The Value of the Visitor Information Centre
This morning I was interviewed by ABC radio on one of their regular tourism shows. I fully expected to be quizzed about Australia’s big tourism news item – airport security.
However, instead of that topic, I was asked a series of questions about the value of visitor information centres. There has been talk in some parts of Australia, and no doubt elsewhere in the world that the advent of detailed web sites and social media have made visitor information centres obsolete.
The topic got me thinking about the real value of visitor information centres in the overall scheme of the tourism industry. If an information Centre is just a booth like office where destination brochures and maps are dispensed, then that role could well be replaced by apps and web sites.
However, professionally run visitor information centres, wherever they are located in the world, are far more than dispensers of destination and regional information. As a regular traveller, I find that great information centres give travellers a real flavor of the destination and include displays, interactive elements and exhibitions about the destination community, its wildlife, geography, history, culture and the chief attractions.
Most importantly they give traveler a reason to linger in the destination for a night or two beyond the time the traveler had actually planned. In a sense, they are more than a place of information but an integral part of the tourist experience, generating business to all tourism attractions and enterprises in the destination region.
For a visitor information centre to be a real success, much depends on the quality of the people working behind the counter and interacting with visitors. People who are knowledgeable and passionate about their destination can readily communicate that to visitors and this inspires them in turn to extend their stay and recommend the destination to their friends and family. They also give destinations a personality which web sites cannot yet achieve. The secret of a good visitor information centre is that it becomes the traveller’s first experience of that destination.
Centres which provide interesting displays and samples of local food, music, artworks, jewellery, handicrafts and novelty souvenirs can also generate money for the destination community and its businesses. Special offers for tourists in the destination linked to their visit to the information centre can boost length, quality and the value of stays in the destination.
Those towns, cities, villages or regions which really invest in quality Visitor Information Centres can benefit from them as a great opportunity to add real value to the tourism businesses in their destination community.