Supporting Global Development through Sustainable Tourism

Tuesday, 21 May 2013 00:00

The Evolution of Destination Management

Written by Jennifer Park

In the 1950s, before affordable jetliners helped to launch the modern-day tourism explosion, the world experienced 25 million international tourism arrivals a year. Today, as the world population has grown significantly and people, on the whole, have more disposable income, that number has jumped over 1 billion. Before the advent of the Internet, destinations tended to focus mainly on promotion to maximize visitation. In an era when trip choices were more limited, promotion was often all that was needed to capture the visitor dollar. Now, however, travel options have increased exponentially, and the impact of technology has dramatically altered the provision of visitor information, both prior to and after arriving at a destination.

Tourism destinations have begun to appreciate the need to better manage the whole visitor experience as they realize that success can translate into repeat visits, longer stays, increased spending and positive word of mouth. The Internet has brought much more information to the traveler’s fingertips, making destination management even more important. Destinations must be better organized and promote themselves more effectively and more often to stay ahead of the curve. 

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the role of governance in tourism is undergoing a shift from a traditional public sector model that promotes government policy to a more corporate model that emphasizes efficiency, return on investments, the role of the market, and partnership between public and private sectors. Regarding the last of these, there has been a greater emphasis on public/private partnerships in recent years as destinations learn that both parties must be equally involved.

In response, destination management organizations (DMOs) have begun to form, comprised of both public and private sector stakeholders. DMOs are often the only true advocates for a holistic tourism industry in a place, and in this role, they ensure the mitigation of tourism’s negative impacts to the environment and local communities as well as the sharing of opportunities for a vibrant exchange of people. In fact, a DMO may best serve to facilitate dialogue among the private sector, public sector, and other stakeholders that may otherwise never collaborate or understand how their decisions reverberate down a destination’s long tourism value chain.

So what have we as tourism development professionals learned in the past 50 years? How have we evolved into better destination managers? Better organization, equal inclusion of the private and public sectors, and building local capacity all contribute to making tourism more sustainable. Here are some basic lessions we've learned: 

Communication counts. Residents need to understand why the historic site or natural landscape they see every day represent a potentially important economic benefit for them. Managers need to understand locals’ needs and concerns. Tourists need to learn the significance of what they see, why and how they can help preserve it. It is best when locals help with this interpretation, as the process increases their ownership of the story. And finally, the rest of the world needs to understand the value of the place. No better messengers exist than those enthusiastic home comers with travel stories to tell.

Planning counts. Without planning and public education, the incentive to protect can easily degenerate into mere exploitation. There is a need to see the whole picture from the beginning and focus on long-term goals throughout the process. 

Management counts. Just letting tourism happen likely leads to trouble, especially when visitation soars. Dispersing tourists and timing their access can mitigate crowding. Encouraging tourists to stay overnight instead of making quick day trips can increase local economic benefits. High-quality tourism rather than high-volume tourism conserves rather than exploits.

Individuals count. Behind institutional reports and government memos hides a key reality: individuals make huge differences. Success or failure easily depends on a dedicated local person working tirelessly to inspire others, organize them, and keep the process moving.

Communities count. People who live in gateways hold the key to create a “virtuous circle,” whereby tourism’s contribution to the economy generates incentives to conserve the resources that keep tourists coming. It may be necessary to have some kind of forum, such as a sustainable tourism stewardship council. Top-down schemes imposed from the outside don’t work well, if at all. Locals must own part of the process.

It is uplifting to watch destinations and industry practitioners begin to understand how best to harness the power of tourism and use it for better, not worse. Learn how Solimar can help your destination use tourism for good through our destination solutions. 

