The United Nations Visitors' Centre, located at Gate 1 of the Vienna International Centre (VIC), was opened in August 1998. The activities of the Visitors' Centre expanded when it became evident that the VIC should open its doors to the general public and become an integral part of the city of Vienna. As a result, the United Nations allocated the funds required to finance the construction of the Centre by extending Gate 1.
The need for such a centre was further reinforced by the 1997 report of the Secretary-General entitled "Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform". The United Nations Office at Vienna actively encouraged greater coordination with the city and the chamber of commerce, thus bringing the United Nations closer to the public and to the private sector.
In order to bring the public physically closer to the United Nations, the founders of the Visitors' Centre sought to make the Centre:
- A source of information: The United Nations Information Service offers guided tours of the VIC and manages a counter to make informational material available.
- A place where the public could easily access United Nations merchandise: At various sales counters, the United Nations Postal Administration sells United Nations stamps, the United Nations Staff Council sells United Nations souvenirs and the United Nations Women's Guild sells gifts and handicrafts.
- A space for conveniently providing services, for example a hairdresser's shop. The revenue earned from those commercial services enables the Visitors' Centre to finance itself.
Further improvements to the Visitors' Centre were made in 2000. In fact, the Visitors' Centre project received the UN 21 Award, in recognition of its significant contribution to bringing the United Nations closer to the public while remaining a self-sustaining, revenue-producing entity.