Today, the collection largely represents the individual desires of local byways and their communities to obtain designation versus a pre-planned effort on the part of the National Scenic Byways Program to dictate the ideal collection. Thus, the America's Byways® collection is not organized in a manner that necessarily lends itself to an integrated and cohesive marketing program. One of the major challenges is marketing a group of unique roads in many segments to a variety of different audiences. Should the Federal Highway Administration consider initiatives to tighten and/or package these byway experiences? How can this be accomplished within the framework of a program that has so successfully grown with a grass-roots ethos?
The Federal Highway Administration does not have authority or control over the local byway product. Thus, a fundamental challenge for the Program is that it must work with a varied and changing product. The variability in the nature of the experience encountered by travelers along different byways creates an interesting challenge for marketing the collection. In addition, the Federal Highway Administration is seeking to coordinate its efforts with local, regional and State tourism marketers all across the nation.
Today, the Program presents itself to the traveler in a number of ways. It is increasingly common for State travel guides to highlight both State-designated and nationally-designated scenic byways. These State travel guides often contain feature articles showcasing travel experiences along one or more byways. In many States, when travelers plan their trips and seek scenic drives as alternative routes to travel to their destinations, particularly online, byways are often referenced. Frequently, travelers are directed either to a specific site for a particular byway or linked to the National Scenic Byways Program website (America's Byways). Additionally, the use of the America's Byways® brand is being adopted by many State travel and tourism offices.
Beyond the tourism marketing efforts of the States, an increasing number of travel guides also focus on the nation's byways, often organized by geography such as particular States or regions. The NSBP's "Come Closer" map booklets and descriptions, in particular, have helped to brand the collection. Byways are also being referenced in travel articles included in newspapers, general circulation magazines and specialty travel periodicals. In this way the casual reader is introduced to the individual experiences they might expect to encounter along specific byways.
Generally, travelers will encounter information specific to a particular byway. More often than not, travelers are not seeking an itinerary that links one byway to the next, but rather seek an alternative experience within the course of their overall journey. The one exception may be the exploration of the National Scenic Byways Program traveler website ( America's Byways) where the full array of nationally designated byways and in many instances, links to State designated byways is displayed, creating awareness of the many alternatives available.
Based on the observations and comments from workshops and trainings with local byway groups around the country over the course of the last ten years, it is clear that many byways are not thinking carefully about how to offer a full travel experience that meshes with national marketing. Due to lack of organization and/or lack of funding and staffing, many byways are lucky to put together an annual brochure. Managing web strategy coordination, media tours, reaching out to group tour operators, and creating new events and experiences are just out of reach for the organizational capacity of many byways. If asked whether they would like to pursue these actions, most will say ‘yes'; if asked whether they have pursued these actions, most will say ‘no'.
In 2006-2007, FHWA and the America's Byways Resource Center funded the "Marketing: America's Byways Consumer Research," conducted by Longwoods International, to develop a better understanding of the market for byway travel. The study found that less than half of those surveyed had heard of America's Byways® and less than 10 percent had traveled one of America's Byways® in the last two years. Regionally, awareness of the America's Byways® brand was lowest in the Midwest and higher (but still below 50 percent) in the South.
The study found that once introduced to the collection, 60 percent of those surveyed said they would "likely visit" one of America's Byways®. These findings prompted Longwoods International to describe the America's Byways® collection as one of the "Nation's best kept secrets."
The Longwoods International Consumer Research study carried out in 2006-2007 revealed mixed opinions about byways as a way to plan travel. Of those respondents to the survey who had traveled on a byway within the previous three years, 89 percent agreed that byways "offer a superior travel experience," 75 percent agreed that byways "are a great way to see America's icons," and 73 percent agreed that byways "offer a great chance to learn about history and culture." However, only 42 percent of those recent byway travelers agreed with the statement, "the America's Byways® Program offers an easy way to plan a trip." This result may indicate that while the Program is doing a great job marketing the byway collection, there is a need to go beyond marketing and provide practical information for travelers to help them plan their trips.
From the traveler's perspective, information about byways is not presented in a way that would allow the traveler to pursue a specific course of interest and turn that interest into a specific tour. For example, if one were fascinated by the Civil War, marketing for the collection is not organized in such a way as to provide linked routes emphasizing battlefields and campaign routes. To date a strategy has not been developed to identify like-themed resources to create suggested itineraries by weaving together byways, heritage areas, national park sites, State parks and other destinations closely related to byway corridors.
A good example of how this can be done is provided by the National Register of Historic Places' National Register Itineraries, which showcase themes of American history along defined corridors. In addition to information on the historic theme of the route, the Program's website (http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/) includes interactive maps, visitor services information and photographs. The "We Shall Overcome" itinerary ( Alabama) and "American Southwest" itinerary ( Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado) are a few of the many travel itineraries that highlight segments of the America 's Byways ® collection.
There are many interesting ways of organizing and marketing the byways that would make certain route choices more appealing. For example, if one is traveling along an interstate and encountered a map indicating eight short miscellaneous byways running roughly parallel to the interstate or a single byway route (comprising all eight), will the traveler be inclined to choose the multiple byway routes or the single route that runs adjacent to the interstate? In this case, one might argue that a number of shorter byways should join together into a more unified corridor so that they offer a more engaging travel option. It is also likely that a greater number of counties and communities will be able to pool larger amounts of funding to support byway-long initiatives.
Byways do not always consider relationships with related or complementary intrinsic resource attractions and destinations that are not part of the defined byway corridor, but logical for travel planning or regional perceptions regarding travel venues. For example, consideration is being given by some byways within the Appalachian region to create a necklace of linked byways. This effort would connect scenic byways, National Heritage Areas, State and national parks, Scenic and Wild Rivers and other destinations into a grand tour of Appalachia. This type of approach would bring much more weight to the marketplace compared to the individual efforts of single byways or single site destinations.
This effort would encourage byways to create experiences that are richer in resources and destinations. Byways might be seen as the organizing principles for journeys through regions. New grant categories or criteria could be created that reward new cooperative product development and marketing efforts.
The Federal Highway Administration might encourage proximate byway routes to cooperate, perhaps even creating unified longer byways in the same manner that the Historic National Road or the Great River Road is comprised of individual State byways in groups that work both cooperatively as well as independently. These new super routes would encourage travelers to explore them; super routes would suggest a more diverse and interesting experience. New marketing initiatives might be created for byways that can offer fuller, longer traveler experiences. For example, most byways offer experiences of a half day to a full day in length. The unification of several byways in a State combined with other travel destinations might then offer a multi-day or week-long experience. Byways would become the enriching connections among a variety of destinations.
The Program could facilitate a process whereby States, Indian tribes and regions work together to identify gaps in their regional stories and to find links between stories and routes. Identifying gaps might then lead to strategies to fill the gaps by creating new national byways, or using local and regional programs such State byway designation, local heritage areas, or the creation of promotional regions.