Council proposes to stop funding its Tourist Information Centres, looks at future options

Dorset Council will propose to stop funding their last three Tourist Information Centres (TICs) in Dorchester, Sherborne and Wareham that it currently runs, and investigate alternative ways of providing these services in the future.

Dorset Council cannot afford to continue to fund TICs. There are five other TICs in BlandfordBridportShaftesburySwanage and Wimborne which are run by other organisations, such as Town and Parish Councils. Some areas in Dorset no longer have a TIC at all, such as Weymouth and Lyme Regis. Evidence shows that it is mostly local people who visit the TICs.

The three TICs in DorchesterSherborne and Wareham that remain funded by the Council cost around £200,000 each year to operate and employ 12 part-time workers. Around 30 million people visit Dorset annually, with approximately 93,000 people visiting one of the three TICs during 2019/20.

In a report being taken to the Place and Resources Overview Committee on Thursday 25 February, Members will hear how the Council proposes to continue to support the popular Visit Dorset website, work with local organisations to find solutions and consider one-off funding to reduce the impact of potential closures on local people.

A recent consultation showed that there is a strong level of support for TICs and the service offered both to residents and visitors.

Of almost 1,000 respondents, 85% were from Dorset residents and 11% completed by visitors to Dorset. 82% who completed the consultation stated that they use a TIC, with nearly 40% visiting over five times a year. The top three purposes for using a TIC are to find out information about the local area, buy tickets for a local event or festival and/or buy retail goods.

Submitted comments frequently mentioned the importance of encouraging tourism for the local economy, the value of offering a face-to-face service, working with other organisations around sites and having knowledgeable staffing.

These results provide strong support for finding a different way to provide TICs by working with other organisations – not just Town and Parish Councils, but potentially local businesses and other service providers. Improving access to information will also be incorporated into work on a new customer strategy and other transformational plans.

The proposal is to continue to work with the three town councils to agree what alternative arrangements can be put in place. However, this is not about replicating the current TIC service offer as councils and other organisations may want to develop their own local offering.

Cllr Jill Haynes, Dorset Council’s Portfolio Holder for Customer and Community Services, said:

“It’s always a difficult decision to reduce services we have historically provided, especially in the current climate and when jobs are potentially put at risk. However, our financial situation leaves us little choice but to review the provision of all services we’re not legally required to deliver.

We cannot afford to fund tourism support activity at a local level across communities in Dorset. The Council’s role is to promote Dorset as a destination, so we will continue to develop the Visit Dorset brand to support the visitor economy and promote sustainable tourism as part of our Economic Growth Strategy.

The consultation has demonstrated that TIC services are still considered to be important by local people, visitors and businesses. It’s important that Dorset Council investigates all potential options for how these services could be provided in the future.”

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