Last Ayrshire tourist centre to close doors

Culzean Castle is one of the top attractions in Ayrshire.
Culzean Castle is one of the top attractions in Ayrshire.

The Tourist information centre in Ayr is to close - leaving Ayrshire without any VisitScotland outlets.

VisitScotland has blamed shifting demands from visitors for the decision to shut down 39 of its 65 outlets across the country over the next two years.

Visitor attractions, local businesses, tourism groups and even car hire firms will be asked to take on the work of the “Information Centres” that are closing.

Those that survive will be turned into new regional hubs and will be expected to promote much wider areas than before.

The two-year strategy will see a significant increase in the number of channels providing content on places to visit and stay, with a mix of industry partners, Coo Vans* and digital products sitting alongside 26 key VisitScotland iCentres.

In Ayrshire and Arran, the VisitScotland iCentre in Ayr will close permanently by the end of March 2018. Information provision will continue through partnership arrangements with local visitor attractions, businesses and other interested groups.

There are currently almost 80 VisitScotland Information Partners (VIPs) across Ayrshire, including AD Rattray Whisky Experience and Shop, Craig Tara and Heads of Ayr Caravan Parks, The Scottish Dark Sky Observatory, Scottish Harbourside Museum and the Fairfield House Hotel, Ayr, providing inspirational local knowledge to the 693,000 people that visit the region every year.

In addition to these local ambassadors, iCentres at Glasgow and Brodick will be part of the 26 iconic new travel hubs.

Glasgow iCentre, which is 37 miles from Ayr, will provide enhanced regional information provision and highlight experiences within Ayrshire and Arran.

Currently located in the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art, the Glasgow iCentre will be relocating in the coming months to a new prominent site (to be announced) in the city centre and will include £200,000 of investment.

VisitScotland has cited a 58 per cent drop in footfall at its centres over the past ten years as a growing number of visitors have turned to the internet.

VisitScotland says 71 workers are affected by the announcement, but point out that staff are being offered the chance to either relocate or ­re-train.

VisitScotland’s announcement came on the same day it emerged that the number of overseas visitors has risen by 10 per cent. Spending by foreign tourists rose by nearly 20 per cent in the 12 months up to the end of June.

The agency said it was now spending £10 million each year on “digital activity”, including targeting potential visitors with more “personalised information”.

Lord John Thurso, VisitScotland’s chairman, said: “The way visitors access information has changed significantly over the past decade.

“It’s time to switch our focus and ­investment into new and diverse initiatives to ensure we’re reaching as many people as possible with the information they want, in the way they want it, when they want it.”

“With three in four adults owning a smartphone, a key focus is ensuring our digital communications provide succinct inspirational and informational advice to visitors at every stage of their journey.”

A spokewoman for VisitScotland said “It’s our clear goal to minimise job losses in the changes we are making.

“As well as offering voluntary redundancy, we will offer the chance to learn new skills or move to another office where feasible. We can confirm that some staff have taken voluntary redundancy already and others have transferred to nearby centres.”

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, the independent industry body, said: “Digital information and the widespread use of mobile devices has transformed the way visitors source information and make bookings, both pre and on arrival. The world is changing and the tourism industry in Scotland has to respond to ensure we continue to provide the high quality and authentic experiences that our visitors expect at all points of their journeys.”

The announcement from VisitScotland’s has come after a bumper season for the industry. Although official figures are not yet available for July and August, there was a 21 per cent increase in the number of overseas visitors in the second quarter of this year.