Tourist Information.. The future?

ImageImageImagePart two of two…

On Thursday morning members of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council Cabinet will meet to discuss cultural strategy and proposals over relocating Tourist Information Centre (TIC) and Restructuring the Tourist Information Service.

Two winters ago they trialled moving the TIC to the top of the town into Gateway (top photo), not a very effective move, so at least they don’t have to discuss that option; but there is an electronic terminal there, where information can be accessed (well, you can click on various pre-set websites).

The preferred plan is to move TIC from its central position in the Old Fishmarket, to one of the units in the Corn Exchange, Lower Walk of Pantiles (main entrance middle photo, entrance by car park bottom photo). Over the years the Corn Exchange has been a corn exchange, theatre, WW1 TA drill hall, and now converted into shopping units – for a while it housed the attraction “A Day At The Wells” (see in the cellar.  The Marquess of Abergavenny bought the Lower Pantiles last February (2012) with plans to revitalise the area. A TIC electronic terminal is already installed in the Corn Exchange, and will continue to be in use. As well as moving the TIC to smaller premises, staff hours will be cut, so there will be less face to face contact.

I’m very aware that alot of people look up information through websites, and most things can be found at the touch of a phone button or screen. But there will always be questions that can not be answered by a machine, how ever you type the question in. I was quite horrified that the Visit Tunbridge Wells website holds very little information on town parks and open spaces! There is a fear that this move is the first nail in the coffin of face to face human contact. Of course, visitors can always ask local shops, pubs, cafes, restaurants and hotels for advice. However, when I was in Waterstone’s bookshop the same morning as taking these photos, a customer asked the assistant about other bookshops in the town. He was looking for somewhere that might sell out of print books. The assistant struggled, seeming to have a lack of knowledge about the town she was working in. While technology is lovely, and opens up a whole new world, sometimes we need to keep listening to people who have real interactive knowledge.

Council will also discuss improving our cultural strategy and bringing move visitors to Tunbridge Wells. Nuff said.



Please look back at previous two blogs for more information, Thanks!


8 thoughts on “Tourist Information.. The future?

  1. Really it comes down to a couple of things, I guess: How many tourists use the Tourist Centre in a year and how much does it cost in salaries, merchandise, rent and rates etc to provide that service? With the best will in the world it’s pointless having a tourist centre if there aren’t enough tourists to justify its existence, especially if the money could be better spent elsewhere (and while opinion might be divided on what I think everyone in TW would agree that there are plenty of local services that could benefit from a cash injection).

    Of course, it could be argued that the lack of tourism reflects a lack of investment and promotion. That’s certainly the argument that’s usually offered when the topic of tourism comes up, but is it not equally possible that the town’s glory days as an ‘attraction’ are a thing of the past and it’s just another old upper-middle town making a damn good job of disappearing up it’s on rear end?

    Personally, I would like to see TWBC Cabinet concentrating more on providing for the needs of the ENTIRE TW community (not just the privileged set it currently serves) than trying to attract tourists who clearly aren’t interested and who would probably feel slightly disappointed if they were to come here. I know that’s not a popular view, but it’s certainly the most practical one.

    Of course, if the Tourist Centre is a viable option and/or it is likely that in the near future either a big cash injection for tourism is on the cards or a renaissance that makes small, Middle English towns with wells and a bit of history major tourist attractions then it would be foolish to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but that aside…

  2. To date this year 2012 – 2013 – there have been 15,444 counter enquires, 5,332 “remote” ie email and phone contacts. These are decreasing year on year. 317,923 visits to the website. However I have visited the website… out of curiosity, It doesn’t mean everyone who viewed the website then came to the town! But these views are increasing.
    I would think the very unique nature of the Pantiles colonnade makes it a stop off point for many coach ours of the area. The TIC also offers a town information service for residents.

  3. So technically (and logically) the website is much more useful than the ‘drop in’, which can only service those who actually make it here… Better and more effective, then, to showcase the town’s attractions online, bringing in new visitors (and given that most visitors would have smartphones in this day and age is there anything – other than merchandise – that a GOOD website couldn’t offer at a more cost-effective price?) rather than offering directions to those already here.

