and completely eliminate traffic jams at the entrance to your site! The Affluences solution helps you to set up a visitor management solution with an online reservation system. Would you like to find out more? Contact us for more information!

Encouraging soft mobility

You should also encourage your visitors to use soft mobility such as cycling or walking! Think about setting up pedestrian routes or walking paths from your new car park so that your visitors can easily access your site. It's also important to make this route fun, with explanatory signs, themed paths or any other activity that will entertain your visitors and make the journey more enjoyable. Bear in mind that you need to integrate this route into the visit, so that it is seen as an integral part of the visit and not as a constraint! It is also essential to bring your visitors together on a single path to minimise the erosion caused by numerous pedestrian crossings.

You can also encourage your visitors to come by bike by creating cycle paths, cycle routes or greenways to your site. You can also install battery recharging points for electric bikes! These are all ways of encouraging your visitors to make greater use of environmentally-friendly modes of transport, while at the same time limiting our impact on the environment. If all these actions aren't enough, financial incentives can be the solution: for example, you can apply discounts on entrance tickets for visitors arriving by bike.

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