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."

News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
PROMOTED VIDEO
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

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect