Following an extensive review of the Sunshine Coast’s Visitor Information Centres, Visit Sunshine Coast (VSC) has decided to make significant changes to the way it provides information services for visitors, adopting a more responsive, mobile approach to disseminating information.
The conclusions of an expert study carried out by the AEC Group, one of the leading specialists in evidence-based analysis, have been accepted by the Board of Visit Sunshine Coast and – as a result – a number of existing Visitor Information Centres managed by VSC will be closed from October.
In line with the recommendations of the expert review, VSC will introduce a new visitor information strategy based on enhanced digital services and more flexible, mobile information hubs introduced in prime tourism locations and at peak times for tourists.
Visitor Information Centres (VICs) at Sunshine Coast Airport, Glass House Mountains and Montville will be retained, with centres in Mooloolaba, Coolum and two in Caloundra to cease operation from 8 October, with the buildings to be returned to Sunshine Coast Council.
In their place, VSC will invest in upgrading its online visitor information materials, enhancing the availability of maps, mobile itineraries (covering food, arts and other specialist areas), blogs and news to ensure visitors can access information prior to their visit and throughout their stay.
This will be complemented by a new ‘Roving Ambassadors’ program which will bring expert volunteers where and when visitors most require local information. By going where the visitors are, the Roving Ambassador program will increase visitor servicing performance and reach in key locations. This strategy has already proven a success in catering for cruise ship passengers arriving at Mooloolaba for day visits to the region.
Locations for roving ambassadors will include Mooloolaba, Coolum, Caloundra and Sunshine Coast Airport, and could also include major tourist attractions such as Australia Zoo and Aussie World, festivals and events and major shopping and entertainment precincts.
On Monday, 2 September VSC held an information session for volunteers from the Caloundra, Mooloolaba and Coolum centres focused on the new mobile and digital visitor information strategy.
Existing visitor information volunteers from these centres have been offered the role of Roving Ambassadors and will be fully equipped with specially designed uniforms and kits including iPads, maps and brochures to support on-the-spot enquiries.
Existing volunteers who would like to continue giving back to the community outside of VSC will be provided with options through Volunteering Sunshine Coast and Sunshine Coast Council.
The new visitor information strategy follows data from the AEC Group’s research report that showed visitor numbers to the centres in Mooloolaba, Coolum and Caloundra had decreased as visitors opted for mobile, digital visitor information.
Visitor numbers to the three retained centres at Sunshine Coast Airport, Glass House Mountains and Montville had increased visitors and these centres remained a good option for visitor servicing in these locations.
AEC Group’s research highlighted that up to a third of information requested at the visitor centres is currently for maps, followed by attractions/activities, parks/walks, directions and transport. All of this information can be made available online, with the added benefits of being interactive and mobile, designed specifically for smart-phone technology.
The need for brochure distribution via the Visitor Information Centres was reduced by the fact that there are some 600 brochure stands available across the Sunshine Coast in a wide range of venues, while a number of major hotels operated tour desks.
AEC recommended that VSC should concentrate on developing its online visitor information resources and add resources to its primary role of destination promotion.
Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Simon Latchford said that the conclusions of the research report were consistent with travel trends around Australia and the rest of the world.
“Expert research indicates that travellers want to receive their destination information in a different format and we are committed to providing the best-possible service to potential visitors,” Mr Latchford said.
“The preference for online information is absolutely clear, and our digital marketing strategy is already producing significant results, with a 21 per cent growth in visitor numbers to the www.visitsunshinecoast.com site in the past year, with total visitation to the website reaching 728,000 unique visitors. This is an average of 60,000 unique visitors per month which produced 116,500 leads to tourism businesses over the year – a 358 per cent increase.
“Usage of VSC’s online visitor information resources while visitors are in the region has also grown dramatically in recent years. In 2018/19, there was a 40.14 per cent increase of in-region visitors to the website, up 14,398 visitors from 2017/18, and over a two-year period there has been a +30,000 increase in in-region visitors, representing an increase of 153.03 per cent. This mirrors the migration of former print materials to digital resources over the past three years and the growth of smartphone usage for navigating destination.
“We have added considerably to our micro and special interest sites and we will be adding additional resources over the next few years to ensuring that all the most-requested information for visitors is online and easily downloadable.
“The VSC volunteers have been, and will continue to be, a tremendous resource for our region, and we look forward to utilising their skills in our new mobile strategy of providing specialist information when and where our visitors need it most.
“We have had so many fantastic volunteers at our Visitor Information Centres – who in some cases have volunteered for up to thirty years. We recognise that some volunteers may wish to continue giving back to the community outside of VSC, and we want to thank them for the outstanding work they have done in promoting our region to visitors.
“Ultimately, the role of Visit Sunshine Coast is to attract visitors to the region, and by having a ‘one stop shop’ approach to inspiring and then facilitating travel to the Sunshine Coast, we are far more likely to win more visitors against intense competition from competitors and produce more income and jobs for the whole community.”