Hire or buy at a tourist site?
Today Tina and I visited Stonehenge. The prehistoric stone monument on Salisbury Plain is one of those places which one tends to visit rarely. We drive past it several times each year, but haven't stopped to visit it for years. Visits with parents when young - yes - because it is the thing to do - but it is not a place which benefits from frequent return visits from the majority of people who go there. Still, as one of the leading attractions in the UK outside London and major cities, it managed over 1,200,000 visitors last year. A new exhibition centre opened last December, and that will be an extra attraction. We went to meet my brother and wife, to return his two daughters who have been holidaying with us; Stonehenge is midway between our home and theirs. School holidays meant that we visited Stonehenge on a busy day in August; like most sites, there is seasonal variation in visitor numbers per day.
We enjoyed it; the site is being "re-landscaped" because the main road which ran close to the stones has been closed and is being grassed over so that traffic does not pass quite so close as it used to. There were crowds of people, and it rained. But we got in free.
However, in the management of so many visitors, there is scope for some decisions to be aided by O.R.. The visitor centre is 30 minutes walk from the stones, so one either walks, or takes a shuttle. There were three types of shuttle on site today. Land trains of three coaches with the Stonehenge logo on the side pulled by a 4x4 vehicle (and presumably, these could run with only two coaches). Minibuses also with the Stonehenge logo on the side. And minibuses belonging to local companies. The first two were obviously dedicated (owned or on lease) to Stonehenge, the third type was hired in.
So here is the problem. What is the best mix of vehicles to have dedicated to the site? In peak periods, all will be in use, at some times of the year, some of the fleet will be idle. And how do you plan the number of local coaches to hire?
So here is an O.R. model waiting to be built. There will be a long term plan, to determine the fleet size (and whether to lease or own), and short term strategy depending on the time of year and the weather forecast about how many to hire.
And, for the local sources of minibuses, there will be a further modelling problem. How many vehicles do they have in their fleets to meet requests from the Stonehenge management?
There are numerous other potential areas of decision-making where O.R. could help at the site. For instance, how to schedule the tourist coaches? They need parking space, they need shuttle vehicle space, and their occupants will make bulk arrivals at the cafeteria and shop. Limiting the time slots for coaches will help smooth the demand.