While the Eurobodalla Shire Council’s visitor centre in Batemans Bay has a “for sale” sign adorning its exterior, further down the coast at Merimbula, theirs is screaming out for volunteers to help deal with an anticipated influx of travellers this holiday season.
February 21 was the final day the doors opened at the Batemans Bay information centre with the high-profile CBD site now for lease or sale.
Tourists seeking assistance will now have to access the Eurobodalla Tourism website where they can browse various links and pages which hold details on activities they can enjoy around the shire, or visit one of council’s business partners.
Eurobodalla Shire Council closed both the Batemans Bay and Narooma visitors centres after a review of their services revealed fewer than 10 per cent of visitors used them.
“The visitor information centre was set up decades ago when people made travel decisions quite differently,” a council spokesperson said.
“Websites, social media and personal recommendations are now by far the most popular source of visitor information both prior and during a trip.”
While that’s the approach in the Eurobodalla, the situation could not be more different further down the coast in Merimbula where the visitor centre is looking for 10 new volunteers to prepare for what’s expected to be a very busy holiday season.
Tourism Manager for Merimbula, Chris Nicholls, could not disagree more with the Eurobodalla Shire Council’s decision, saying with lockdowns now over, Sydneysiders are eager to travel these holidays making visitor centres more essential than ever to welcome guests to the town.
“In a normal year, we would have 40 to 50 thousand people come to our visitor centre,” Mr Nicholls said.
Anticipating how busy this season will be, Mr Nicholls cannot understand why the Batemans Bay visitor centre has closed.
“It makes no sense to me,” he said.
“Visitor centres need person-to-person communication; many visitors will ask staff what is best to do in the area and the local staff are filled with knowledge to tell them about the area. You just can’t do that online.”
Mr Nicholls stressed the point that personal interactions are highly important.
He has seen first-hand in his town and information centre how visitors will talk to volunteers and locals to gather information on the region, various recreational activities they can do, natural and beautiful environments they can visit and different spots for them to eat.
“We do have online platforms but we find people will still call our visitor centre to talk to locals and have that conversation,” he said.
“It’s something visitors to the Bay will miss.”
Not only will this decision change the way in which visitors to the town will discover what they can do, but it will also take away a simple, yet important factor according to Chris Nicholls – a nice welcome.
Without the friendly hello from a local at the centre, visitors will be left to a webpage to read on their own.
“It doesn’t sound wildly important, but many holiday-goers appreciate that welcoming,” Mr Nicholls said.
“It makes them feel part of the town.”
If visitors were to go to the Batemans Bay information centre now, they will be met with nothing but an empty building for sale and a QR code on the old entrance which will take them to the website.
“It just won’t be the same – visitors want to ask locals what to do in the area, not read a website,” Mr Nicholls said.
Despite this, Eurobodalla Shire Council is stressing the website will work just as well as the original visitor centre.
“The new model is about taking visitor information to where visitors are, rather than expecting them to come to a physical centre,” the spokesperson said.
“The new model focuses on our visiting friends and relatives market – engaging with locals and providing them with information on where to take visitors.”