Skift Take

Mobile maps are great for navigating from point A to B, but don't give travelers a sense of place quite like a large printed map. High demand at visitor centers suggests tourists are looking for information and context before exploring on their own.

Despite the widespread use of mobile devices and travelers’ growing reliance on their maps and apps, print maps remain a critical part of the tourism experience.

Destinations large and small across the United States continue to print thousands, sometimes millions, of maps every year to be handed out at visitor centers, park kiosks, and stands at public transportation hubs.

It comes down to an innate decision to know where one is at a certain moment, the search for the “I am here” dot on any map, and the context around that.

Some destinations sell advertising space around the actual map either to cover the costs of production or make a small profit off their distribution. Others leave off any advertising at all.

Cities and Parks Keep Printing

Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board prints 500,000 English-language maps a year, of which 200,000 go directly into the tourism board’s Visitor Guide. It also produces maps in Chinese and Japanese to meet the needs of their fastest growing visitor demographic.

All advertising revenues are used to pay for costs associated with making the maps. There is an interested difference in distribution points between LA and foreign source markets.

“Our in-market Visitor Information Center at Hollywood & Highland is the top distribution point. In-country, various travel agent offices are the main distribution point,” explains Susan Lomax, spokesperson for Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.

The National Park Service prints 24 million park brochures for about 200 different national parks each year. The brochures, which include a park map and related park information, are primarily distributed at park entrance stations and visitor centers. They have no advertising.

“Here’s an interesting fact,” shares Jeffrey G. Olson, the public information officer for the National Park Service. “National Park Service brochures cost about 6.5 cents each. We can do that because of the volume of printing runs and the uni-grid design of the brochures.”

Maps for Smaller Markets

Even smaller destinations see incredible demand for their maps. The small scenic town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, placed an order for 30,000 maps earlier this month after running out of the original 150,000 maps printed for 2014.

“The ad sales revenue covers all printing, distribution, and sales commissions, with a small amount then allocated to general tourism marketing funds.” says Valerie T. Rochon, the tourism director of the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce.

The ads are almost all paid for by local shops and restaurants that hope to draw the interest of visitors with a coupon or its location.

New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development also prints 150,000 highway maps, all of which are used by the end of the year.

Michele Cota, marketing manager for New Hampshire Tourism, echoes the sentiments of her colleague in Portsmouth, “We do not anticipate needing to reduce our printed maps. Those perform very well.”


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Tags: maps

Photo credit: A tourist reads a map in Cascais, Portugal. Pedro Ribeiro Simões / Flickr

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