Is the Visitor Centre Obsolete?

Having just read an article by acclaimed travel writer and destination development consultant Doug Lansky “ Is the smartphone killing the visitor centre? ” I started thinking how much the delivery of visitor information in Britain has changed in such a short time.

The visitor centre has been hanging on by a thread for quite a while now, and whereas ten years ago there was a visitor centre in most destination towns and cities, the concept now seems rather dated and obsolete. Visitor centres in the major tourism destinations, where there is the potential to generate income, will probably keep going for a few more years. But do we really need public funds to be spent on them when all the information a visitor needs is just a click away?

The Organised Visitor Plans in Advance

Websites, apps, social media and review sites make it very easy to get all the information you want about a destination, attraction, hotel or restaurant without even leaving home. The organised visitor plans in advance – When are they open? How much does it cost? Where can I park? Can I take the dog with me? The information is at their fingertips. And even if they don’t plan beforehand they will usually check online when they arrive to find out where the best places are.

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The Personal Touch

Of course some people still like the personal touch, they like to have a chat with the receptionist, take away a brochure about a place and to sit down and read about the area they want to visit. But increasingly this is a generational thing and with the growth of the silver surfer even this is changing – nearly everyone, whatever their age, has access to a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Going to a visitor centre is an extra hassle. You need to find the place first, find somewhere to park and maybe even have to queue to speak to someone. Why bother when all the information you need is at your fingertips?

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Invest in Your Website

The downside to all this of course is that it is essential that your destination website or app is providing the information customers need. If you don’t invest in creating a website that has the required content, is user friendly and easy to navigate, then you are not going to attract potential visitors by your online presence.

There really is no excuse to have a bad website. Yes a good site costs money – you have to pay the designer, photographer and copywriter; you have to pay for hosting and for your domain name and as it’s essential that you keep your information up to date, this is a further cost. But these cost are small in comparison to the costs of having a visitor centre in your destination. Think of the staffing costs, the cost involved with renting space or owning a building (usually in a prime location), utilities, business rates, etc., etc. If the visitor centre isn’t making any money to offset these costs then they are borne by the local tax payer who may not even use the visitor centre.

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Times change and though some  of you, I am sure, may disagree, I feel the visitor centre has had it’s day. It’s up to all of us to embrace the 21st Century way of getting visitor information. After all, the technology has been around for quite a while now and will continue to develop and change in the next few years making it easier and quicker to discover new places and to experience traditional attractions in ways we can’t even imagine.

 

Jacqueline Whitaker

June 2016

 

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