OVERWHELMING support for Lyme Regis Tourist Information Centre was shown in a recent public consultation, the results of which have been published by Dorset Council today.
Dorset Council recently held a public consultation on the future of the Tourist Information Centre (TIC), saying its preferred option would be to close the facility and no longer provide a face-to-face service.
The TIC, while run by Dorset Council, currently occupies the ground floor of Guildhall Cottage in Bridge Street, which is owned by Lyme Regis Town Council. The town council is currently intending on refurbishing the entire building and to take over the ground floor to extend its existing offices upstairs.
Dorset Council was given noticed that the TIC would need to vacate the premises by spring 2020. This was later extended until July but the facility then closed at the end of March due to the coronavirus outbreak and has not yet reopened, although staff are still manning a phone line and displaying up-to-date local information in the windows of the building.
Dorset Council said that, as it had been given notice to vacate the premises, it was taking the opportunity to consider the future of the service. But the town council argued its decision to terminate the lease was not the whole reason behind the potential closure of the TIC.
Town clerk John Wright said previous discussions with Dorset Council, and its predecessor West Dorset District Council, over the future of the TIC had broken down some time ago, and it was only after Dorset Council representatives failed to attend scheduled meetings on the subject that the town council agreed to terminate the lease.
Dorset Council has acknowledged that it is costing approximately £87,000 a year to fund the TIC, and retaining the service as it is is “not a viable option”.
In the consultation document, three options were put to the public:
- Option 1 – Close the TIC and no longer provide a face to face service. The council will continue to invest in supporting tourism through its Visit Dorset website service. This is Dorset Council’s preferred option.
- Option 2 – Close the TIC and provide a self-service capability e.g. touch screen terminal
- Option 3 – Consider the provision through another delivery model e.g. voluntary sector”
A total of 1,128 responses were received, mostly from individual and some from local businesses and organisations.
The response to the council’s preferred Option 1 was described as “clear and overwhelming”, with 95.2% of respondents disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the proposal to close the TIC and no longer offer a face to face service.
The vast majority felt they would be affected a great deal or to some extent by the potential closure of the TIC.
The report on the results said: “Clearly the wide range of the services (and particularly the local knowledge) combined with a friendly face to face service is popular with the residents and visitors.
“Specific mention was made of people’s reluctance or inability to use more modern web based information services. The ability to buy Marine Theatre tickets is a popular service.”
The response to Option 2 was also clear and fairly overwhelming, with 89.1% of respondents disagreed/strongly disagreed with the proposal to close the TIC and provide a self-service outlet such as a touch screen. Again, the majority felt they would be affected a great deal or to some extent by this option.
The most regular theme in responses was that local knowledge delivered face to face works far better than an impersonal terminal. Also, using a terminal loses the local knowledge and there were concerns that the terminal could not provide the range of information currently provided by the TIC staff.
There were also general concerns about not using technology and technology being unreliable and not kept up-to-date.
The response to Option 3 was more mixed with 53.1% of respondents disagreeing or strongly disagreed with the proposal to consider the provision of a tourist information service through another delivery model, such as a volunteer-led model.
There was significant support for using a voluntary model but many preferred a mixture of paid and volunteer staff. Others stressed their concerns over the reliability of volunteers.
Co-location with another organisation was well supported with Jubilee Pavilion on Marine Parade being the most popular location. There was some support for the town council running the TIC but the main support was for Dorset Council and the town council to jointly run the service. There was only limited support for local businesses running it.
Whilst an alternative delivery model had some support there was still a major undercurrent who felt the TIC should remain as is with no change.
Dorset Council will now take the responses into consideration before making a final decision on the future of the TIC.