14 August 2017

The demise of Tourist Information Centres - online information no substitute for local knowledge

Have you noticed how completely Tourist Information Centres have disappeared from the High Streets of our cities and seaside resorts in recent years?

I understand this is because of local authority cuts since they have previously funded them and also the trend to put more information online.

How has this affected disabled people particularly you may ask? For us the local TICs were the first port of call when we went to visit a new place – the staff could tell you about accessible accommodation, accessible places to visit and often had leaflets produced by local disabled people’s organisations about other local accessible places to visit such as cafes etc. In addition the staff in TICs often took great pride in hunting down information about access for you and of course always knew where the accessible parking and loos were.

We are told the answer is to go online but it’s not quite as simple as this. Firstly, when you type in obvious headings for Google you can find several variations of a theme because local businesses etc have had the idea of a website to publicise their own particular attractions but not in a universal format. Once you have selected the appropriate site you find it doesn’t work like those sites belonging to TICs previously because there is no one to staff them so accommodation is harder to book and information like accessible leaflets is not available in hard copies.  Also many disabled people may not have access to the internet easily so can’t connect and explore. Sometimes one gets a throwback to TIC access from the occasional site which is a real thrill – last Summer I requested by email some information about access and found an enthusiastic council worker who was keen to help me directly despite not being in a TIC!

For hard copy, we now only have stands of leaflets with everything mixed up to show small commercial attractions with the odd National Trust site mentioned. How can one select from that literature, with varying amounts of access information, where you should go on a short visit to the area? Often it is the unmentioned hidden garden or small car park which shows you the best place to visit. Finally of course, gone are the reasonable locally produced goodies previously sold by TICs for the presents to take home! Now one must search local shops to make a selection.

So life won’t end because of the demise of TICs but just a little bit of the quality of life as a tourist in the UK has decreased for some of us through these changes!