Definition and Scope


A visitor center, typically an on-site permanent space or structure, kiosk or of a mobile variety, is a community resource for visitors and residents seeking destination information and advice. It may function with or without personnel providing predominately free of charge information to facilitate travelers’ experiences in an area or region.

Now recognized as a destination concierge services provider before, during and after the visit. Visitor services denotes the provision of core and innovative destination services to all visitors including leisure and business travelers, group and event attendees and travel trade intermediaries. Services normally include travel information on-site and online, meeting/convention and event servicing, leisure reservations and group housing, leisure database development and communications and visitor center sales.

Historical Overview 

North America

(States/Provinces and Communities)


  • Since early 1900s centers primarily located in major city downtowns, particularly near train stations
  • With emergence of interstate and transnational highway systems from the 1950s onwards increased auto-accessible center locations and primarily since the 1970s air travel related centers
  • Located now typically at community arterial gateways, airports, downtown areas, key attractions and entertainment districts and along major interstate/state entry points
  • Visitor center focus primarily on leisure visitor assistance but only for community-based official DMO centers from the 1960s/1970s since previous involvement dedicated to convention sales and services
  • Operated primarily by chambers of commerce, local government/town halls and/or DMOs/CVBs
  • In contrast to Europe, where centers are primarily run by national tourist boards and city tourism offices, and typically convention services separate from leisure traveler services due to independent convention bureau model


Benefits of a Visitor Center and Visitor Services

  • Key community/destination attraction showcasing the area’s key brand experiences
  • Dissemination of accurate visitor information and advice
  • Integral part of a destination-wide tourism information network
  • Influencing visitors to stay longer and/or group attendance building
  • Raising the profile and subsequent viability of private and public attractions, events and businesses
  • Centralized visitor call/inquiry center
  • New outbound traveler focus through information advice to residents and visiting friends and relatives (VFR) audiences
  • Multiuse facility potential as an event gathering and meeting place

Characteristics of a typical Visitor Center


  • 80% of destinations have an official VIC
  • Almost 25% have some form of mobile VIC
  • One-third of destinations opened up a VIC in the last 5 years, noticeably larger DMOs
  • On average, destinations have two visitor centers
  • 77% operated by DMOs
  • More paid staff with two-thirds volunteers
  • 45% operate a gift/retail shop
  • Typically assigned to either DMO finance and administration, sales and services or leisure marketing areas (visitor center or visitor services manager/director in charge)


  • Some 20–25% of visitors to a destination generally use a visitor center; increased traffic annually given a highly visible and accessible location
  • Travelers stop typically to seek destination/regional information and “take a break and rest.”
  • Solid majority of visitors inclined to buy if prompted and influenced

The New Concept of Visitor Centers and Services

Destination Influencer

A Proactive Visitor Influencing Venue

  • On-site visitor as best customer requiring immediate attention and fulfillment
  • Upselling the destination “one day more”
  • Staff investment in ongoing destination brand understanding
  • A virtual center presence

Destination Concierge

A Destination Concierge Service Provider

  • “One-stop” destination information/cultural lifestyle shopping (attraction, event and lodging booking)
  • Interpretive exhibits that are interactive and educational
  • Personal recommendations and referral requests

Destination Attraction

A Brand-Driven and Self-Sufficient Attraction Entity

  • City/destination brand promises based on attraction/event pull
  • Information fulfillment/distribution services
  • Commercial promotional/sales opportunities
  • Visitor center business plan development based on customer research
Sources: Destinations International, Certified Destination Management Executive
(CDME) Program, 2013 DMO Visitor Information Centers Study, Various Online Visitor
Profile Surveys and Visitor Center Literature Review (2009 – 2019)
© 2016 – 2019 DCG