Tuesday 29 March 2011

What Value Public Sector Tourism Information?

I think there may be a few more local press pieces like the one last last week in the Paisley Daily Express regarding the closure of the Local Tourism Information Centre or Visitor Information Centres as they are now labelled.

The VisitScotland office in Gilmour Street apparently closed its doors last week with tourists who want to find out about Paisley’s attractions being advised to head to the town hall instead.Meanwhile the local Chamber of Commerce insist more needs to be done to promote Paisley as a tourist destination with their president being quoted, “Tourism is one of the big potential growth areas in Scotland and, in Paisley, we have some amazing buildings, such as the Abbey, Thomas Coats Memorial Church and the library and museum. A lot of people maybe didn’t even realise we had a VisitScotland office as its profile wasn’t high enough."

Labour's Hugh Henry, who served as Paisley South MSP prior to this week’s dissolution of the Scottish Parliament, said closing the Gilmour Street office will “downgrade” the town as a tourist destination. It’s not good enough to have Paisley seen as an after-thought to services delivered from Glasgow. I want VisitScotland and Renfrewshire Council to vigorously promote and market Paisley as a stopping-off point for tourists. I am concerned that this is yet another blow to Paisley’s economic well being and I hope that VisitScotland and the council will think again."

The crux comes with is question however that followed however and therein lies the problem. He said, “Does this suggest that VisitScotland and the council don’t see Paisley as worthy of promotion?” 

No it doesn't suggest that at all but what it does raise is the need for politicians and business leaders to understand the dynamics of tourism information channels in the 21st Century. The days of visitors piling off the train at Paisley Gilmour Street looking for a bed or even information has long gone. With the internet, destination management organisatinos, mobile technology and online reservations the vast majority of visitors have a very good idea of where they are heading before they even leave their own country. Even if you remove technology from the equation you still have private sector leaflet distribution companies ensuring that information is distributed at all of the access points to almost every area of Scotland and in almost every reception in every hotel. Each and every bed and breakfast is at least as well placed as any TIC or VIC to promote the area. Most better so.

Booking a bed ahead has been overtaken by online reservations - even on mobiles - and increasingly VICs have become retail outlets for guide books and Scottish nicknack's.

Visitscotland have probably recognised that there is little value and probably no return on investment from VICs and there are many in the sector who would suggest that the whole network be closed or offered to the private sector if there is seen to be value. The VisitScotland chairman stated earlier this year that the role of VisitScotland was to do what the private sector couldn't.

I'd suggest that the distribution of tourism information is a private sector role and not one which needs to be undertaken with public money.

Anyhow, there are many who will disagree - mostly beneficiaries of referrals - but really is it the role of the public sector to fill those bedrooms at any time never mind during a recession when other service cuts are hitting deep? I'd suggest not.

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