WA’s Denmark fighting to keep visitor centre open amid visitation decline

They can be the difference between becoming frustratingly lost on the open road and an enjoyable, memorable holiday.

But to keep the doors open at visitor information centres, its operators — often volunteers — are up against declining visitation and a move to the internet.

However, a group of locals at the Western Australian coastal town of Denmark are determined to keep its visitor centre open especially as the state enjoys a tourism boom.

Just off the town’s main highway, Denmark’s visitor centre was opened in 2007 and was most recently operated by The Amazing South Coast.

But in July last year the service was slated for closure, with the tourism group citing an unsustainable financial model for the move.

two people inside a visitor centre
Opened in 2007 Denmark’s visitor centre is located near the town centre.(ABC Great Southern: Tim Wong-See)

It prompted the local chamber of commerce’s CEO Summer Addy into action.

“This was most definitely something that our community, our business people and the local community identified as being an important thing to invest in,” Ms Addy said.

In December last year the shire agreed to allow the chamber to take over the visitor centre operations until 2024, offering the group a $95,000 grant.

Visitor decline

Ms Addy said about 80 people visit the centre every day with an expectation for growth over January.

However, figures from a report this year by tourism and recreation group Outdoors Great Southern show an overall decline.

From 2007 to 2018 there was a 29-per-cent drop in visits to Denmark’s visitor centre.

 a man standing at a digital kiosk
Digital kiosks, such as this one in Augusta, reduce the foot traffic in visitor centres.(Supplied: Lenore Lyons)

Meanwhile, data from Tourism Research Australia indicates that more than 92 per cent of visitors to a region do not visit a visitor information centre.

Technology is also serving as modern visitor centres with digital kiosks in Augusta in WA’s south-west.

main street in a town
With its picturesque beaches, ideal fishing spots and wineries, Denmark is a popular holiday spot.(ABC Great Southern: Tim Wong-See)

Personal touch

Despite the advancements, some prefer human interaction.

two people standing next to each other
Despite information easily accessable online, some still prefer the personal experience.(ABC Great Southern: Tim Wong-See)

Rahul Pankhaniya lives in Perth, and Denmark was in his sights.

“Now that the borders are closed, nowhere to go. Denmark has always been on our bucket list,” Mr Pankhaniya said.

He said visitor centres should stay open.

Local knowledge

two pamphlets in a visitor centre
The visitor centre is now operated by the local chamber of commerce after facing closure last year(ABC Great Southern: Tim Wong-See)

Mr Pankhaniya said local knowledge is invaluable.

“They can tell you what usually the print media or anything can’t say.”

Visitor centre volunteer Karen Cussons said she has got her tips to share.

“I can always suggest somewhere that I would take my own visitors,” Ms Cussons said.

She said some visitors have surprised her.

“As locals we can actually give the right information really tailored to whoever is asking the questions.”

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