SUNDERLAND’S hidden away Tourist Information Centre is back in the open after visitors missed it off the map.
Many Wearsiders voiced their concerns when the former centre in Fawcett Street was last year moved to a less prominent position on the second floor of the city centre library.
Now it is to be reinstated to street level in Fawcett Street to give its services a bigger profile.
From September 24, tourist information will be integrated into the customer service centre in the shopping street as well as at nine other sites across Wearside.
Sunderland City Council leisure boss Coun John Kelly said: “When we moved to the library it was a mish-mash and we weren’t sure we were giving people a good service.
“The staff there were fantastic and tried their best under difficult circumstances but we looked at how to give the service a better profile.”
The three staff previously employed at the library site will be offered places elsewhere in the council while customer service centre staff are undergoing training on how to best highlight Sunderland’s attractions.
Staff will be trained to answer any tourism inquiry and provide all the services previously provided at the Tourist Information Centre, while people will also be able to access information at www.visitsunderland.com which will be available via computers, smart phones and Blackberrys.
As well as being branded with the tourism “i” symbol, the Fawcett Street site will feature a shop window with a display and merchandise and will be classed as a gold-level service.
Silver-level tourist information will be offered at council contact centres in Washington, Houghton, Highfield and Southwick, supplemented by a bronze level of information at libraries in Ryhope, Shiney Row, Hetton, Sandhill and Bunny Hill.
Coun Kelly added: “Effectively we have gone from having one Tourist Information Centre to 10. We are not like Durham Council, which moved services online – we think it’s important that there is someone there for people to talk to face to face.
“This is not about cutbacks, it’s about increasing people’s opportunities to access information.”
Services will include information and advice on accommodation within Sunderland, online merchandise, souvenirs and gifts, constantly updated information on events, activities and attractions and links to travel information, ticketing and services.
Raoul Lemmerling, general manager at the Sunderland Marriott, said: “People now want more than the traditional tourist information service. Expanding and improving the Visitor Information Service here in Sunderland will help us all cater for the ever increasing demand for information and online services.”