Published in General
Monday, 21 July 2014 15:41

5 Roles of a Good Destination Information Center

Written by Sarbjit Gill

In the simplest of definitions, a destination information center is a physical location where travelers can go to acquire information about the destination. For a long time, destination information centers played a key role as the middleman linking tourists and suppliers to one another. With the advances in technology and consumer/local demands, destination information centers have evolved. Today, not only do they provide information, they also generate revenue, collect data on travellers, market the destination, and engage the local community. This evolved approach to destination information centers makes them sustainable and valuable to both the local community and the incoming tourists. Here is some insight into the five key roles of a good destination information center:

1)   Sourcing of and delivering up-to-date information

The primary purpose of a destination information center is still the same today: a one-stop, physical location from which travelers can connect to local businesses and services. A physical location conveys the perception that the destination is visitor-friendly and encourages community ownership of tourism. A destination information center should be welcoming, personable, and stocked with all of the necessary materials to provide current, accurate, and trustworthy information. To satisfy an international visitor, a visitor center needs to ensure:

  • There is an on-site employee either fluent in the tourist’s language or English
  • A master guide to the destination is available
  • A local city guide is available
  • Maps and directions can be provided
  • Practical information, such as public toilets, public/private transport information, location of ATMs/banks/currency exchange, is available on hand, and 
  • Local products/supplier information is up to date

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2)   Revenue Generation

Although destination information centers provide a welcoming environment for visitors & locals to meet, learn about the destination, and plan their trip - a physical location has operational costs. To offset these costs, a destination information center can generate revenue through a variety of the following ways:

  • 2 1Booking commissions
  • Sale of maps, posters, guidebooks, and other publications
  • Sale of local art and handicrafts
  • Sale of visitor survey data
  • Local tour guiding services
  • Café and other foods 
  • Photocopying, fax, email, and internet access
  • Sale of Guidebooks, brochures (hotels, dining, sightseeing)
  • Currency Exchange


3)   Data collection

It is imperative these days to understand whom you are serving, what they want, and how they behave so that the destination can remain competitive and develop overtime in response to the market. A destination information center can act as a center point in capturing, analyzing, and supplying this essential tourism data to the government and local stakeholders so that they understand the current situation and start a dialogue on how to appropriately develop, market, and sell the destination. A few of the things that can be included in the survey are as following:

  • Length of Stay
  • Places they plan on visiting
  • Trip Expenditure, etc.


4)   Marketing

A destination information center can also market the destination on behalf of the local suppliers, depending on the structure of a DMO. A visitor center has access to local contacts, products/services, and a variety of information on the destination. This positions them strategically to market the destination. They can easily generate content for marketing, in order to reach the desired market and possibly inspire them to travel to the destination. Marketing channels can be a website, social media, and any other identified ones that will prove effective for your destination.


5)   Local Engagement

4Visitor centers can also engage local tourism suppliers and the greater community. The local engagement allows for an opportunity to build an understanding with locals on the concept of tourism and how it benefits the community. Plus, the visitor centers can collaborate with local businesses, the public sector, and other potential partners to introduce new initiatives to celebrate/improve the locality and quality of life. Farmers markets, festivals, and a community beach clean up are examples of such initiatives. This allows for visitor centers to not only connect with the community, but also legitimize their value and gain acceptance amongst the community. Moreover, visitor centers can incorporate spaces such as picnic areas, meeting rooms, playgrounds or cafes to encourage local and visitor interaction. Which in turn means there will be minimal amounts of conflict between tourists and locals in the long run.


With the changing times, the role of visitor centers has evolved and become an integral part of the tourism process. They are now the bridge between the travellers and the local community, looking out for the interests of both. The centers are aiding just as much in community development as showcasing destinations to the world. Solimar International recognizes the importance of these centers and can help your destination establish one that facilitates tourism development. To learn more, please visit our Tourism Information Center Management page by clicking here. You will also find our related projects in Panama and Guatemala on that page. To learn more about destination management, and establishing visitor centers, please download our free toolkit:



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Published in General
Thursday, 24 July 2014 13:56

Visitor Centers We Love

Written by Natalie Clark

When working in destination marketing, it’s easy to get caught up in the initial phases and to focus your attention and energy upon attracting visitors to your destination. But what happens once the visitors arrive? Your visitors need a physical place to begin their trip, to get comfortable with the location, and to plan their time in the destination. In order to fulfill your visitors’ needs and serve the market, an effective destination visitor and information center, or a “welcome center,” is key.

