With the rising popularity of online travel booking systems such as Airbnb and Booking.com, it is believed that tourist information centres are closing in the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges as a direct result. It is believed that the convenience of online booking systems has caused there to be no need for brick and mortar tourist information centres, especially in beaming travel destinations such as the Yarra Valley wineries.
Yarra Ranges Tourism will be closing the doors on its centres in Upper Ferntree Gully and Healesville in June, as a direct result of a decline in foot traffic due to the online tourism market boom.
The volunteer run Upper Ferntree Gully tourism centre on Burwood Highway and the Healesville centre located at the Old Courthouse are set to close as Yarra Ranges Tourist president; Simon O’Callaghan reveals a rapid decline in the number of visitors to the sites. It was said that less than 0.01 percent of the 6 million visitors that come to the respective locations annually visited the tourist centre.
Simon O’Callaghan commented on the situation stating that, “The tourist sector has actually changed substantially over the past five years, with a variety of online travel representatives such as Airbnb and Booking.com now offered for individuals to prepare their journeys and book accommodation in the yarra valley from any location in the world.” The president also noted that only approximately 23,400 tourists visited the centres last year, which is down 33% from 2013. As well as this, in the same time frame call centres to the centres dropped by about 58%.
Not all hope is lost for the organisers of the visitor centres though. It is said that the Yarra Rangers Tourism Visitor websites now get more than 2.6 million yearly views, which has grown a massive 89% in the past year. “We are able to reach more than 2.3 million visitors every year through our social networks channels,” Mr O’Callaghan said.
The president revealed that the Tourism Centres cost about $180k to run every year, which will now be reallocated for investment in other areas such as live chat programs on their websites. The shift to an online service centre seems to be the most beneficial way to capture their audiences.
Mr O’Callaghan admitted that the tough decision wasn’t all on his shoulders, the tremendous volunteers that run the tourist centres were an active part in the decision making process, consisting of about 40 dedicated helpers between the Healesville and Upper Ferntree Gully centres. The volunteers are now working with the Eastern Volunteer Resource Centre to find new positions that they can fill in the community.
Both the Healesville and Upper Ferntree Gully building per rented by private and government companies and the owners will decide what will replace the tourist centres in those spaces.”We understand there is a local connection to that building, it was developed based upon the art deco period of the likes of Burnham Beeches, so it has a fond connection for many people, so we will speak to VicTrack about it having a place in the neighbourhood in the future,” Mr O’Callaghan stated. Knox Council had actually investigated putting a heritage overlay on the building.