The Visitors Bureau was short-staffed recently so I — the relative North Coast newbie — was out at the front desks fielding questions and phone calls alone on one of our busiest days of the year.
There was a couple from Arkansas who left with a veritable library of tourism-related reading materials and “Official Candy Taster” buttons for their grandchildren. There was a family from Washington who came out to Seaside every year for seven years and hoped for seven more. There were parades of RVs in need of parking spaces, hikers in need of trails, and walkers in need of lunch. There were both seasoned travelers seeking hidden wonders and those that needed help locating the ocean itself.
It was nonstop and, honestly, it was great fun. We have so many resources onsite that most questions were easily answerable given a little digging on my part (yes, I found the ocean). I also just generally love talking about travel and hearing short snippets on the daily lives of people from all over the world. The information exchange went both ways.
The other thing there was: mobile internet. Nearly every single adult was either referencing information from their phone or actively using a phone during our interaction. Even for my part, I instinctively went to SeasideOR.com to find digital content when I couldn’t find relevant guidance in print form.
Which brings me to my point. The undeniable fact is tourist information centers are seeing less and less walk-in requests for information over time. Here at the Seaside Visitors Bureau this year, we’ve had six extremely busy days with more than 100 walk-in visitors. Last year we had 14 days above that metric. In 2015, we had a staggering 42 days. See the trend?
Meanwhile, our marketing efforts bring Seaside to more people than ever. By far. It’s not even close. Our website alone has had 100,000 more unique readers this year than the last. As of July, hotel occupancy in Clatsop County has now nudged above state and regional levels. The Seaside Chamber of Commerce just wrapped a string of some of the most successful (and well attended) summer events in history. Not to mention the traffic. People are coming to Seaside in droves.
So while the ‘tourist information center’ of memory is arguably a relic from a time before information literally was so readily at hand, I believe the Visitors Bureau has an important role to play with regard to visitor experience going forward.
Those travelers that venture into the building with the big orange chair out front often leave with adjusted itineraries, customized suggestions, insider tips, and other necessary ingredients for a remarkable experience. More than a few elsewhere-bound travelers have even decided to spend the night after a conversation with our staff this summer.
Which makes sense. All of the digital content in the world will never amount to one single hour of lived experience. And travel is ultimately about experience. We’ll continue to explore the best way to provide that service to visitors in the information age.
Got a tourism-related comment, tip, or project? I’d love to hear about it. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.