Fear for future of North Devon TICs

BRAUNTON Tourist Information Centre is in a desperate struggle for survival with massive uncertainty for its future.

Since its grant funding was slashed – along with all North Devon TICs – the centre in the Bakehouse Centre building has run on shorter hours and shorter funds.

Members of Braunton and District Publicity Association, which runs the TIC, say while they can survive this year by using up reserves, next could see the very real threat of closure.

North Devon+ drastically reduced its grants to TICs last year after itself receiving less funding from North Devon Council.

The size of grants this year is unknown but North Devon+ has said it is expecting further reductions in its budget due to the economic climate.

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It said a North Devon+ visitor research survey conducted between August and October at North Devon locations and attractions showed 10 per cent of visitors used TICs while in the region.

A meeting was held on January 14 to look at the future of TICs and how they are funded. The nationwide effort is being funded in this region by South West Tourism and the RDA.

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Braunton TIC covers the village as well as Saunton and Croyde, receiving 25,000 visitors a year. It employs three part time staff and one manageress, but is already on reduced staffing hours due to the grant cut.

“We have enough to survive on reduced hours this year and may have to reduce further in the summer,” said association vice chairman Keith Woodyer.

“We’re talking about tourism worth four hundred million to the Devon economy but it’s not getting the recognition. There is no real understanding from the powers-that-be as to the real role of TICs – they talk about booking numbers and that’s important, but people who come here also need information and they expect to go into a TIC to get that.

“In my view, if we don’t see a change in policy towards TICs we have a big question mark hanging over us because we have only limited resources.”

Chairman Jasmine Chesters added: “This is an essential service and it’s not just our TIC, it’s across North Devon. We have to pay staff, we can’t use volunteers like other organisations and so we find ourselves in the difficult position of asking how we can survive.

“TICs are the life blood for visitors. It is completely untrue only 10 per cent of visitors use TICs whilst in the area. The survey North Devon+ carried out showed only 30 per cent of people coming into the area used the internet to book their accommodation – so this means 70 do not.”

Laura Holt, sales and marketing manager at North Devon+, said they were working on looking at ways TICs could adapt and how they could be funded.

She said for 2010 North Devon TICs had reported a drop in accommodation bookings of between 20-50 per cent plus a reduction in visitor footfall, with Braunton reporting a decrease of 4,500 and bookings down by 50 per cent.

“We need to look at how we work to make sure TICs not only survive but also how to put them in the path of the people that need the information so that they thrive,” she said.

“We are looking at ways we can help TICs deliver a service that meets with visitors’ expectations. The way visitors access and use information has changed and the TICs need to change with that.”

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