Fantastic visitor centers come in all shapes and sizes. A few of our favorites include National Geographic’s extensive Grand Canyon Visitor Center with features such as an IMAX theatre and detailed maps and information, the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, which is simple but comfortable and well-staffed, and the Bocas del Toro visitor center, which was the region’s first tourist center

This post will cover the 5 must-haves that make these visitor centers great and are valuable for any destination’s visitor center.


Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

 5 Must-Haves for a Great Visitor Center:

1. Amenities- Consider the amenities that would make a visitor comfortable upon recently arriving in your destination. Clean and free bathrooms are always important. Especially if your destination is geared towards families, it would be helpful to offer baby changing facilities. If possible, consider the accessibility of your visitor center for the handicapped- a ramp or no stairs and spacious walkways are a good start.

An essential for visitors, particularly foreign visitors, is a way to get or exchange money. It is extremely helpful to offer a safe and reliable ATM and/or currency exchange machine on-site. If your visitors will be driving, be sure that there is adequate parking space available.

Depending upon the weather in your destination, and whether your budget allows, consider the heating or air conditioning in your visitor center to ensure that your visitors are physically comfortable while they visit the site. Make sure that the building itself is clean and well-lit, presenting an inviting space to guests. The provision of these amenities will help your visitors to be comfortable in your destination    

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National Geographic Grand Canyon Park                   Bocas del Toro Visitor Center

2. Practical Information- Visitors come to your visitor center in order to gather information about the destination. With this in mind, be sure that your information is current, accurate, trustworthy, and delivered in a high quality manner. Digital kiosks, a master guide to the destination, and a local city guide are all great ways of providing information. Your visitor center should be the number one place for visitors to go to find information about the destination and to have their questions answered. Try to anticipate the information that visitors will need.

Maps and directions are essential; provide professional maps of the local and surrounding area that are clearly labeled. Consider whether your visitors will be driving, walking, or hiking in your maps. If they will be driving it will be most important to have streets clearly indicated, while for those seeing the destination on foot, it will be more helpful to provide walking routes and nature trails. Between your maps and staff, be sure that directions are easily available for all primary attractions, restaurants, and lodging sites. Provide transportation information for both public and private options, such as public bus or rail options and private car rental options and costs.

Other useful information includes tours, lodging, and attractions. If possible, it is helpful if tickets are available for purchase directly at the visitor center, especially if a combination deal is available such as “3 museums for the price of 2” or “save 20% when you purchase tickets for the bird-sighting walk and the river boat tour together.” If additional information resources, such as guidebooks and translation dictionaries, are available, it is convenient for the visitor if they are offered as well.

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High-quality tour information and maps and the Grand Canyon Visitor Center

3.  Education Materials- In addition to practical information about the region and tours, educational and enrichment materials are valuable additions to your visitor center. Include interactive and visually appealing displays to help visitors learn about the history, wildlife, people, and culture of the region.

By allowing visitors to learn more about the region than information directly related to their tour, they will gain a deeper connection to the region and have a more meaningful tour and trip. 

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Interactive and attractive gorilla exhibits at the Mgahinga Visitor Center 

4. Friendly Staff- While nice amenities and good information are both very important, the importance of a friendly face cannot be overemphasized. The international tourist expects to find someone at an information center who is knowledgeable, polite, respectful, fluent in the tourist’s language or English, and eager to help. 


A staff member at the Mgahinga Visitor Center talks with visitors

5. Souvenirs- While a great visitor center doesn’t require souvenirs, tourists enjoy buying memorabilia to commemorate their visit, and a visitor center is a great place to sell it. Postcards are great, as well as local crafts, foods, jewelry, and products. Offering locally-made souvenirs allows visitors to remember their trip with a meaningful gifts or memento while also supporting the local economy.

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Handmade bags available at the Bocas del Toro Tourist Information Center

 Learn more about how to create a great visitor center and other tips for destination management with our free Tourism Destination Management e-book.

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