Women call for tourism support

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PROFESSIONAL women have taken their campaign to keep a tourism service open to a city centre’s streets.

The Durham branch of Soroptimist International is calling for Durham County Council to retain the city’s Tourist Information Centre (TIC).

The award-winning Millennium Place office, along with others in Stanhope and Barnard Castle, could be closed under plans to save cash.

They would be replaced by a “virtual hub,” where visitors will be able to make contact by telephone, email and text and get hold of information in an increased number of frequently- visited locations.

Tourism campaigners have already said they are against the ideas, with the 35-strong business group adding its voice.

The Soroptimists have already gathered more than 4,200 names on a petition.

If they get 5,000 it would force the issue to be added to the agenda at a council meeting.

Helen Graham, the group’s president and a retired Northumbria Police officer, said: “The majority of people who have signed this petition have said that they want to talk to a knowledgeable person and not pick up a leaflet.

“People want face-to-face contact.

“A German man said that wherever he goes in the world he looks for the ‘i’ for Tourist Information, and knows he can go and speak to someone who knows first-hand information about the area.

“We are committed and are confident in obtaining over 5,000 signatures.”

The group took to the streets of Durham City on Saturday, to boost the petition.

Members of the Soroptimists in Durham include chemists, senior nursing advisors and orthopists.

The council has launched a review of the TICs in the face of a 53 per cent loss in cash for tourism, with Visit County Durham to miss out of £650,000 in funding from One NorthEast.

The council must reduce its spending by £125million during the next four years, following Government cuts.

Councillor Neil Foster, cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, said: “Despite budget reductions of more than £1million, the council and Visit County Durham are committed to continuing to deliver face-to-face tourist information services in the heart of Durham, Barnard Castle and Stanhope.

“Whilst this may not be through the existing facilities, we are working with a range of partners, including local retailers and attractions, to find new ways to deliver an excellent service to our visitors.

“The intention is to have more information in more places delivered to more people.

“For example ,in Durham City the main visitor destinations are Palace Green and the Market Place – thus information may be better provided at the Town Hall and the new World Heritage Site visitor centre.”