I believe the Apple retail experience will revolutionize travel planning and may even put an end to those boring Visitor Information Centers.
In my experience, Visitor Centers or VICs are usually some functional building filled with tired staffers surrounded by lots of brochures, a few maps and mundane kinds of information.
Now, there's a bright light in the UK city of Manchester, reports Tnooz, the talking- travel tech web site. In Manchester, the technology-heavy, Apple-inspired design of the VIC (pictured above) is geared to make “discovering the city fun and useful” by using clever technology-inspired experiences.
There are wall-size, real-time information screens carrying messages from local businesses, residents and travelers. Tnooz adds that a Mediawall fills an entire end of the center and lures visitors into participating in the Manchester experience.
The screens pose fun, quirky questions like, “Mummy, why does the train go Choo-Choo?” Additionally, lots of desktop computers are around the space for booking and research, and live tweets create a living sense of the present.
Playing a prominent role in the city’s VIC is the Microsoft Surface Table -- fast becoming a staple of the industry’s need to engage travelers in their travel-decision making process. The surface table is gives visitors a 360-degree interface that elegantly combines touch with real-world objects, and gives visitors tactile and informational interaction with maps, hotels, attractions and the like.
Is everyone in travel ready to take a bite out of Apple's design? We know that Kayak, the successful fare search engine, has launched its new web site to mirror the best design features of Apple.
HotelMarketing.com says that Kayak’s redesigned site borrows heavily from its iPad and iPhone apps, resulting in simpler, more engaging set of pages. Interactivity is key.
One of the vexing ironies of travel is that today's VICs do little to nothing to enhance or promote the destination they represent. If anything, they can be a “turn off” for the destination.
Typically, there's almost never anything interactive, just great places to use the restrooms and buy a Coke and a bag of chips.
So, starting from there, how successful can an Apple spin-off VIC be? Tnooz quotes Andrew Daines, who consulted on the project, as saying that 58% of visitors discovered new places to visit using the technology, and 65% of visitors actually cited the technology as a reason they would visit the center again.
The theory is, if you can get potential visitors to return to and interact with the center, actual bookings to the destination should be the next logical step.
Unless of course, your Visitor Center satisfies the need for the visit itself.