Counting Methodology

Below is a selection of published papers that include information related to counting methodology. Most can be found on the Internet by doing the appropriate key word search (e.g., search for the paper's title). In addition to the paper's abstract, we present "Key Points" regarding methodology gleaned from the paper and "Our Comments" which reflect our own experiences and insights gained over the last decade. The first group of papers are from Monitoring and Management of Visitor Flows in Recreational and Protected Areas (MMV) biennial conferences. These were held in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, and are identified below by:


Methods for Visitor Monitoring in Recreational and Protected Areas: An Overview

Andreas Muhar, Arne Arnberger, Christiane Brandenburg, 2002

Link to paper

Abstract:

The objective of this paper is to present a systematic overview on methods used for visitor monitoring in recreational areas. Emphasis is given on quantitative methods such as direct observation, video observation, counting devices and registration books. The various approaches are discussed with regard to practical, legal and organisational aspects, such as costs, maintenance requirements, dependence on infrastructure (e.g. electricity), risk of vandalism or suitability for remote and ecologically sensitive locations. For the design of a visitor monitoring scheme in a specific recreational area it is necessary to determine the best combination of devices and methods, depending on the objectives of the monitoring program. This relates also to the temporal resolution of monitoring activities (permanent, periodic, selective). In areas where the recreational use is largely depending on external factors such as weather, daytime and season, the representativity of a sampling scheme becomes crucial for the statistic validity of the obtained data. As visitor monitoring can also be regarded as an interference with the privacy of the persons being monitored, ethic aspects of the application of the various methods must also be addressed.

Key Points:

  1. Systematic visitor monitoring programs are rare.
  2. Visitor monitoring techniques include interviews, direct observation, indirect observation, counting of access permits, counting devices, self-registration, and mapping of traces of use.
  3. Counting devices used were more accurate over longer periods (daily, monthly) than shorter periods (hourly).
  4. Accuracy requirements should be determined early on, at the planning stage.
  5. Reasonable accuracy: the level of accuracy sufficient to detect changes that are significant to management decisions.
  6. Use of video as a visitor monitoring tool has ethical and privacy issues, and wherever possible, alternative solutions should be considered.
  7. There is poor awareness of the need and value of visitor monitoring and management.

Our Comments:


Visitor Structure of a Heavily Used Convervation Area: The Danube Floodplains National Park, Lower Austria

Andreas Muhar and Christiane Brandenburg,2002

Link to paper

Abstract:

National parks in close proximity to large conurbations are not subject to the normal conflicts between conservation and ecological tourism but to those between conservation and urban recreational requirements. The Danube Floodplains National Park, Lower Austria is situated to the east of Vienna, the capital city of Austria, with a population of 1.6 million. Between June 2000 and May 2001, visitors were monitored in the Lower Austrian part of the National Park. An analysis of the results of the interviews, as well as their integration with the analysis, led to the identification of specific visitor categories with individual behavioral patterns and spatio-temporal distribution. In particular, regular recreational visitors from adjacent residential areas were very concerned about overcrowding and would react to the high visitor frequency through a change in their habits. This alternation of visiting habits would lead to grave problems for the environmental management of the National Park.

Key Points:

  1. Short term visitor monitoring is heavily influenced by statistical variation.
  2. Visitor monitoring methods included video, interviews, observation, route analysis, and active infrared trail counters.
  3. Video cameras can capture rich information (recreation type, group size, etc.)
  4. Visitor behavior changed in response to visitor density (i.e., crowding).
  5. It is possible to develop a spatial-temporal model to predict visitor flows.

Our Comments:


Standardization of Visitor Counting - Experiences from Finland

Jere Rauhala, Joel Erkkonen and Heikki Iisalo, 2002

Abstract:

This paper presents practical experiences of visitor counting from the Finnish perspective. The presentation deals with the process of planning visitor counting, the special equipment needed in counting and ways of transforming the figures from the calculators into estimates of the number of visits in a specific area. In addition, the results of a pilot study from the Teijo Hiking Area are presented as a case. In 2000, we started to test visitor counters for the Natural Heritage Services of Southern Finland, in the Teijo Hiking Area. At the same time we tested both an appropriate method for visitor counting and counting equipment. Encouraged by this experience, we started systematic visitor counting in nine southern national parks in 2001. Traditional everyman's rights (right of public access) gaurantee all people - Finish or otherwise - free access to Finland's forests, whether the forests be prvately or publicly owned. The makes reliable visitor counting difficult, but at the same time extremely challenging. The main reason for visitor counting is the fact that the total number of visitors is not known well enough in protected and recreational areas. We also need to have comparable and reliable visitor information from different types of areas and in the long run we need to know the trends as regards the number of visitors. Besides being very important for Metsahallitus itself, the realibable estimates we are able to produce are also of great regional significance. Visitors can be counted by electronic and mechanical counters of different kinds. We have four types of counter in use. Three electronic types can be used in trail and traffic counting and also indoors. In addtional there is one mechanical type which can be used indooors, for example. At the moment the Natural Heritage Services of Southern Finland have about 40 counters in use. Each counter calculates visitors somewhat differently, depending on the installlation of the counter, its placement and the qualilty of the counter. Also, different weather conditions may affect the counters. For these reasons, each counter must be calibrated independently, after which each counter has it own coefficient. After calibrations one can calculate the counter's final result. Thereafter it is possible to calculate the estimated total number of visitors in a specific area. Metsahallitus also carries out visitor counting in other parts of Finland, but not yet as systematically as in southern Findland. Naturally there is a connection between visitor surveys and visitor counting, as both qualitative and quantitative information is important in planning and management processes.

