15 Feb 2011

TICs are being closed across the UK

The Guardian recently ran an article entitled "Tourist information centres face extinction" describing that the country was soon to lose our network of TICs. I tweeted the link to the article and was genuinely surprised at how many retweets I got and how many people also contacted me directly to discuss the issue further. It seems that the closure of TICs is a very emotional issue.

It also seems that the main argument for the continued funding of TICs is the role they play in finding local accommodation for those “many visitors who arrive without having anywhere to stay”. Stuart Roden of Unison stated that “many local businesses could not survive without the help they receive from these centres.

The accommodation bookings made through TICs are processed on a Destination Management System [DMS], a sophisticated tourism specific technology that manages all the processes and functions of a modern tourist board. The investment needed to run a TIC - apart from the cost of the building, utilities and people, includes this technology. The DMS enables a TIC to take payment for and place bookings with local accommodation businesses. If the above claims are true then the evidence for these can be found in the reports provided by the DMS. The DMS system will be able to identify the quantity and value of online bookings through the TIC and clearly indicate which local businesses benefitted and to what extent. Undertake this analysis and there will be part of the case for the continuation of the TIC.

In the absence of this evidence I am of the opinion that the role of modern TICs has in fact very little to do with last minute accommodation bookings. This may have been the case 10 or so years ago but the type of visitor the Guardian refers to is not at all typical, in fact quite the opposite, they are very much in the minority.

The article also quoted Jenny Mcgee, head of strategy and engagement at Visit England. "The internet has had some impact - when you look at the fact you can sit at home, surf, and get the information you require in advance, why would you sit on a telephone waiting for someone to answer between the hours of 9-5. Technology is changing, information sources are changing, so that service potentially in some areas needs to be redefined. 
But I absolutely agree, when I am on holiday the last thing I want to be doing is looking at my BlackBerry. You want local people, local advice, and you can't underestimate that personal touch. It's the ambassador for the area. So, it comes down to how much does the local community value that.
How to fund it, that's the bottom line. Or how to deliver the service in a different way."

The argument for the continuation of TICs is also based on the fact that they play a critical role in ensuring that people have access to visitor information. Clearly it should be a central function of the tourism industry that we provide visitor information where it is needed and when it is needed, in the places where consumers are searching for it. Does that though mean continued investment into TICs?

The decision to continue any TIC has to be taken at a local level but I would suggest that their importance nowadays as a source of business for local accommodation providers is minimal.

In a modern networked world the private sector needs to become much more involved in the delivery of tourist information and if, as seems inevitable, we do see the extinction of TICs then we need to channel our efforts and resources into helping our tourism businesses become much more effective in the provision of this information.

As a nation we are falling at the first hurdle in the race to attract either domestic or overseas tourism. We know that the vast majority of consumers are searching online for the visitor information that will convince them to book, to arrive sooner, stay longer, do more things and spend more money. The technology exists to enable every tourism business in this country to become a virtual TIC themselves. That would be c200,000 tourism businesses attracting a combined monthly internet traffic of at least 50,000,000 consumers every month.

The industry excels at supporting businesses in training, welcome, quality etc. but there is no real support for the provision of visitor information on terms that a business could use for their own means.

Gone are the days when an accommodation business can rely on the business generated through TICs and maybe TICs will become a thing of the past. However that can be no reason for this industry to think that we no longer need to be involved in the provision of visitor information and these two agendas are inextricably linked.

RDAs have gone. Tourist boards are either going into administration, morphing into place marketing agencies or are ‘still not sure’ on what basis they will continue. Many people working in tourism at the moment are not thinking about tourism - they're too worried about their jobs. It's not just TICs that face extinction! Not the best preparation for our push to grow the value of this industry in line with government targets.

Consumers still need to be informed, inspired and incentivised to choose the UK first. New private/public sector partnerships need to emerge that are entirely relevant to the modern visitor. The new tourism season will be upon us before we know it and we need to act now to ensure that our industry has a great summer this year, next year and beyond because we finally mobilised our tourism businesses to be much more effective at selling the UK.

In the words of Shakespeare, “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date” – and we cannot afford to let this priceless opportunity pass us by without ensuring a lasting economic benefit.

Original article can be found here