Are Visitor Centers Dead?

Are Visitor Centers Dead?

As travelers turn to Google, social media and mobile apps to plan their trips and seek out attractions while in-market, driving home the relevance of your visitor center can often feel like an uphill battle. And while older travelers are still stopping by to pick up brochures and asking questions, it’s important that you make efforts to be proactive enough to remain relevant to all travelers as resources become increasingly digital. 

The good news is that there are ways to increase visitation to your visitor center and remain top of mind to those who are more inclined to pick up their cell phones and consult Google. Because, let’s face it—as convenient as Google and other review-based platforms like TripAdvisor are, people really want to know (from local people) where the locals eat and what the must-dos are to achieve a truly authentic experience when traveling in or through your city.

Make your visitor center an attraction. 

Uniquely-themed pop-up events can create intrigue for your city. Consider bringing in your attractions for a takeover, host a local art show, invite the food trucks over, or host a small market for local sellers to promote their goods at various times throughout the year or even year-round. With a little promotion (digital and roadside), you can increase visitation from travelers and locals in one fell swoop.

Bonus: increased visitation from locals is a great way to build brand ambassadors who are much more likely to be on your streets promoting your city in a positive light. Then those locals also know exactly where to direct visitors who are looking for more information on your destination. We have spent some time in Augusta, Georgia recently and the newly rebranded Augusta & Co. has done an amazing job re-imagining their visitor center.

Create a memory. 

In the age of Instagram, a solid Instagrammable moment is worth more than a thousand words. Give visitors opportunities to share a photo and anecdote about your city or visitor center. Street murals or indoor photo opportunities that communicate the character of your destination are great examples of what might motivate a traveler to document their visit on social media.

Bonus: Make sure the photo backdrop or frame you create has the right branding, hashtag and/or social media account names you use most.

Kristin and her family at the Alabama Visitor Center
Kristen and her family at the Florida Visitor Center
JD and his son at the Florida Visitor Center
JD and his son at the Florida Visitor Center
Kristen and her friend at the Louisiana Visitor Center
Kristen and her friend at the Mississippi Visitor Center
Kristin and her family at the South Carolina Visitor Center
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Stamper Kristin Dillinsnyder documents her travels with family and friends at various visitor centers across the Southeast.

Be THE resource. 

Establishing your visitor center as THE go-to resource (with Google, TripAdvisor and Instagram as back-ups) is the way to increase demand for your services. Of course, this requires staff to be trained and constantly on their A-game. Using digital and roadside advertising can generate curiosity about what your visitor center can offer that their phones can’t. Messaging is key. Your visitors have needs when they walk into your center. Whether it’s for a bathroom break or more information, your visitor center should be the first—and best—place to stop. Keep everything clean, and consider offering local snacks, treats or giveaway items to surprise visitors with a little something extra. 

Get online. 

Google and TripAdvisor have been mentioned a few times in this article. That’s because there’s no denying what they’ve done for travel in the last few years. Take the time to make sure your visitor center is listed on Google and TripAdvisor. Include quality photos and fresh, relevant content to demonstrate your value and drive visitation. It’s not enough to simply encourage your stakeholders to do these things. Lead by example and use technology to further your mission.

For more ideas about how to maximize the potential of your visitor center, reach out to me here.

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