CAMPAIGNERS have panned an “imaginative” shake-up of tourist information services.
Durham County Council announced plans to replace its tourist office at Millennium Place, Durham City, with a network of information points across the county.
The changes would see visitor attractions hosting information points with either face-to-face services or interactive services connected to an inquiry hub.
There would also be racks of leaflets and details of how to contact the inquiries hub at several other locations.
Councillor Neil Foster, Durham County Council cabinet member for economic regeneration, said it was an “imaginative solution” which would increase access to visitor information across the county.
The move has fallen on stoney ground with Durham’s branch of Soroptimists International, which this week submitted a 7,000-signature petition against the proposed closure of the tourist office.
Helen Graham, president of the 35-strong branch, said: “Neil Foster said the council was working towards an imaginative solution. What’s imaginative about replacing experienced members of staff, who have won awards for excellence, with literature in racks?
“My suggestion for an imaginative solution would be to continue an excellent service and use it as a flagship to improve County Durham and bring in more visitors to help regenerate the area.”
The council said existing tourist information services will remain operational until the new facilities are up and running in order to avoid any disruption to provision.
Coun Foster said: “It is vital that we review and reshape the way in which we provide information to visitors if we are to continue supporting the tourism industry in the face of budget reductions of more than £1million.
“Rather than cutting back on tourism services, as is happening in other areas of the country, we are seeking a more imaginative solution that will allow us to increase access to visitor information, and we are delighted with the partner and private sector response.
“We agreed that we should free our tourism service from a limited number of dedicated centres and take information to an increased number of more frequently visited locations and we are delighted to be able to demonstrate how we are going to do this.
“Our ultimate goal in restructuring our provision is not just to reduce our expenditure, but also to encourage people to stay in the county for longer and to spend more money while they are here.”
He said at present, only three per cent of visitors to County Durham call in to a tourist information ventre, with just one per cent actually making use of the facility.