Designing Visiting Centers

Designing Visiting Centers

Visiting centers can provide a learning experience on the protected area and can also support the tourism development and education in the region. There are three main steps in planning a center visit:

Site Selection

The can make special analyzes of possible locations, taking into account that the visitor center must be accessible by car, bicycle, on foot and / or public transport. Analyzes should include the assessment of the tourist flow: location center on an existing access road used by visitors or the deviation of the flow to the planned location by us. In order to make the final decision, different site options must be evaluated by their advantages and disadvantages. Involvement of local partners (e.g. authorities) is essential to have a clear picture of land ownership and possible available buildings that could be adapted to perform the functions of a visitor center. Adaptation of an existing building would bring significant savings if the location of the building is appropriate, the costs of renovation are acceptable, and the right of use is ensured in the long term.

Defining Functions – We need to define from the very beginning what functions we want to perform in the business center. There are a wide variety of possible functions, such as: ensures interpretation throughout the year, regardless of weather, provides a nature conservation tool by creating a type of attraction, which attracts a large number of tourists in a certain area and reduces pressure from visiting other areas. Learn more here.

It provides educational programs for the local population and guests and boosts the sense of ownership of local communities for their visitor center and for the protected area. It stimulates the sustainable development of tourism in the region. It provides job opportunities for the local population either directly (e.g. hiring local people to manage the center), or indirectly (e.g. providing information about local guides and accommodation possibilities in the area). It also generates revenue for the protected area and stimulate revenue generation for the local community (e.g., rental space for a local company offering tea, coffee and local food).

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Defining the themes of interpretation

A center cannot say everything about the protected area, that is why it is important to plan the selection of the main themes to convey to visitors a consistent message until the end of their visit to the center. Like any means of interpreting the visitor center must create and say a “story” about the protected area or very relevant to it. Thus, the themes must be linked to one another in a logical and natural sequence.

Planning the master plan for the center – after setting up a location and defining it functions and main themes of interpretation, we need to design a first master plan of the center. This will include the following:

  • estimate the expected average viewing time to create an interior space sufficiently large for the flow of tourists; adapting the main topics, anticipating the interpretation techniques to be used;
  • orientation of the building taking into account sun exposure so that visitors can enjoy the surrounding nature and can easily reach it;
  • providing space for all identified functions, both indoors and outdoors;
  • estimating the size of the building and assessing maintenance costs including a short assessment of the “green” construction methods that might be used;
  • Making a business plan for the center, balancing maintenance costs and personnel costs with any revenue and other non-financial benefits.

Planning a visitor center is a team activity, so you need to get involved stakeholders in the management team. It is recommended to involve from this stage an interpreter and visitor center to facilitate and support the process planning. A well-planned visitor center will save important resources at the stage operation. Find out more.

When planning a visitor center, let us not forget to answer the crucial questions: “Do we actually need a visitor center and have the ability to manage it? ” A visitor center requires important (financial and human) resources not only to be built but also to function. Running costs can be high and must be the subject of a business plan to be able to be supported. The Center requires permanent maintenance and continuous investment for marketing.

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