Are visitor centers passé? Haywood tourism authority mulls bang for the buck …
Having had the pleasure of visiting a number of visitor centers such as on the Natchez Trace a couple of years ago, I found them first to be very busy (a good sign) second very helpful and interesting both for meeting staff, but also other visitors and what brought them into the area. Of course there is also accessibility to cold drinks on a hot day which is a health service:)
I am an active promoter of location based services on mobile devices and social media. I don’t much like the State tourist guide books, although I have to admit that without them I wouldn’t have known about the Trace or decided to drive and walk through it.
The other factor for them is the interaction with staff who are passionate and knowledgeable about the area’s geography and history. Their ability to get an idea of what would be interesting to me, such as Indian trails, the Pharr mounds etc, where other people might have been more interested in a tobacco plantation or how they crossed the river in the Civil War.
Finally, the most important element that comes from Information Centers is Word of Mouth. The number of people I have shared information with who might go visit the Trace, because of the service and information I got from their information centers.
I have blogged on many occasions that US tourism, especially outside of major cities, still relies heavily on paper, which has its place, but wake up folks, it is very old school and most of us now have smartphones that know where they are. The technology IMHO is not yet ready to replace the human being at the Information Center. They are your face, the people who share the passion of the people who invested in the wonderful natural attractions so that tourists like me and people like your next door neighbor can enjoy your wonderful country.