Veteran travellers will generally advise planning a trip in advance, but today’s visitor information centres are so good that it’s possible to leave your planning until you arrive at your destination.
With brochures, displays and immensely knowledgeable staff, visitor centres can turn even a totally unplanned visit into a success.
If you visit the Blue Mountains, you’ll have a choice of three award-winning visitor centres – at Katoomba, Glenbrook and Blackheath – that exemplify how much a good centre has to offer.
Glenbrook centre coordinator Maxine Richardson says there aren’t many questions she and her team can’t answer, especially with the benefit of the internet.
The most common question asked is: “I’ve arrived. What should I do?”
And when visitors arrive by motorhome, as they are doing in ever-increasing numbers, they often ask for local advice on campsites (both paid and free) rather than choosing one in advance.
Maxine says there’s a good case for calling in at a visitor centre more than once during a visit.
“People will often call in when they arrive, and then call in again on their way back to get advice and ask directions for the next part of their trip,” she said.
“We have a good collection of regional guides for the places people might want to visit next, and that’s generally the case for most visitor centres.
“It’s all about personal service – our people visit all the properties and attractions in our area, so they have outstanding local knowledge.
“Many visitor centre staff do a TAFE course, and accredited centres like ours must have a certain proportion of qualified staff and pass a regular audit to maintain their accredited status.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with the volunteers who form the backbone of many visitor centres, and Maxine says even the smallest, volunteer-run centres have much to offer.
Thanks to their combination of knowledge, source material and internet searching, she says there’s not much that they can’t do to help, and smart travellers will ask just about anything.
“They don’t hold back with their questions, and there’s no reason they should, because we love to help people with whatever advice or information they may need to enjoy their visit,” she said.
“One way we can be particularly helpful is when the weather prevents people from doing what they initially had in mind – we can suggest plenty of alternatives to ensure they enjoy their visit.”