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Wiltshire is “woefully short-sighted” in closing Marlborough tourism centre

Wiltshire Council’s decision to close down Marlborough’s public library based Tourist Information Centre has been described as “woefully short sighted” and a disservice to the town’s council tax papers.

According to questions raised with Wiltshire by Marlborough News Online, the town is the only one in the whole county to lose its tourism centre, though fears remain that Avebury is due to follow.

And this is despite a cut of only £58,276 in Wiltshire’s current tourism budget of £750,000, of which £500,000 goes in a direct grant to VisitWiltshire Ltd., whose comprehensive website lists only one available hotel in Marlborough.

And the website, for instance, provides no specific dates for the forthcoming Marlborough International Jazz Festival, due in July, while offering detailed information about major events in towns such as Salisbury, where the Visit Wiltshire tourism partnership is based.

South West Tourism estimates the value of tourism in the county.  Wiltshire has told Marlborough News Online that the latest 2009 data reveals an annual figure of £583.4 million compared with £523.1 million in the previous year.

“When you consider those figures, Wiltshire’s funding of tourism and tourist information centres and its continued cost cutting is woefully short-sighted,” protested Marlborough town councillor Richard Pitts.

“I fear there is no clear link between VisitWiltshire and Marlborough. We simply don’t know how much of the council tax payers’ funding in our area will really come back to us in terms of increased visitor numbers.

“We will now investigate how that money is being spent, and, if we can, direct what we want to happen to boost tourism locally.”

“However,” he added, “there is a feeling among many of my fellow councillors and colleagues that we, as a community dependent on tourism, will now have to take charge of our own destiny.

“We simply cannot rely on Wiltshire Council and VisitWiltshire to bring the tourists into the Marlborough area. And if we do this in partnership with bodies like the Chamber of Commerce and the Marlborough Area Development Trust, we will at least be able to shape an information and tourism service that really attracts visits and, importantly, attracts them to stay for longer periods.”

The town council’s Finance and General Purposes Committee, which Councillor Pitts chairs, will discuss the current dire situation on Monday night.

It basically stems from the former Kennet District Council’s decision to close down the system-built tourist information facility that used to exist in the Marlborough Waitrose car park.

“I fought long, hard and ultimately unsuccessful to prevent this,” revealed Wiltshire councillor Nick Fogg , also a Marlborough town councillor and founder of Marlborough’s Jazz Festival.

“The highly unsatisfactory compromise was to put the tourist information centre in the library. This didn’t work because the centre opened only during library hours so, for example, it was closed on Bank Holidays when tourists come to town.”

The town council was offered the opportunity of taking over the facilities on the basis that Wiltshire would continue to pay staff salaries for the next six months.

“Then it would have been up to the town council to cover the costs, which was clearly not tenable, both on grounds of costs and in view of the further reduction of library hours,” Councillor Fogg pointed out.

Activist Val Compton, who has been preparing plans for a combined new Marlborough information centre and tourism service, has also hit out at Wiltshire’s actions.

“The attitude of the council toward tourism in Marlborough is cynical at best and sinister at worst,” she told Marlborough News Online.  

“Attract the tourists to Marlborough through a website, then when they arrive with high expectations of spending some time and enjoying the Marlborough area, they look for the local TIC.”

“Local people, who are used to it being in the library where the signs still point, may well direct the tourists there. On arrival, if they need some service, they will be told by library staff to go to Avebury or Devizes. That is what staff have been told to say.”

 She adds: “But it gets worse -- if they wish to purchase any books or leaflet including the Accommodation Book from Visit Wiltshire – they will be able to do that but the library service are resistant to allowing any new set up stock and sell those books.”

“So Wiltshire still want the revenue.  In fact -- we might as well have a big sign telling tourists not to bother coming in to Marlborough because although we would welcome their hard cash - and indeed are dependent on it -- there is NO service for them here.”  

“It is not just shooting ourselves in one foot but two.”

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