    Best solution, I guess, would be for traders on the pantiles (our chief ‘pulling’ zone) to stock the merchandise etc that the TIC currently stocks, on the theory that you have to speculate to accumulate… I mean, if local traders aren’t prepared to promote the locale themselves then why should the rest of the town pick up the bill? And if those same local traders think that unprofitable or non-viable, why should TWBC see it any differently? In the simplest terms, if ‘historical’ Tunbridge Wells were a marketable product in 2013 this debate wouldn’t be happening. That might be unpalatable to many, but the logic is irrefutable…

  4. The example I can offer is: I went to TIC last week to ask that they display a poster for an event. While I was there a man came in, the gist of his conversation involved a coachtrip, and a mislaid mobile phone. A website can’t handle lost property – so where would people with these queries go – Gateway? The lady at TIC had great knowledge on the current situation with the chalybeate spring, and could answer direct questions on it. There are always going to be questions websites can’t answer! Have you been to “Visit Tunbridge Wells” website? Ask it where Marks & Spencers is.

  5. No, I haven’t been to Visit Tunbridge Wells Website, but I did actually say a GOOD website (not that I’m saying the VTW is a bad one – I wouldn’t know). If I wanted to know where M&S was I’d simply ask someone in the street, or possibly tap ‘M&S TW’ into a smartphone. To keep a TIC open 5-6 days a week on the premise that someone might be unable to find M&S seems a bit hammer to crack a nut to me. If I lost a smartphone I’d probably ask at the place I thought I’d left it (Coach depot) or the police station, but TBH if I lost anything of value in this day and age I wouldn’t hold out much hope of someone handing it in.

    Just for the record, I’m NOT saying ‘close the TIC’. What I am saying is that if it is redundant and is costing more of TWBC’s budget to keep open than can be reasonably justified then common sense should prevail, regardless of how unpopular that decision might be for some. Of course, a third option would be for those who feel strongly enough about maintaining a redundant TIC to chip in to keep it open. It wouldn’t be very high on my personal list of local charities to support, but would probably be more popular with most TW residents than (i.e.) the Soup Bowl, which provided a much needed and greatly appreciated service but was shut down with hardly a murmur from local residents….

  6. Yes, but we know there are completely different issues with The Soup Bowl.
    M&S was an example. Ok, a better example: ask VTW, my coach has dropped me at the Pantiles for three hours, I want to visit a local park, where shall I go?
    VTW is what TWBC are selling as the tourists point of contact. They are not selling any other GOOD website. So the tourists who are dropped in Pantiles are going to rely on the good will of the cafe, bar and hotel staff – please refer back to “Waterstone’s” comment. TIC are trained!

  7. With three hours to play with I’d just stick with Calverley grounds/grove/common… and if traders around the pantiles are so lacking in goodwill and/or local knowledge that they begrudge/can’t tell an out of town visitor that then the town really has got a problem!

    We could argue, pointlessly, over potential scenarios all day, but the crux of the biscuit, as Mr Zappa might put it, is does TW, in 2013, offer enough to continue viewing itself as a ‘tourist attraction’, and if it does, does it justify the cost of a dedicated TIC?

    As for Soup bowl – yes we do know the issues, and in many ways they were the same one’s that caused the early end of last summer’s hugely popular musical evenings on the Pantiles: a local council that’s so overly concerned about the desires of a monied minority that it ignores the needs of the wider community. But then that’s TW for you! 😀

  8. Please refer to last point in blog: also on agenda for Thursday: improving our cultural identity and encouraging more visitors to the town.

    Do hope the people who are losing their jobs as TIC down-sizes agree with you.

    I undersatnd Jazz on the Pantiles finished because the police felt it was getting to be too dangerous as not enough security staff were employed. The cost of security staff is one of the main issues in funding Local and lIve as well. The soup bowl is run by the local church, and, again, as far as I’m aware, the local churches are still running it. But it’s just a dinner. It’s not a proper overnight, all year round hostel, which is what we should be looking towards.

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