THE English Riviera Tourism Company has revolutionised our resort's provision of a wide range of visitor information.
A whole new approach to resort marketing and visitor information, reaching out to visitors to encourage them to make the English Riviera their chosen destination has led to the English Riviera being recognised nationally for creativity and excellence.
Over the past three years, the English Riviera Tourism Company has won 10 local, regional and national awards, culminating in the VisitEngland silver award for Visitor Information Service Provider of the Year for 2014. Never has this been achieved before. There is much to celebrate.
Carolyn Custerson, chief executive of ERTC, said: "I have always valued credible award programmes. They provide a fantastic development tool which allows your business to be reviewed and benchmarked by independent professionals.
"If you want to move forwards, which I am determined we do, you need to keep fresh, you never stop learning and introducing new ideas is very important."
Commissioned as one of Torbay's arms-length companies, the ERTC has been contracted to arrest the decline in visitor numbers and to manage and modernise the official visitor information service, which is used by around 300,000 people per year.
Much progress has been made to date with visitor numbers and spend on the increase since the ERTC was launched in October, 2010.
Carolyn explained: "Over the past 10 years there has been a revolution in how visitors research, choose and book their holidays and decide how they wish to spend their valuable leisure time with 76 per cent now researching and booking online.
"The ERTC responded quickly to these changes amid a backdrop of reducing public money for visitor information services.
"The ERTC set out to protect, modernise and expand the visitor information service and to ensure every visitor has a great experience and wants to return and recommend us. We operate in a very competitive market place so efficiency is key."
Expansion of the visitor information service has only been possible because of the growing relationship between tourism and the retail sector with representatives of the Town Centres Company including the Torquay and Paignton BIDs working together in partnership to 'do things differently' and provide modern visitor information services at dramatically reduced costs to the local taxpayer and in a way not done before.
Carolyn said: "Increased public/private partnership working has never been so important.
"It's vital now to stop and really think about how we can protect valuable services and save money.
"The ERTC is a good example of best practice in this regard with 350 local tourism, hospitality and retail businesses working together to proactively promote the English Riviera brand worldwide and share in the responsibility to provide quality visitor information."
The real benefits of partnership working can be clearly demonstrated if you visit some of the new visitor information points: Torbay Bookshop in Paignton, Hobb Nobs Gift shop in Brixham and Dots Pantry in Torquay, all successful year-round retail outlets who have stepped forward to provide an integrated and innovative year-round visitor information service across the resort with additional official visitor information outlets being available at Stagecoach bus station and the Flagship pub, Paignton, Romany Jones Café, Kingskerswell, and Forget Me Not shop in St Marychurch.
Simon and Sarah James, owners of Hobb Nobs and now also Brixham's official visitor information point, said: "Being presented with silver at the national VisitEngland awards, which puts the English Riviera in second place across the whole country, proves just how successful the new retail partnerships with the ERTC have become.
"It is a win-win opportunity for the ERTC, for Hobb Nobs and for tourism in the Bay. Retail and tourism go hand in hand and it's great working together. We are able to provide information and friendly advice to the visitor which increases our footfall, while being well-supported by the ERTC and making our contribution to tourism."
Joint owner of Torbay Bookshop, chairman of the Paignton BID and Paignton's official visitor information point, Matthew Clarke said: "Having the VIP in our store is the perfect fit for the bookshop as we already stock local books, maps and postcards plus other gifts from Paignton.
"Our staff all live locally and enjoy sharing their knowledge with visitors and residents alike. Recently, they have been trained on the 'Welcome to Excellence' programme and we are fortunate to have won a number of awards including Independent Bookshop of The Year reflecting the level of service we offer.
"Now to be part of this latest award, winning silver for Visitor Information Provider from VisitEngland is extremely rewarding.
"While there is no payment received for us offering this service, our business has benefited by the increased footfall into the shop.
"Our location lends itself to being more accessible for an all-year-round service being on the major through route in the town centre and close to the main transport hubs.
"We provide the full service, selling theatre tickets, with no booking fees or credit card surcharge, council car parking passes, a hotel and B&B advice service and the supply of tourism brochures.
"It is so refreshing being in this new business, meeting everyone in a great holiday mood and being so positive about the English Riviera reminding us all how fortunate we are to live here!"
John Doherty from Dot's Pantry, chairman of the Torquay BID and also an official visitor information point in Torquay, said: "Congratulations to Carolyn and the ERTC, we are so pleased to be part of a winning team."