Is the Visitor Center Still Relevant? Panel notes from the DI Visitor Services Summit

In a world driven by technological advancements and changing visitor expectations, traditional brick-and-mortar visitor centers are facing challenges in remaining relevant. The question arises: is the visitor center still valuable in today’s fast-paced digital era? This topic was the focal point of an engaging event held recently, where industry experts gathered to explore the evolving landscape of visitor information experiences.


Session 1: The Visitor Information Experience: Not Just for Centers Anymore

The event commenced with Al Hutchins, who sparked a lively discussion by presenting Baltimore’s vision of mobile visitor centers and challenging the relevance of brick-and-mortar centers. Al’s thought-provoking ideas ignited debate and laid the groundwork for exploring innovative solutions to connect with visitors.

Matt Striker from Madden Media followed, sharing crucial insights that emphasized the importance of adaptation and understanding the evolving expectations and behaviors of visitors. He highlighted the need to go where visitors are, leverage technology, and build long-term strategies to connect with the next generation effectively.


Session 2: Is the Visitor Center Still Relevant?

This session featured Tony Snell, Meredith Darden, Susan Harris, and Douglas Ralston as the moderator, who discussed their experiences and perspectives on the relevance of visitor centers.

Meredith, from a multi-center operation, stressed that visitor centers remain integral to the visitor experience and offer tangible value by driving revenue and increasing visitor engagement.

Susan, representing a high-traffic area center, emphasized the importance of filling information gaps for tourists and locals alike, helping them explore the city’s attractions effectively.

Tony, with a focus on long-term strategies and local information, discussed the significance of visitor centers collaborating with various partners to drive revenue and improve marketing efforts.

  • Key Objectives of Visitor Centers

The participants of the event shared their approaches to enhance the visitor experience and increase engagement. 

Some key objectives discussed included:

  1. Expanding reach with new centers in accessible areas.
  2. Embracing technology and mobile visitor centers to provide information and incentives.
  3. Utilizing staff and volunteers to improve visitor stewardship.
  4. Partnering with other organizations for better navigation and awareness, Airports, Downtown areas were at the top of the lsit
  5. Leveraging technology for 24/7 engagement and consistent content delivery.
  6. Exploring mobile kiosks for events and offering a variety of options to visitors.
  • Branding and Consistency

To thrive in today’s competitive market, the experts outlined the following key takeaways:

  1. Understanding the community and visitors to improve services.
  2. Adopting digital solutions to enhance visitor engagement and collect valuable data.
  3. Exploring revenue generation opportunities through advertising and ticketing.
  4. Leveraging partnerships to expand visitor services beyond traditional centers.
  5. Consistent brand messaging from arrival to departure, using technology to facilitate this process.
  6. Utilizing video walls, digital signage, and mobile solutions to convey the brand’s message effectively.
  7. Incorporating sustainability messaging into visitor information strategies.

Session 2: Tech vs Touch

In this session the group interacted with many of the same points and questions above.  However they mixed key elements that can connect a mixture of these two elements.  Most centers are high touch right now with little tech this balance needs to increase providing both options.   As well they discussed ways of using chatbots and tech but also ensuring visitor guiles and maps were available.   However connect QR codes and understand the use of mobile to help drive more engagement and reduce paper in certain areas.


Session 3:  The Benefits of a Visitor Experience (VXE) Program

This session focused on the advantages of investing in a comprehensive Visitor Experience program. By driving consistent engagement and improving content strategy, VXE programs help destinations stay connected with their visitors and provide more accessible resources.


Session 4:  Accessibility

This went a bit out of the conversation layer but very important to consider that handicap travelers are increasing and they are looking for sets of services to help them navigate the destination.   There are many tools and ways to help prepare your destination and in this case the vendor will help you certify and manage this process.   Many things connected, in providing more relevant information for accessibility through web, mobile and even upon arriving in the destination.   Training for your staff and even stakeholders can be helpful and providing new ways technology can allow these types of travelers to feel independent.


Conclusion

The event highlighted the evolving nature of visitor information experiences, emphasizing the need for centers to adapt to changing visitor behaviors and expectations. By embracing technology, fostering partnerships, and delivering consistent branding, visitor centers can remain relevant and continue to offer valuable services in the modern landscape. As the visitor experience evolves, industry players must seize opportunities to enhance engagement and provide accessible resources for all visitors. The future lies in striking a balance between high-tech solutions and high-touch experiences to create memorable and meaningful connections with visitors.

There is much to be learned from communicating as a group, what I see is the biggest opportunity for destinations and states is to bring partners and the community together, looking at holistic view of the goals, strategies to help drive better visitor experience while considering locals and new ways to leverage and experience natural resources.   Of course technology is going to help lead this charge but its a combined effort of human touch and the right mix for your destination.   If you would like to learn more or share in some case studies or strategic conversations please reach out.   The partners and speakers at this summit are all people we can leverage.   You can contact me directly at dr@trueomnii.com or info@trueomni.com

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