Travel News: Tourist offices do disappearing act

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Personal callers to national tourist offices are becoming an endangered species, while the tourist boards' websites are attracting increasing custom. As a result, the wisdom of maintaining costly office operations is being questioned.

Last month, the Scottish tourist board, VisitScotland, decamped from its Trafalgar Square base after 26 years. Visitor numbers to the office fell from 300,000 per annum a decade ago, to fewer than 50,000 last year. In contrast, VisitScotland expects 16 million hits on its website this year.

Other tourist offices, including those of Canada and the US, abandoned costly central-London premises some years ago in favour of web- and telephone-based information services. The former Tourism Queensland shopfront on the Strand in London is currently being converted into an ironmongery store.

Meanwhile, other tourist boards, including the French, Italian and Moroccan, have also refused to commit to more than a few years in fixed-address UK offices, admitting that the number of staff employed in them had diminished.

Bucking the trend, however, is the Singapore Tourism Board, which this week moved into new offices overlooking Trafalgar Square. The new address is Singapore Centre, Grand Buildings, 1-3 Strand, London WC2 (020-7484 2710), and it will be open 9am-5pm from Monday to Friday. For those who prefer to research online, the board's website is www.visitsingapore.com.

THIS WEEK, one of the earliest travel websites, easyJet.com, celebrated its 10th birthday. The no-frills airline was a pioneer in the internet travel revolution, which helped the carrier undercut its own original promise of "making flying as affordable as a pair of jeans" by selling online rather than through call centres.

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