By Keith Yanke
A typical tourist information centre usually welcomes visitors with a non-descript room, some photos on the wall, an outdated map, a rack of randomly organized pamphlets, a take-away guide listing some local businesses and a small staff on-hand to answer questions. This arrangement certainly provides basic information and can be helpful for visitors who already have questions, but it does little to get them excited about new adventures that may be available. It is not very effective at selling them on any unique experiences awaiting them when they visit local sites.
Recently, in the case of a tourism centre for the Montérégie region of Quebec, officials realized this approach from the past was doing a particular disservice to the area. So, they decided to enhance the user experience, in part through the deployment of digital signage.
A vision for visitors
Located south of the island of Montreal, midway between Ottawa and Quebec City, Montérégie is a vast expanse named for the hills that define it. A range of mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes offer picturesque views and a unique blend of culture, agriculture and heritage.
While in the region, visitors can stop by museums, historic sites, shops, restaurants, festivals and other events throughout the year. Rich soil has also made it an ideal location for many orchards and vineyards, so in-season tourism opportunities include visitors picking their own fruit and winemakers offering samples of their wares.
Montérégie Tourism—one of 20 regional tourism associations across the province—oversees efforts to promote these various activities to visitors. The non-profit organization co-ordinates publicity and commercial activities. The association’s members are all local businesses.
After it was established in 1978, Montérégie Tourism established several small, plain offices to make information available to tourists at various points throughout the region. In 2006, its board of directors felt it was time for the association to do more. Rather than simply inform, they wanted to entertain, entice and excite visitors about the region.
So, they came up with a vision for a tourism centre that would deliver a unique experience, such that visitors who entered would want to fit in as much as they could into their trips—and then make plans to return to do more. To achieve this aim, the facility would need to create a ‘wow’ factor.
Building a gateway
There was no obvious precedent for what Montérégie Tourism was proposing, however, so it faced a significant challenge. There was no template to follow and no proven ideas to adapt for local implementation.
“It was definitely a ‘Blue Ocean Strategy,’” says Eric Fournier, the association’s general manager, referring to the 2005 business book about entering an unexplored market. “We wanted to give visitors the feeling they’re actually out in the region while they’re still in the visitor centre and appeal to their emotions, rather than just their minds. We felt video would be a very important part of creating that excitement.”
The opportunity to develop this new concept came with the establishment of a new shopping complex in Brossard, across the river from Montreal, which incorporated boutiques, large stores, restaurants, hotels and other businesses. Located near a highway and the bridge connecting to Montreal, it was seen as an ideal location to introduce a ‘gateway’ for tourists who wanted to explore areas in the region outside the major cities.