THE provision of visitor information in a premier tourist resort is absolutely vital to both the success of the tourism industry and as part of providing excellent customer service.
There can be few places where it is so important as the English Riviera where 21 per cent of local employment depends on it.
The English Riviera Tourism Company is charged with the delivery of official visitor information across all communication channels and this is an area of expertise which has changed out of all recognition in the last few years.
One hundred years ago, the first printed tourism guide was produced for the English Riviera and distribution was limited by the speed of the postal service. Telephones were not yet in common use and no one had ever heard of mobiles, computers, the Web, Apps or iPads.
Nowadays, both printed guides and in-resort visitor information services are still important. However, when the ERTC was commissioned by Torbay Council to deliver the Turning the Tide for Tourism in Torbay strategy three years ago, its chief executive, Carolyn Custerson, quickly realised resorts which were not keeping up with the digital revolution would increasingly lose valuable market share.
In the past three years, the ERTC has revolutionised the way the English Riviera has provided Visitor Information and has focused more and more on digital channels. Carolyn said: "Some 70 per cent of visitors now research and book their holidays online so digital communications are more important than ever before.
"We continuously update the information we have available to share with visitors including new pages on the website, videos, Twitter messages, Facebook postings and the production of over 50 offline Fact Sheets which are available in varying font sizes.''
In particular, the ERTC has seen a growing demand for accessible in-resort visitor information and recently launched a new dedicated section on the official website www.englishriviera.co.uk/info/accessible-english-riviera It not only details accessible places to stay but also accessible beaches, car parks, attractions and places to eat.
Carolyn said: "Accessibility is not just about wheelchair access, it is about inclusiveness and with both the baby boom, ageing population and changing face of society, we all need to be much more flexible in what we offer.''
To support the work of the English Riviera Visitor Information Centre and fill the gap created by the closure of the two seasonal Tourist Information Centres previously operating in Brixham and Paignton, a call was put out for local business to work in partnership with the ERTC. This has resulted in a growing network of official Visitor Information Points around the resort, which complement the Visitor Information Centre in Torquay.
The team in Torquay is led by Katrine Harrington, who has many years experience, supported by a new seasonal part time team of Visitor Information assistants including David Hammond, Jenny Scott, Charmaine Hill and Lynn Webb supported by Angie Wright and Steve Pearce.
More than 200,000 people visit the Visitor Information Centre in Torquay with the team handling thousands of email and phone inquiries from all over the world.
Carolyn said: "Providing quality, accurate and comprehensive information is very important if we are to increase visitor spend to benefit the local economy. If a visitor does not know about a place, then he or she will not go there.
"Everyone should be helping visitors to maximise their enjoyment of their visit and most importantly leave wanting to recommend and repeat their visit to the English Riviera.
"For this reason we developed, with support from the Torbay Development Agency, the Welcome English Riviera Course which anyone is welcome to attend. We also launched the My Riviera App, which provides a fantastic mobile Visitor Information Service complementing what we do.''
These new English Riviera Visitor Information Points are open all year, thus improving on earlier services, which were seasonal. They are currently located at:
Hobb Nobs on the seafront in Brixham run by Sarah and Simon James
Torbay Bookshop in Paignton run by Matthew and Sarah Clarke
Dot's Pantry in Torquay run by John and Dot Doherty
Forget Me Not in St Marychurch run by Chris Howell
Flagship Pub on Paignton Seafront run by Paul Kindon
Romany Jones Café, Kingskerswell run by Ian Cartwright
Torre Records, Torre run by Mark Jessep
Occombe Farm run by Lucy Clarke
Churston Farm Shop run by Richard Haddock
Paignton Coach Station run by Stagecoach.
In addition, a new English Riviera Visitor Information Point will be opening at the Princess Theatre shortly.
The new Visitor Information Points are managed by the individual businesses and receive no payment from the ERTC. They each have their own unique character and are provided with official information produced by the ERTC.
This includes the official English Riviera Destination Guide, the Great Days Out Guide produced in partnership with the Herald Express, free maps, events and festival leaflets, Agatha Christie and Global Geopark leaflets.
Ticket sales for theatre, National Express coach and boat trips are provided by the host businesses on an optional basis.
All staff working at the Visitor Information Points attend the nationally accredited Welcome English Riviera Course.
Carolyn is quick to point out the ERTC is not working alone. "Much of what we have been able to achieve is down to the goodwill, confidence and support of all our partners including Torbay Council.
"So many people within the tourism industry have stepped up to ensure the English Riviera can 'punch above its weight' in spite of increased budget challenges and we encourage every business across the resort to get involved by becoming an official English Riviera Promotional Partner."
All this activity is certainly beginning to work. Latest figures indicate the English Riviera's visitor numbers are growing and the proverbial tide does seem to be turning.
The English Riviera's Visitor Information Service has started attracting the notice of tourism bodies across the UK with a recent gold award from South West Tourism (the ERVIS had already won gold at the earlier Devon Tourism Awards). The ERVIS will now go through to the prestigious national awards run by VisitEngland later this year. Any business which would like to be considered to be an official English Riviera Visitor Information Point should email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the English Riviera, log on to www.englishriviera.co.uk