The Council Service Delivery Executive Advisory Board on the 19-5-2022 discussed options for the Tourist Information Centre and more specifically how to save money.
Council Officers presented four options with a recommendation that closure should be considered with activities replaced by an improved Web Presence and Social Media.
Published data on the contribution of the Tourism Sector is difficult to find that is up to date, partly due to the Covid Pandemic. The Guildford Tourism Industry (Guildford Business News - Economic Dashboard - July 2018) estimated that the total value was about £307.5 Million and supported circa 5,600 jobs in the borough.
As a comparison, the Guildford and Aldershot Games Industry contributes £64Million GVA according to a 2020 report from BFI and UKIE. This sector is fast growing and it is possible that despite the pandemic it has grown to circa £110M GVA which is a figure recognised internally by GBC.
Tourism is economically significant to our borough. The Tourism, and associated Heritage and Natural Environment, offer in Guildford also underpins other sectors e.g. Shopping, as Guildford is a more attractive environment, with its historic core, than in other competing local towns.
It is argued that the Council see no direct income to support the Tourist Information Centre, but this ignores Council Taxes from businesses. The savings proposed are circa £70,000-£80,000 but exclude redundancy costs. Keeping a vibrant and attractive Web and Social Media presence costs time and effort to be effective, no costs were supplied for this effort. There is also no information available on the numbers visiting the Tourist Information Centre at present. The proposed savings must be questioned as to their accuracy.
The Society are alarmed that the proposals, as presented to the committee showed a lack of ambition for Guildford and exhibit incomplete thinking without facts to support conclusions. We do understand that increasingly activities are moving online, and there will be a need to revise the Tourist Information Centre, but we do need to ensure we support an important sector of the economy.
The Society believes as the historic county town of Surrey Guildford should be doing more to be viewed as ‘the gateway’ to the North Downs. This should include making best use of our historic buildings and making them understandable to visitors.
We believe that the Tourist Information Centre needs to be considered alongside the current review of Historic Buildings and the Museum Service. We should also ask what Visitors would like to see. Some towns on the continent have created Visitor Experience Centres, using multi-skilled staff, that include facilities such as Bike Hire, exhibits about the local area and geology etc as well as information on local attractions. Other Tourist Information Centres offer local produce. This kind of centre can work alongside a web-based service.
The community prove annually that we can stage heritage events. It is striking the slide pack presented to the Service Delivery Executive Advisory Board included no external bodies that were consulted e.g. National Trust, AONB, Guildford Heritage Forum..
Revising and refreshing a Tourist Information Support service to ensure its relevance in supporting a significant sector of the local economy is more difficult, but more effective in the longer term. Councillors need to ask to hard questions when the proposals eventually are discussed at full council.
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