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Letter: Alarming Proposal For Tourist Information Centre Shows Lack Of Ambition

Published on: 24 Jun, 2022
Updated on: 25 Jun, 2022

From: Alistair Smith

Chair of The Guildford Society

See: Borough Council Favours Moving Guildford’s Tourist Information Online

Guildford Borough Council’s service delivery executive advisory board discussed options in May the town’s tourist information centre (TIC) and more specifically how to save money.

Guildford’s tourist information centre is housed in Guildford House in the High Street.

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 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 computer games Industry contributes £64m gross value added (GVA) according to a 2020 report from British Film Industry (BFI) and UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE). This sector is fast growing and it is possible that despite the pandemic it has grown to circa £110 million GVA, which is a figure recognised internally by Guildford Borough Council.

The tourist information centre was once combined with the Guildford Civic Hall ticket office (circa 1985).

Tourism is economically significant to our borough. The tourism and associated heritage and natural environment offer in Guildford also underpins other sectors. For example, shopping, as Guildford is a more attractive environment with its historic core than in other competing local towns.

It is argued that the council sees no direct income to support the TIC, but this ignores council taxes from businesses.

The savings proposed are circa £70,000 to £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 TIC at present. The proposed savings must be questioned as to their accuracy.

The Guildford Society is alarmed that the proposals showed a lack of ambition for Guildford and exhibit incomplete thinking without facts to support conclusions. We understand that increasingly activities are moving online and there will be a need to revise the TIC but we 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 TIC 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 including facilities such as bike hire, exhibits about the local area and geology as well as information on local attractions. Other TICs offer local produce.

This kind of centre can work alongside a web-based service.

The community proves annually that we can stage heritage events. It is striking that the slide pack presented to the board included no external bodies that were consulted, no National Trust, areas of outstanding beauty, or the Guildford Heritage Forum.

Cutting costs is easy. Revising and refreshing a tourist information 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 hard questions when the proposals eventually are discussed at full council.

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