Key Points:

  1. It is important to calibrate counters to their location. The study recommends 4-6 sessions of 4-6 hours each.
  2. Calibration should occur at different times of the day/year to determine the effects of different traffic patterns on counting accuracy.
  3. Counter accuracy is affected by both how the counter is installed, and how traffic behaves at the installed location.
  4. Side-oriented infrared counters work best in narrow locations where people do not walk side-by-side.
  5. Active infrared sensors can be sensitive to environmental factors (heavy rain or snow, mist, waving branches in front of the beam, etc.)
  6. Counters should be placed at locations that are representative of visitor behaviours, based on local knowledge of the area.
  7. Installations should be discrete. Vandalism of counters can be expensive and time consuming.
  8. Staff should be adequately trained and have a vested interest in counting program success. This generally leads to more reliable and accurate results.

Our Comments:


Estimating Visitor Use with a Photoelectric Counting System: A Calibration Study

Chi-Chuan Lue, 2006

Link to paper

Abstract:

With little or no reliable wilderness use information, managers cannot adequately judge trends of resource condition and visitor use. Such data is essential for assessing visitor impacts to the resource conservation, facilities planning, budgeting, marketing, and visitor management. Government agencies that manage outdoor recreation resources have been slow to recognize the importance of consistently corrected and valid wilder- ness use data (Loomis 2000). The objectives of this research were to calibrate a wilderness use estimation system and to explain the potential errors coming from the system and from inappropriate visitor traffic behavior.

Key Points:

  1. People in groups were rarely counted properly.
  2. Traffic stopping near sensors was a major source of error.
  3. Manual observers can get tired in the field; keep manual sample periods short.
  4. Best results are obtained in locations where paths narrow.

Our Comments:


Visitor counters in parks: management practice for counter calibration

Julian Ross, 2005

Link to paper

Abstract:

There are numerous reasons why visitor counting instruments systematically under- or over-count. "Calibration" involves adjusting counters so that they reflect estimates of numbers of visits. This review identified effective methods for calibration of pedestrian and vehicle counting instruments in a countryside recreation environment, and made various recommendations. Counters should be tested before being taken into the field, immediately after installation and before each calibration exercise. Counter data should be stored and processed centrally, and validated. Counter calibration should be compulsory, repeated regularly and applied before data analysis or reporting. Calibration should be effected with agreed, standard fields of information and clear distinctions must be made between the number of "visits" being measured by a counter and the total number of "visitors". Visitor surveys can supplement counter data, to allow data interpretation and extrapolation. The Department of Conservation, New Zealand, will use this information as a guide to develop Standard Operating Procedures for counter calibration.

Key Points:

  1. Alter counter installation if accuracy level is insufficient.
  2. Gather additional data during calibration study (age, gender, group size, method of travel, etc)
  3. Calibration factors can change over time; re-do calibration on a periodic basis.
  4. Changes to the site will affect calibration (new signs, change counter location, etc).
  5. Calibration factors can vary with the season; perform calibration seasonally if a high degree of accuracy is required.

Our Comments:


Wilderness Recreation Use Estimation: A Handbook of Methods and Systems

Watson, Alan E.; Cole, David N.; Turner, David L.; Reynolds, Penny S., 2000.

Link to paper

Abstract:

Documented evidence shows that managers of units within the U.S. National Wilderness Preservation System are making decisions without reliable information on the amount, types, and distribution of recreation use occurring at these areas. There are clear legislative mandates and agency policies that direct managers to monitor trends in use and conditions in wilderness. This report is specifically designed as a convenient resource for wilderness managers and others who have the responsibility of monitoring and describing visitor use in wilderness. It is a comprehensive manual on estimation techniques and procedures that are essential to appropriately and accurately measure visitor use-related characteristics and conditions. Guidelines enable the manager to evaluate options and decide on a use estimation system that meets the needs of a specific area and set of circumstances. This handbook provides, in a single source, all relevant information on setting objectives, making decisions about what to monitor, developing a sampling plan, collecting the needed information, and computing basic statistics to provide input into management decisions. The user should have mathematical abilities at least through algebra; knowledge of statistics and calculus would be helpful.

Key Points:

  1. This handbook provides several step-by-step procedures useful to anyone wanting to discover more about their visitors

Our Comments: