Visitor services centers, or welcome centers, are designed to provide information and aid to any current or potential tourists within a destination and its surrounding areas. The center acts as the main point of contact for tourists’ travel planning inquiries, as well as a place where local businesses and travel agencies can go to promote their products and services. Week 7 of Solimar’s DMO Development Course with the Republic of Georgia provided a platform for participants to learn best practices in building a tourism information center.
Best Practices and Service from a Visitor Center
There are questions aplenty that tourism leaders must consider when envisioning how a visitor center should operate, and many of the answers are dependent on the destination’s offerings. Considerations include opening hours, number of staff onsite, kinds of local merchandise sold, size of the center itself, and availability of parking and bathrooms. While this is not an exhaustive list, a DMO is guaranteed to make many more decisions when creating and designing an outstanding visitor center.
The types of services that a DMO can provide in a visitor center include:
Creating and printing collaterals and maps,
Providing key information (where to go, what to do, where to stay, events, planning your trip, etc.),
Answering phone, email and social media inquiries,
Public services (parking, bathrooms, wifi, etc),
Complaints and mediation with the tourism industry, and
Social customer service
Tourism Information Centers: Where To Go & What To Do
A locale’s tourism information center can play a variety of roles, and it should automatically be considered a key player in the development and marketing of a destination. Although a center could do all of or more than the aforementioned services, it may also play a role in expanding the number or variety of places visited within a destination. For example, someone visiting Philadelphia is likely to visit popular destinations like the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall. An information center is an ideal resource for a visitor to learn about lesser known attractions in Philadelphia (or any area), such as Penn’s Landing or Once Upon a Nation. DMOs should use its visitor center as a tool to create a demand and get people visiting less popular areas – therefore increasing visitor spending.
Ideally, a visitor center should take some time to research the needs of possible guests. How can the center be most useful? What are the visitors’ greatest needs? What is missing? In some cases, a visitor center may be as simple as a short rest area with restrooms, air conditioning, and wifi. Others may function as an information hub with hard copies of guides and maps and ticket sales. Some may even further contribute to revenue by the sale of merchandise. Taking the time to measure potential impact will likely support the information center in the end.
Expert Interview with Norbert Käthler
As part of Solimar’s DMO Development Program with DMOs in Georgia and Armenia, our remote learning course features a weekly interview with an industry expert. This week, we interviewed Norbert Kathler, the Managing Director of Trier Tourism and Marketing in Trier, Germany. His overarching advice is to be authentic with your destination. You have just one brand – what does this brand mean, and what does it mean to say to the world? Although you may have different messaging focused on various market segments, like foreign or domestic tourists, authenticity with your destination brand is most important. Work to develop one strong brand that helps you market to a variety of visitors.
On the same wavelength, Kathler also advises destinations to integrate into local networks. Integrating the part of the community that benefits from tourism with the part that lacks a relationship with tourism is critical to fostering open dialogue and mutual benefits among different divisions of an area. The role of a DMO is to act as a moderator and find a way to tie the community’s relationship with tourism together.
While there are a wide variety of benefits within a visitor or tourist center, the greatest may be its potential. Just as not every destination functions the same as the next, these information centers come with a variety of options for how it will serve and assist guests, all while benefiting the destination and its community. Being malleable in a destination’s goals is more important than ever with the unique travel circumstances brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Guests rely more than ever on an informed and developed information center as a core asset to any outstanding destination.
Creating a long-term plan for a destination is critical to ensuring that a Destination Management Organization (DMO) is actively and continuously serving the needs and dealing with the challenges in a community. Creating a Destination Management Plan (DMP) helps a DMO to establish goals, measure against targets, and recruit people who are interested in a project or business, all of which encourage active involvement from people and businesses outside of government.
A stakeholder is a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business. When working with businesses that are members of a DMO, highlighting services is key to maintaining their interest. If stakeholders feel they aren’t receiving benefits from their membership, they are unlikely to want to stay on as members year after year. Participatory planning is crucial to obtaining buy-in and support from stakeholders. Plan to recruit private-sector businesses and other stakeholders for an in-person workshop over the span of several days in order to collaboratively identify priority issues, opportunities, and a shared vision for the future. When workshops aren’t possible, extensive surveying of stakeholders can be used to better understand the opinions and priorities for those in a DMO area. Using this technique, one can correctly analyze the extent of the reach a DMO service provides and adapt to what the community needs.
