Booz Allen Talks “Tech & Rec” at the Fast Company Innovation Festival
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Last month, Booz Allen served as the Presenting Sponsor of the first-ever virtual Fast Company Innovation Festival, with firm leaders joining compelling panel discussions on innovation in government, cybersecurity, the space race, and the future of recreation. Join us as we recap these critical conversations in a dedicated series of posts.
What projects, products, ideas, and innovations are shaping the world? How can we build a truly better tomorrow? Each year, innovators from around the world convene at the Fast Company Innovation Festival to share their experiences, insights, and inspirations.
Booz Allen executive vice president Julie McPherson, who leads the firm’s work for Recreation.gov, joined Chris Putur, executive vice president of technology and operations at REI, and Kristen Holmes, vice president of Performance at WHOOP.
Keeping up with changing consumer behaviors
In only three months, from April to June, people downloaded the Recreation.gov app half a million times—the same number of downloads during all of 2019, McPherson said.
“We're seeing so much more volume of communications, whether it's actually making reservations or just getting access to information,” McPherson said. “It’s just another proof point that people really want to be outside and they are getting outside.”
COVID-19 caused a flash transformation for many agencies and their digital platforms, including Recreation.gov, as they worked hard to keep up with consumer demand. Her team responded quickly to the increased number of people seeking information via phone and app—and anticipates more changes in the future.
“Even when we have a vaccine and people feel more comfortable being outside, I think the way we interact with people in large spaces is just fundamentally going to change,” she said.
Recreation.gov will need to keep up with these shifting consumer behaviors, she said, and so will McPherson’s development team as they continue to work with agencies meeting a wide range of citizen services.
Rethinking safety and access
Even a trip to the great outdoors is not so simple during a global pandemic.
“We're all trying to balance the fear of what could happen if we go out with the imperative of taking care of ourselves,” McPherson said.
With that delicate balance in mind, the Recreation.gov team prioritized features that give people useful visitation and safety information—like updated information about park access—across all channels, quickly and easily. For example, a timed entry system for Rocky Mountain National Park, which had 4.5 million visitors last year, gives visitors the ability to choose a time slot for entering the park, which reduces crowding at the entrance.
“Pre-COVID-19 you could just go any time you wanted—you didn’t even think about it,” McPherson said. “But oftentimes during peak access, you’d stand in a line. You’d be surrounded by a lot of people. The park worked with Recreation.gov to rethink how we could provide safe access and make sure people kept visiting in a way that made them feel safer and more comfortable.”
What’s next for technology and recreation?
As winter approaches, “This is the time of year that we start thinking about the next peak season,” McPherson said. “How do we build on the things that we've learned over the last couple of months and what we know people need and want?”
As the way people interact, especially in large spaces, fundamentally changes, technology has the potential to change the situation for the better. She cited examples like cashless entry, mobile license plate readers, and other solutions for contactless access. “The goal is to remove the points where you have to physically interact with strangers.”
Looking ahead, she said, technology can not only help people prepare for their visits to public lands, but it can also help them make the most of their experience when they’re there. “We want people to get the physiological and psychological value and the wellness that comes from being outside.”
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