Tourists shun Wodonga visitor information centre

UNDER SPOTLIGHT: The Wodonga visitor information centre has experienced a drop in tourist numbers.
UNDER SPOTLIGHT: The Wodonga visitor information centre has experienced a drop in tourist numbers.

The old tourism staple of the visitor information centre could become a relic of the past if councillors accept a recommendation to replace the staffed Wodonga building with computers.

But moteliers who believe it is too soon to switch to a digital focus will not let the centre go without a fight.

Wodonga councillors at Monday night’s meeting will consider a report which recommends closing the Hovell Street centre in favour of “smart terminals” at various city tourism hotspots with links to maps and an improved website.

Staff who answered three or four visitor phone calls personally each day would be replaced with an automated messaging service.

The centre had a 32.5 per cent drop in visitors between 2014-15 and 2015-16, and only 20 per cent of the 10,271 people who attended were looking for assistance with holiday planning.

More than half just wanted help with directions.

“Talking with friends and relatives and use of digital information are the key sources of information prior to visiting,” the council report stated. “The role of a visitor information centre in influencing visitor stay and duration of stay in Wodonga is diminishing.”

In contrast, the Visit Albury-Wodonga website and social media pages had an increased number of visitors last year.

The estimated cost of the Hovell Street building was $316,000 for 2016-17, but the option to open a new centre at the more tourism-friendly Junction Place would cost $343,000 due to higher rent.

The preferred digital option would cost $283,000 in the first year – even after the $20,000 purchase of “smart terminals” – thanks to savings in rent and staff job losses worth $46,000 in wages.

Fifteen volunteers at the information centre would be offered roles in other areas of the council’s tourism sector.

The centre has operated out of Hovell Street since April 2012, but the council’s report acknowledged its “poor exposure and location”.

It was being operated with a month-by-month lease, but if councillors decide to close the building, it would only occur after a 12-month transition process.

NOT YET: Albury Wodonga Motel Social Club president and Stagecoach Motel owner Damien Robinson does not want the visitor information to close yet.

NOT YET: Albury Wodonga Motel Social Club president and Stagecoach Motel owner Damien Robinson does not want the visitor information to close yet.

Albury Wodonga Motel Social Club president and Stagecoach Motel owner Damien Robinson said a Wodonga visitor centre was needed for another few years, but at Junction Place.

“If you ask all motelliers, they would want to not see a visitor information centre,” he said.

”If Wodonga’s information centre was in a better place, more people would go there.

“It’s in a back street where no one knows where it is.”

Mr Robinson said the smart terminals seemed a good idea, but for another few years down the track if the time was right to close the visitor centre.

The council’s report stated the upgraded Junction Place would need to feature some visitor information services, but not a whole new centre.

The recommendation comes after the council conducted a service review in late 2016.

Councillors will consider the recommendation at Monday’s meeting at Wodonga Council Chamber from 6pm.