Outputs – recording steps taken in a systematic way.
Outcomes – checking the results of specific actions, which may relate to specific performance indicators
Impacts – relating back to overall policy objectives and plan targets, which may be encapsulated in general indicators of levels of tourism and development.
Workshops are a key part of participatory planning, ensuring that DMO staff and local stakeholders are on the same page about where the destination wants to go and what it should represent. Visioning exercises are excellent ways for tourism leaders to ensure that their ideas align with stakeholders. Here are some visioning guidelines to follow:
Visions are always holistic and appeal to the community’s spirit
Visions have realistic goals
Plans react to data whereas visions react to creativity
A vision shows where you want to go and a plan tells you how to get there
Key to responsible and sustainable destination planning is surveying DMO members, local residents, and visitors frequently. These groups are your primary stakeholders, and their opinions in turn should drive your own organization’s decisions about what is important and where the value lies in your model.
Ultimately, destination planning is all about participation. How can a DMO ensure that the opinions and experiences of local stakeholders– visitors, businesses, and residents — are taken into consideration when planning for destination development?
As part of Solimar’s DMO Development Program in the Republic of Georgia and Armenia, our team has had the chance to interview tourism experts from around the world on weekly topics. This week, we interviewed Kristin Dahl, Vice President of Destination Development for Travel Oregon, and discussed the many aspects of destination planning. Dahl mentioned that Travel Oregon is “not just promoting heads and beds, but we’re really concerned about the economic well-being of everyone in our communities and how tourism can be a driving force for that sustainable economic development.”
Why is it important for destinations to have a plan? Dahl had an insightful response, saying that “Without a plan, it’s really easy to chase the shiny object. Pretty soon you don’t have an end goal. You’re creating space for community stakeholders to come together and talk about what they do and don’t want with respect to visitation and the tourism economy.”
Dahl provided some general advice for DMOs, both new and established, after her many years working in the industry. She recommended that if “you are new in your role, don’t worry about what to do right away. Take some time in the beginning to really listen. Taking the time to really listen to those less expected stakeholders and learn about what they are concerned about and what they are excited about. Take that time to talk to your local public landowners, or gas stations. People you might not think of as a traditional stakeholder.”
Thank you to Kristin Dahl for your helpful insight to destination planning. Click here to read more in this DMO Development Series and learn how destination planning involves managing a budget
Destinations and the journeys that accompany them are continually adapting and diversifying for the coming trends in travel. Destination management has become increasingly important as tourism leaders coordinate the management of all elements that make up a destination, including the attractions, amenities, access, marketing, and pricing. But what actually defines a particular place from a tourism perspective? The following aspects factor into the many ways we explore and adventure through a destination to ultimately shape its identity.
Where a destination is located is the most obvious factor. Geographically, destinations can be defined as individual towns, cities, regions (such as states), countries or routes comprised of multiple locations often linked together through a particular theme. Destinations that are part of a larger route will often partner with other businesses and vendors to create a more streamlined and accessible experience for travelers. To learn more about the creation of a route where businesses are partnering together, read more about Solimar’s work along theLewis and Clark National Historic Trail.
Destinations are also often defined by the area’s attractions. If your location is famous for its national parks, for example, consider centering management efforts around carrying capacity to protect biodiversity while reducing overcrowding to ensure an enjoyable visitor experience. The key attractions of a place is also vital for establishing a brand identity and marketing to potential customers.
For example, the owner of a hotel in Armenia may recognize that their clientele is mainly travelers with an appreciation for the country’s local culture and gastronomy. This hotel might partner with local businesses that offer master classes in local handicrafts or wineries that offer tastings, and create a package with these stakeholders. This strategy creates a more attractive experience for visitors while encouraging them to stay longer and increase their spending.
3. Target Market
It is crucial to remain cognizant of the buyer persona when creating, marketing and defining a tourism destination. Are people coming to your destination to relax, to learn, or to explore? Emerging destinations may choose to analyze their suppliers by conducting data analytics online or by doing market research collection through the use of customer surveys. This research will provide excellent insight into partnership opportunities, pricing structures and target markets.
“We rely confidently on Solimar's deep technical experience and professionalism as tourism consultants. You always are exceeding our expectations.” Leila Calnan, Senior Manager, Tourism Services Cardno Emerging Markets