Rethinking the Role of Tourism Offices
Tourism offices, commonly known as tourist information or visitor centers, have always had an important role in tourism industry development. In their earlier iterations, the primary role of tourism offices was to provide basic visitor information, event and transport schedules, as well as reassurance and support for both domestic and international travelers.
Today, however, due to rapid changes in traveler behaviour and significant advancements in travel technology, digital sources often fill the information gap more thoroughly and conveniently than visitor centers can.
And while the role of tourism offices depends on the types of tourists that visit a destination and what the destination’s visitor goals are, today many destinations, tourism boards and industry experts agree: the current concept of a tourist office is outdated and requires a significant change.
In our series on tourism offices, we will examine the following questions: what are the principal issues for tourism offices? How can the model be modernized? What to do with the physical spaces that remain for the offices?
Tourism offices: key issues
Increasing expectations of the tourism industry have revealed several key problems:
- The offices frequently suffer from inefficiency and poor management of resources as well as lack of skilled personnel
- Often the offices are highly politicized and suffer from high levels of nepotism
- There is usually an inadequate structure of KPIs to measure the success of initiatives and to make an informed plan for the future
- Finally, and most urgently, the principal problem for tourism offices is that they often provide little direct value for their target segments: tourists, citizens, and industry in the tourism sector.
Here we aim to answer the principal question: how should tourism offices adapt their modus operandi to meet the changing needs of their target segments and create value for their stakeholders?
The new role of the tourist office
The immediate answer to the question comes naturally: the only way for tourism offices to survive is to provide superior value for their target segments, generally meaning doing things that the internet cannot or will not do.
And while this may seem simplistic, destination management offices should keep in mind that competing with online information sources would be a challenging approach, considering the ever-growing amount of information that is offered in a personalized way within seconds of opening one’s browser.
Where, then, can tourist offices compete? According to the experts, the role of tourist office should go beyond what the internet can offer.
In practical terms this means offering a new range of services and tourism products that effectively turn a tourist office into a blend of retail store, visitor center, event space and potentially an online marketplace.
Changing the modus operandi
The process of rethinking the business model of a tourist office should involve two main concepts: multi-space and multi-function.
While the primary purpose of the physical office remains to provide organized, digitized, and intuitive tourism information, this process should be done taking into consideration different tourist types. No two tourists are ever the same – while some are looking to indulge in the world of gastronomy and luxury spas, others find peace and relaxation in nature sites.
Tourist offices would be wise to identify and recognize 8-10 key segments of tourists, their needs, expectations, preferences, and value perception, and create personalized recommendations for each target segment.
NYC GO, for example, does an excellent job of targeting different types of tourists by category of interests – families, LGBTQ+, business travelers, etc. It also allows an explanation of New York City by season or neighborhood.
Tourist offices as a link between locals and tourists
As overtourism is an increasingly important concern in the tourism space, destination management organizations, together with tourist centers, are seriously addressing the issue in the framework that any destination, first, is home to local residents.
Hawaii has been one of the pioneer destinations to remodel tourism offices to meet the needs of locals first, prioritizing the management of tourism externalities, assuring sustainable destination growth and a regenerative approach to tourism.
Involving local residents, as a part of a visitor center strategy, can take many forms: designing activities and events that connect tourists with citizens, educating locals on the efforts of government to fight destructive tourism or going a step further and advocating for policy change such as passing the tax burden of waste management to tourist hotels.
And while some of those efforts might be beyond the scope of a standard tourism office, the new visitor center role could be formulated as being a hub for cultural and social evolution, functioning as a hub for discussion, inspiring local authorities to take bold actions in recognizing and acting against tourism externalities.
The tourist office of the future
While we have explored how tourist information offices can rethink their business model to provide value for all target segments and involve locals, the next article in this series will provide an overview of other online and offline tourism products that state-of-the-art visitor centers worldwide offer.
It will also review how to change the physical tourism office space considering lessons learned from successful high-profile retail stores and why leveraging digital technologies is increasingly popular amongst tourist offices of leading destinations worldwide.