Prince George’s County in Maryland has a population in excess of 900,000 and lies just outside of Washington D.C. With an active and informed community, a lot is expected from their parks and recreation department and they deliver: they are the only six-time national Gold Medal winner for excellence in parks and recreation management.
With 27,000 acres and more than 5,000 employees, they make a range of facilities and programs available to their community, including 44 community and rec centers and summer playground programs at 150 sites. Needless to say, their patrons come to rely on and depend on their services. That’s why moving to Vermont Systems RecTrac wasn’t a decision they made lightly. Laura Williams, Customer Experience Officer, Department of Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County, describes their decision process and how they’re using Vermont Systems today.
You switched to Vermont Systems RecTrac in 2017, how did you conduct the evaluation process?
Laura: When we knew that we needed another product, we did an RFI and landed with VSI (now Vermont Systems). We made a list of all of the current functionality that we had at that point in time. We went out and just looked for any other products on the market that could do the same things or better. Vermont Systems seemed to check all of the boxes. There was only one other product that we evaluated, of about 20 or 25, that also did. We went with Vermont Systems because of a variety of reasons. Number one, they checked more functional boxes. They were very pleasant to communicate with and seemed like they would be good business partners. It was a great value. The other would've been much more expensive based on a transactional fee model than the annual licensing costs.
How would you describe the Vermont Systems implementation process?
Laura: We had a lot of hands-on support. We wanted our team to work closely in the software and build things themselves so that they picked up some of that subject matter expertise. I feel like by the time we got to implementation, we had a really strong team of in-house CIS admins who had picked up a lot of knowledge straight from the horse's mouth. I think that is what helped make it successful.
What is one of the biggest advantages you’ve found with Vermont Systems?
Laura: It's extremely customizable. It's allowed us to make more things available for customer service self-service on the web and really customize our graphical interface. We can take any business requirement that we hear and turn it for the most part into a registration entity that can match the business rules.
What was the impact of COVID on your department?
Laura: We discontinued most of our in-person programming and shifted to a lot of virtual programming. When we started reopening our facilities, which happened extremely slowly because we are a district that was extremely hard hit in the early waves of the pandemic and has since operated very conservatively in terms of coming back to work and opening, we did online reservations for all of our visits once the facilities started to open. If you want to come to the nature center, for example, we had five slots for each hour block per day. The rentals module made it easy to enforce social distancing.
Have any of the changes from COVID stuck because of the advantages groups saw in the process?
Laura: Some of the facilities that did that online pre-reservation liked it and felt like it helped them control the pace of their business operations. For example, our aquatic facilities pre-covid were all walk-in only. Now they do a hybrid approach where they have a certain number of slots available for pre-reservation online, and another batch at the gate. They're incentivizing price wise too, for people to pre-purchase online. That has helped us because we get long lines and the pool fills up and people are mad that they get locked out on a nice hot day. We've been able to shape the business that way.
Ticketing is one area that has grown in interest and usage lately. What do you like about the Vermont Systems ticketing system?
Laura: We use tickets for special events and like that Vermont Systems doesn't require ‘households’ to make purchases. That allows us to make some things available to the general public who don't want to commit to setting up a household and create a sort of bulk sale. For example, I want to bring myself, my five kids, and three neighbors and we're not in the same household. It allows me to just buy 9 tickets and pay and I don't need to tell you everybody who's coming. I can just walk in and scan.
In addition to special event management, we use tickets for a big festival of lights that we do in the winter season where we have thousands of people coming into a park to visit the light show.
We use tickets to do pre-sales online and then we use visit processing for people who are just driving up to the gate. One nice thing about RecTrac is how customizable the fees and rules are. That has allowed us to do things like make a different price for online sales versus in person or have the pricing change as we're getting closer to an event.”
What Laura and Prince George’s County have found with Vermont Systems RecTrac is a very robust and capable solution. “I often say to my internal customers, throw anything at us because RecTrac can do almost anything,” says Laura. That flexible technological strength combined with a smart and driven team enables the department to continue to evolve with the ever-changing community needs and requirements. To learn more about how Vermont Systems meets the needs of some of the largest parks and recreation departments anywhere and could address yours, talk to one of our experts.
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