Visitor Centre

fourLINK Blog

Visitor Centres – Designed for the Future

20th April 2017

The Ben Nevis Visitor Centre, Fort William, Scotland

One of visitor centre projects in Scotland.

By now every country has at least one facility commonly known as a visitor centre. As the name itself suggests, it is a place focused on the visitor to that place or attraction. But not just any centre; it is a place which reflects the sense of a local asset which communicates a message. From a tourism perspective, it is a place related to an information centre. In the cultural sense, it is more like a museum type of facility, which is often more fashionable and yet less scientific, but still presents the local assets.

Visitor centres have become on an advanced level an exhibition space which is aimed at the visitor experience; an accessible place which communicates an interpretation of the asset with the audience within a 21st century communication frame.

Each interpretation - no matter if it’s about a city, an historic asset or natural environment – is based  on communication. Exhibitions are set up to provoke, relate and reveal something valuable to the community that contributed in making the presentation. It is most likely that the values of the community are evident in the physical infrastructure in which they develop.  The purpose of the visitor centre is therefore the summing up of what the community wants to present to the outside visitor, but also to nurture the spirit of the asset within the community.

It is most normal that visitor centres have both a tourist and commercial component by stimulating tourist demand and increasing visitors expenditure in the location. As the purpose of the centre is to promote the place, they usually function as a gateway to the place, and therefore it is very important how the messages and main themes (thematic interpretation) are presented;  which content and through which media.

As these centres are summarising the very best of the place, they should try to blend with the local landscape they present, and become an attraction in their own right. The quality of the experience is the main drive, which is why the project initiators should seek help from the experts – the interpretative consultants, architects and designers.

Providing a diversity of experiences for the visitor helps to ensure that the important topics are covered and built up in coherent messages, with no repetition or omission. The centre can also promote local responsible behaviour aligned with the relevant environmental issues. All of the work in the end depends firmly on the people that are participators of the interpretation; the senders and receivers of the interpretation messages. The link between people and the places they live is usually the most important and crucial to the message itself.

Through our work we have had the opportunity to develop such visitor experiences, and it still remains an exciting experience for us as every project is different. Places that we already knew were rediscovered again by getting known the local personalities who are creators and guardians of the identity. Working with the local stakeholders we have together framed the local assets in the place that will attract new visitors to discover that place in more detail too.

From our perspective, the visitor centres should be the places which offers orientation and basic information in a geographic sense, to serve as tourist information facilities that will provide the visitor with essential guides for the points of interest. In the end, it must serve as inspiration to a place which is not simply there just from a tourism purposes; it is there for visitors who are on the way, and also to the community as the place where they reveal their identity and live their culture.

fourLINK can provide visitor center advice, project development services, thematic interpretation services and cultural sector consulting.