Sudbury/Bury St Edmunds: Could Bury’s Tourist Information Centre learn a lesson from thriving neighbour?
Officials have pledged to review a controversial cost-cutting measure to close Bury’s award-winning tourist information centre.
It comes as Sudbury Town Council has secured record takings at its tourist information centre during the past six months.
The shock decision to close the main Bury centre on Angel Hill was announced in April and since then, St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s tourist information service has consisted of a series of hubs across the town.
By contrast when it was faced with closure in 2011, Sudbury Town Council took control of its tourist information centre (TIC) from Babergh District Council and moved it to a central location at the town’s library the following year.
During the past six months, takings from bookings, tickets and souvenirs came in at £15,330 – an increase of £2,000 on the previous year.
Meanwhile, it is understood that stakeholders involved in Bury’s tourist information service will meet in October to assess whether their current ‘hub’ system is working.
Karen Hurden, chairwoman of the Bury Society, said volunteers who had set up a tourist hub at St Edmundsbury Cathedral were working hard to keep a presence on Angel Hill, but that there was still a “long way to go”.
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She added: “The tourist industry gives billions of pounds to this town but it was decided in April to close the centre just as the tourist season started.
“The cathedral volunteers are trying their very best to provide a presence on Angel Hill but it’s not an easy task to replace the old TIC which was award-winning and user friendly.
“We hope there will be a review in October at the end of the tourist season and then we will know better how it has gone.”
The main hub is in The Apex, but there has been criticism that it is not open on Sundays – a prime tourism day for Bury.
On social media website Streetlife, one woman said: “Whilst walking past the now empty tourist information centre on Angel Hill, I came across some disgruntled visitors outside who had walked all the way from the Apex.
“They only realised they had just visited the new centre when they arrived on Angel Hill and saw the sign on the door.”
Another said: “We have a beautiful town – would you not think the council would want to make it easy for the tourists to enjoy it and find out what is on where?”
Jacqui Howells, Sudbury’s deputy town clerk, said the success of their TIC was proof the council had made the right decision to keep it. Also despite the internet, there was still a call for “face-to-face contact” with staff who have extensive local knowledge, she said.
“Councillors took the decision that the centre was an asset to the town and very important because tourism is high on the council’s agenda and it also helps local businesses,” Mrs Howells added.
“It is working very well in the library because of the opening hours and we have three part time staff and a Saturday girl.
“The takings have increased through the sale of Colchester Zoo tickets, day trips on Felix coaches, which are very popular, and National Express coach tickets.
“They have also initiated guided themed walking tours of Sudbury, have produced local souvenirs for sale and publish a monthly events leaflet.
“They sell tickets for local charity events for no charge and promote local clubs. Overall, it has been a great success.”