Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

Visitor Information Centres in Crisis: VFR Hosts to the Rescue

Sydney, 14 October 2014

Visitor Information Services (VIS) will be much debated at the Australian Regional Tourism Network (ARTN) annual conference in Port Stephens 20-23 October. If Visitor Information Centres paid more attention to Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) Hosts, they could have a viable future.

By Carolyn Childs, co-founder,

Visitor information centres in distress:VFR hosts to the rescue!

According to an original survey completed in July 2014, VFR hosts receive an average of 3.3 visits a year from friends and family. Over 81% of those hosts do at least one tourism activity with their guests. However, the VFR hosts told us that they’re not always getting the help they need from the tourism industry.

That was one key outcome from our study, “Beyond Coffee on the Couch: Optimising the Benefits of VFR Travellers to the Visitor Economy.” After 800 interviews, found that leveraging VFR hosts could revitalise visitor information centres.

In regional tourism marketing, maintaining paid staff, collateral and premises from 9 to 5 at a visitor information centre in a prime real estate location may no longer be financially viable, nor physically effective.

The fact is – no surprises here – local and regional tourism marketing around Australia is becoming digital, mobile, crowd sourced and very social media influenced. As such, many councils are reassessing the way this service is provided. Some are considering closing their visitor information centres.

But the survey of 800 repeat VFR hosts and visitors showed that VFR hosts want more information from their local visitor information services. Only 7% of hosts said that they used a local visitor information centre. More than twice as many (18%) said they would like to.

Visitor information centres were the third most desired source of information by hosts. By servicing VFR hosts, visitor information centres could double the number of local people using their services. Accordingly, we believe it is important for visitor information centres to target local residents with information. They should encourage local residents to think of the visitor information centre as a resource. This could be done via local media and open days.

Co-location with other local services such as libraries would also help (especially as many libraries in regional areas offer free Wi-Fi).
Of course, each visitor information centre is facing unique challenges and opportunities. Other options to consider are co-locating your visitor information centre at a major local attraction (fish where there are fish). Or training staff at the local pie shop, pub or petrol station to be local tourism ambassadors. (We found that the bakery is often seen by visitors as the most trusted information source out there.)

Carolyn Childs believes that VFR hosts are more than just potential saviours of visitor information centres. They are secret weapons in increasing the value of tourism for many regional areas. In the survey, 60% of respondents said that help from information centres would drive more visitation and add real value.

The critical thing is to make it easier for VFR hosts to show off their home town. Some 30% of hosts told us that they wanted discounts on entry fees to local attractions. That makes sense because the VFR hosts are de facto local guides.

We looked around the world for examples from Alaska to the United Kingdom. Almost every business or town that helped VFR hosts has reaped the benefits.

Closer to home, attractions such as Paronella Park in Queensland and Taronga Western Plains Zoo in New South Wales are award-winning successful businesses. Both have built that success on the power of VFR hosts.

So no surprises. At the upcoming Australian Regional Tourism Network conference, will be beating the drum loudly for better VFR marketing and a more flexible approach towards visitor information services.

To book a free one-on-one consultation at the ARTN event, email me:


About is a market research and marketing firm specializing in the travel, tourism and aviation industries. Its specialty is providing insights that are actionable.

Founded by principals with lifetime careers in travel, tourism and aviation, exists to build the visitor economy and successful tourism businesses. It does this by putting the voice of the customer and best practice business thinking into an easy to implement, hands-on approach via an innovative membership model. can help:

* National Tourism Organizations (NTOs) meet the expectations of their industry by acting as an extension of their research and marketing resources
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