Will the Big Society fill the tourism gap?

Tourist information centres are one of the lower-profile casualties of the public spending cuts. Mark Rowe counts the cost

Some travellers are happy to give tourist information centres a swerve and work things out for themselves, but for many of us TICs can really enhance any trip.

Now, huge cuts to council budgets are sweeping away information centres across the UK – 30 have closed since last year – leaving no source of information on opening times of attractions, or advice on what to do with the children when it rains.

The problem is not brought about by local government cuts alone, even though councils will always rank tourism below frontline social services and cherished libraries – though it is worth £97bn to the English economy. The abolition of regional devel-opment agencies has also hit hard, because they were responsible for promoting tourism and development in poorer parts of the UK.

Tourism in the North-east, for example, is worth £3.92bn and employs 65,000 people. But the annual funding of £5m for tourism in an area from Co Durham north to Northumberland has been cut so abruptly that most of the £2.3m marketing budget was axed midway through the past financial year. In many places no one knows where the money will come from to promote their destination even though the high season is about to kick in.

"It's a mess," said one tourism officer at a major resort, who asked not to be identified. "If visitors turn up and find a 'closed' sign, then they're entitled to ask why they should bother spending time and money in the town. Cuts must be sorted out behind the scenes. They can't affect services to tourists, but I'm not sure if the industry will avoid this. The expectation was that the Big Society and local business would step in, but I haven't seen much of that."

Cornwall's tourism budget has been cut by 35 per cent to £1.2m, but Malcolm Bell, head of Visit Cornwall, is optimistic that a way will be found to reopen the three TICs over the summer. "We couldn't find people to take on the existing business model," he said. "TICs have to have another function, whether it's selling tickets, or bottles of water. It's a phenomenal shake-up. There's still a huge resentment about TICs being closed. It's a very hard sell. As things get tighter, we'll have to look at issues like who pays for the lifeguards, who keeps the beaches and amenities tidy. That will have an impact."

Visit England, which saw its budget cut by 34 per cent, is negotiating with the Government's newly formed local enterprise partnerships, arguing that tourism be a priority. "We are being challenged to consider whether the private sector should be doing certain things the public sector did before," said James Berresford, chief executive of Visit England. "That's not easy; it takes time. The industry has to think very sharply about its priorities. Otherwise consumers will be hopping on cheap flights abroad."

However, there will be some benefits from the upheavals. Tourism websites are becoming savvier and more user-friendly, and the absence of human beings to speak to may finally galvanise smartphone technology into wider and cheaper accessibility.

Visit England, for example, has ditched its unwieldy website format and now allows internet users to search specifically on their interests. And there will be a greater focus on joined-up tourist services, ending the bizarrely parochial approach of many regions, which allow visitors to buy a map that pointedly ignores major attractions because they are just over the county border.

In Falmouth, which has lost its £250,000-a-year tourism budget, Richard Wilcox, the head of the local Business Improvement District, argues that it is in the interests of the private sector to be more involved in tourism. Locally, businesses have contributed £95,000 to market the town to visitors. "Tourism is not deemed a frontline service but one-third of jobs in Cornwall depend on it. It's up to destinations to be as innovative as they can within the resources that they have," he said. "We can be creative too – making greater use of sites such as hotel foyers and the entrances to museums.

Newcastle and Gateshead, which has benefited from public investment in attractions, such as the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, appears to have settled on a successful model. Tourism in the area is being promoted by a private-public partnership – the NewcastleGateshead Initiative – which is funded by the area's councils and 185 regional hotels, tourist attractions and other private-sector businesses.

"We're looking at social media and communicating online," said Sarah Stewart, NGI chief executive. "The private sector is really behind us. They see the value of tourism and how it benefits the local economy."

Places such as Newcastle, which have a strong brand identity and enjoy committed local support, may thrive in the new era. But other areas, where one or both of these components are absent, may struggle to attract the necessary finance.

"We risk seeing the strong destinations being weakened and the weaker emerging destinations, such as small inland towns, being annihilated," said Mr Bell. "That ultimately leads to fewer people coming to your destination.

"When you can point to examples of how tourism promotion can work, then people understand. Things have happened so quickly that in places in the UK there is no obvious model to follow. When that's the case the private sector won't step in."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game