Towns and regions keep on maintaining tourism offices and other welcoming desks for tourists, some of these structures managed to adapt to the digital transformation in order to reach new targets.

The original idea was to provide visitors with useful information so that they can find the activities they might like, and, eventually come back or recommend the destination.
Today, their missions include:

  • Welcome and information for tourists
  • The tourism promotion of the municipality or group of municipalities
  • The coordination of interventions of the various partners of local tourism development.

Over the past two decades, tourism offices have become true marketing agencies of the destination, locally, but also far beyond. We even witnessed the birth of architectural masterpieces. Nice to look at, they certainly catch the eye of the visitor, however an attractive facade alone will not attract more tourists to the city. Moreover, an average of only 10% of travelers visit the tourist office of a destination(1).

In this case, how can they achieve this goal toward the remaining 90%?

At the same time, we have witnessed the birth of the Internet, Wi-Fi and smartphones. Thanks to them, the visitor has in his own hands more information than ever: digital tourist guides (click here for more information), travel sections in magazines, online travel magazines that incorporate the “must do” of cities and dozens (even hundreds) of travel blogs and applications for each city.

The physical assistance can even be replaced by the voice command of the traveler’s smartphone. Actually, try to ask to Siri the opening hours of the Picasso Museum in Barcelona or the price of the entrance of the Guggenheim Museum. It quickly and effectively finds answers to all your questions. If you want to search a complete list of the “must do” or themed circuits, try magazines & online guides or blogs & specialized applications. You can even find famous people recommendations and some good local advices to help you avoid common tourist traps.

The digital is thus a challenge that tourist offices are facing. Two choices are open to them in this case: to adapt, or ideally, to innovate.

Why do we go to tourist Offices?

Tourist offices are often strategically located where most tourists go. And the idea of taking some brochures and receive information, enjoy a refreshing time in an air conditioned room seduce. In addition, for some tourists, physical and human assistance cannot be replaced by technological assistance. This is where the ultimate asset of the tourist offices is.

That said, the lack of centralized welcome space does not necessarily rime with lack of services to tourists. Firstly, because as explained above, downloadable travel guides, online shopping platforms and specialized websites offer the same service, and secondly, the removal of a tourist office may encourage travelers to interact with the locals. If a coffee shop with wireless connection, air conditioning and toilets (for consumers) completed the tourist office, a specific part of tourists would eventually prefer to navigate on their smartphones and tablets while sipping a cappuccino.

Sure, not everyone owns a smartphone, this part is however getting fewer and fewer. These “analogic” visitors, which are not tech-savvy, prepare their trip thanks to paper guides. They are mostly part of the 10% of visitors that enter tourist offices. The purpose of tourism offices with this target is to gain their loyalty. The broadcast of basic information is facilitated by digital tools today; this share will tend to fall logically. The challenge is mainly to attract and retain the “mobile users” by embracing the digital wave.

Let’s focus on the 90%

The question is: “How to help the 90% tourists that do not enter the office? “

To adapt to an ever increasing competition, tourist offices rely on a better ranking on search engines, better targeting of their customers by communicating upstream of their stay (before and during the flight rather than just during the stay), and work better the online reputation of its members through appropriate advices. All this is now immediately available to tourism professionals via more attractive, more efficient, and probably more profitable service packs.

As an example, tourist offices like those of Bahrain and Madrid are doing their promotion encompassing some of their members directly towards travelers during their flight through the various platforms of digital inflight entertainment of the airlines operating the destination.

Another idea: The opening of a special lounge for visitors. If you’ve walked in a town for hours, wouldn’t you enjoy a space similar to an airport VIP Lounge, where you could rest, refresh yourself and have access to a good internet connection? No need to return to your hotel room to rest!
Better to provide comfortable chairs so visitors can recharge their batteries and rest their feet before leaving for another sightseeing and shopping tour.

I translate my idea: a resting lounge would encourage some visitors to rest so they continue to walk around the city, visit attractions and shops, and of course, consume.

Just like Maribor in Slovenia(2), some cities have already dealt with the digital transformation and have simply closed their tourist offices. Maribor performed a segmentation of its visitors into two groups; the “mobile users” and “none mobile users”.

The first group is digitally literate and alerts. The second is away from it all and is very attached to the relational and to tangible materials. For the “non-mobile users”, “tourist relays” were created in partnership with many shop owners. Primarily with bars, hotels and restaurants that are friendly meeting places. But also bakeries, gas stations and many other types of businesses visited by tourists.

Concerning the “mobile users” group that constitute the bulk of the tourist population, a Wi-Fi network in the city consisting of “tourist relays” has been developed. A mobile user on vacation does not have access to his 3G network, Wi-Fi hotspots are therefore offered to him with shop owners as partners. The “mobile user” can also download a digital guide that allows him, thanks to the numerous QR codes it contains, to reach through his phone, many digital assets and download them to accompany his discoveries.

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