VisitScotland has revealed that two-thirds of tourist information centres will close over the next two years. Scotland’s booming tourist trade has revealed itself to be a doubled-edge sword, as despite record numbers of international visitors this year (14 percent more visiting in Q1 and Q2 than last year), more travellers are seeking information online, meaning that local centres are becoming increasingly empty.
In total, 39 of VisitScotland’s 65 centres will close, leaving 26 remaining ‘high impact regional hubs’. According to the body, staff will be offered redundancy packages or the chance to be redeployed to one of these new locations. Some decisions surrounding regional hubs in Dumfries and Galloway, the Scottish Borders and the Outer Hebrides are still outstanding, with judgements expected over the coming months. In the meantime, most centres will continue to operate as normal.
VisitScotland attributed the closures to a significant decline in the quantity of tourists visiting their information centres, a number which has apparently decreased by 58 percent over the past 10 years. The body also noted that two out of three visitors to Scotland are now accessing information online. VisitScotland also announced a £10 million investment for digital tech and the new regional hubs to balance the cutbacks.
The current information centres will also be replaced by 1,500 ‘information partners’ – eligible local businesses and attractions that can offer tourists the same information from their bases. According to VisitScotland, the 26 official regional hubs that will be strengthened by the move will operate in areas of high tourist demand and offer more information across wider regions.
These new information hubs will be located in: Aviemore, Fort William, Inverness, Portree, Ullapool, Outer Hebrides, Dumfries and Galloway, Edinburgh, St Andrews, Scottish Borders, Aberdeen, Ballater, Dundee, Perth, Pitlochry, Kirkwall, Lerwick, Bowmore, Craignure, Oban, Rothesay, Glasgow, Brodick, Aberfoyle, Stirling, and Balloch.
Lord John Thurso, Chairman of VisitScotland outlined that now was the optimal time for change, before it became too late for the entire body. He said: “It’s time to switch our focus and investment into new and diverse initiatives to ensure we are reaching as many people as possible with the information they want, in the way they want it, when they want it.
“With three in four adults now owning a smartphone, a key focus is ensuring our digital communications provide succinct inspirational and informational advice to visitors at every stage of their journey.
“However, we know that speaking to locals is also important to our visitors, and with our 26 high footfall travel hubs, over 1,500 VisitScotland information partners and our team of outreach staff travelling around the country, it means that there is always advice on what to see and do and where to go wherever people are.”
Lewis Macdonald, Scottish Labour’s Tourism Spokesperson, warned in The Scotsman that the tourist experience should not be sacrificed to save money. He said: “This is a very substantial cut in the network of visitor information centres, and local communities and tourism businesses will be looking for robust assurances from VisitScotland and the Scottish Government.
“Investing in digital information is clearly essential, but visitors also expect and appreciate the local knowledge of local staff in local centres. These plans mean most places in Scotland will rely on information provided by businesses on behalf of VisitScotland, rather than by staff in its centres.
“Other businesses will want to watch this closely, to ensure it works in an even-handed way. Visitors will need reassurance they can still access advice and information about their next destination as well as their current one.”