Visitors to St Albans left confused by changes to tourist information service
PUBLISHED: 12:00 02 August 2016
Confusion reigns among tourists visiting St Albans, as they cannot find the local information centre, and are wandering into the Clock Tower to ask volunteers for help.
Although St Albans is supposed to be promoting itself as a tourist attraction, visitors are apparently struggling to find details of what to see, according to unimpressed locals.
The district council has been criticised for failing to adequately cater for them, after temporarily closing down the Tourist Information Centre in the old Town Hall while it undergoes a mammoth transformation into a new museum and art gallery.
The centre has been relocated to the Alban Arena in the meantime – a move slammed by Eric Roberts of the Civic Society for being a “step backwards”.
He said that during a visit to the theatre to pick up a brochure on films showing at the Odyssey, “I could hear a person trying to get information from the staff about hotels in the area. The staff weren’t rude, but it’s a very depleted resource, as there are no tourist information staff there.
“Especially when you consider the staff previously working at the Town Hall, who had built up considerable knowledge. This is the height of the tourist season.
“People use it not only to find out what to visit, but to also ask for advice on hotels, rail and bus services – it’s a poor approach by the council. For example, staff there used to tell visitors about special rail deals to Brighton, and they could book rail and coach tickets if you wished them to.
“But all there is now are some brochures. Is this the way we want to promote St Albans, replacing staff with leaflets in a cubbyhole in the Arena, during 18 months of work? Staff at the Arena are busy answering queries about performances, and they aren’t trained to deal with tourists’ queries.”
Eric added: “We are getting a lot more people coming to the Clock Tower, asking for advice.”
St Albans resident Andrew Johnstone told the Herts Advertiser that he thought the city was supposed to be trying to emulate such places as York.
He added: “The council seems to have decided that it is adequate for our tourist office to be squeezed into a hitherto obscure corner of the Alban Arena. Here there is a very limited range of services for tourists, even if they were able to find the place, which is virtually unsignposted.”
Andrew warned: “The meagre facility provided is likely to damage the local tourist industry and be a source of disappointment to those visiting the city, and expecting to find the level of assistance available elsewhere.”
Richard Shwe, head of community services at the council, said the plan was for the information centre to occupy a central location in the new museum and gallery when it opens in 18 months’ time.
He said its temporary location was “clearly signposted to visitors using an A-board, placed outside the Arena”.
Richard said that staff there had been trained to answer queries about local attractions, transport and hotels, and brochures were available.
He added: “Due to the growing popularity of the internet, there has been a significant decline in demand for hotel and train booking services and for brochures on destinations outside Hertfordshire, so these are no longer provided.
“Staff who worked at the Tourist Information Centre are currently working in different roles in the council, including on the new museum and gallery project.”
Richard said “some” of those employees would return to the centre when it is reopened in the museum.