How to Set Up an Innovative Tourism Network in your Town!

Background

In 2013, Herefordshire County Council (HCC) closed Ross-on-Wye’s Tourist Information Centre (TIC) so, whilst the local Town Council was in negotiations with asset transfers, a local resident with a handful of Ross shops took it into their own hands to share visitor information and stock leaflets to those visiting the town.

However, over the next two years, local traders were becoming frustrated with tourists asking for visitor information and visitors were complaining that they didn’t know where to go to find out what was going on in Ross-on-Wye

What did we do?

Behind the scenes, an accomplice and I were galvanised into action after witnessing more than 15 shops close in November- December 2015. During a late night conversation, we talked about the resources and the options available.

Very quickly, it became apparent that having one central TIC was a ‘no go’ because it would require a building, staff and funding. And, since there were already some individuals in the town providing visitor information, it was decided to support their endeavours. This provided a low cost and flexible option that could be sustained.

Tourist Information Sites

The following afternoon, we did a quick walkabout of the town and found 9 strategically placed Tourist Information Sites (TIS) that expressed an interest in being part of a co-ordinated ‘Tourism Network’. These sites included a pub, two shops, three cafes, an artist co-operative and a local tour guide.

It was agreed that a central Hub (the Ross-on-Wye Tourism Association) would provide these TISs with a town map and a folder that contained information on B&B accommodation.   However, the TISs could stock additional information leaflets according to their customers’ interest or needs. Thereby, allowing some flexibility and individuality between the various TISs.

Constituted Hub

Within two weeks and with help from the local press (Ross Gazette), a group of volunteers were pulled together. In January 2016, the ‘Ross-on-Wye Tourism Association’ (RTA) signed its Constitution and opened a bank account with a generous donation from one of the volunteers. At its first meeting, it was agreed that there was an urgent need for a) a town map that located important tourist information, b) accommodation folder with up to date information and c) social media presence to promote events. The RTA Hub was determined to give the nine ‘Tourist Information Sites’ this information by March 2016!

Funding to Set Up Initial Infrastructure

The RTA (Hub) was fortunate in obtaining funding from the local Town Council (£678.50) and the Town Team (£1000) to cover the costs of designing and printing the coloured maps, town trails and a quarterly ‘What’s On’ event flyer that is distributed across Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire and Forest of Dean.

Accommodation Folders

Tasks were divided amongst the RTA (Hub) Team. One designed the RTA logo, another created the original website (playross.com) and others collated/printed accommodation information and put it into recycled lever arch folders.

And, the RTA asked for a donation of £10 from each of the accommodation providers to be in the Folder. Some gave more than £10 whereas many gave nothing.

Town Map

It was fortunate that one of the RTA Hub volunteers had created a town map for the 2014 Wye Valley River Festival so this was quickly adapted to include key tourist information such as toilets, car parking, supermarkets, GP surgeries etc.

Social Media Presence

Another member of the RTA Hub volunteers created an events page, he brought all the various websites of those delivering events under one banner.   Another set up the Visit Ross-on-Wye Tourism Association facebook page, which publishes ‘What’s On in Ross-on-Wye’ each Friday and a Twitter Account.

So, Where We Are Now?

It is almost two years since setting up the Ross-on-Wye Tourism Association, and we have moved on.

Committed RTA Network

It’s been a very busy time for many of us and now there is a feeling of being able to ‘do less and plan more’.   Our active Committee meets at least 4 times a year, which works in collaboration with other local tourism associations that include Symonds Yat East Tourism Association, Wye Valley & Forest of Dean Tourism Association and Visit Herefordshire Tourism & Leisure Forum as well as createRoss and the Association of Ross Traders.

Work with 5 Tourist Information Sites

As of October 2017, there are only 5 Tourist Information Sites remaining as part of the RTA Network. The other four TISs did not want to sign an Agreement that requested they adhere to stocking the Core Range of RTA tourist information and attending TIS meetings. The TISs have a representative who sits on the RTA Committee and the TIS meet no more than 4 times a year.

Create Valued Tourist Information

The RTA Hub updates the Accommodation Folder each year as well as ensuring each TIS has plenty of town maps to give to visitors. This year, the Accommodation Folder includes local campsites.

The core range now includes three town trails: Dog Friendly Ross, Thomas Blake and Nathaniel Morgan as well as the quarterly ‘What’s On’ flyers.

We have a visible internet presence with our two websites as well as our popular facebook page. The Playross.com website gets over 400 visits with 700+ page views a week and the VisitRossonWye.com website has had 11,700 visits to date.

Our @Visit Ross-on-Wye Tourism Association facebook page has more than 700 people following it and many of the posts including our weekly update of ‘This weekend in Ross-on-Wye’ is seen by over 3000 people!

Obtain Continuation Funding from Donations

Each TIS site has a money box and we are grateful for donations to pay for the cost of printing maps and town trails. In 2017, we have received nearly £300 in donations which has easily covered reprinting costs. And, a handful of local accommodation providers have given us donations towards the cost of updating the accommodation folder.

The RTA Hub also recently received a £410 grant from the Ross Town Council as a contribution towards the costs of designing and printing a town guide.

The Future

It is remarkable how much the RTA has achieved in a short space of time. This has only being possible through the vision, efforts and enthusiasm of local people.

Even though there are close working links with the local Town Council and other Tourist led organisations, the RTA has worked in isolation because there is no clear plan of action from the local Town or County Councils on Tourism.   A ‘Destination Management Plan’ is soon to be launched this month (October) and we hope that this provides some leadership for the RTA to tap into.

Ours is a low cost option that relies on local people, including local traders investing their time, energy and money to attract tourists and visitors to Ross-on-Wye. It may only be a small market town but it can lay claim to being the birthplace of British tourism and is situated on the borders of three beautiful counties: Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire making it worthy of notice and promotion.

To create your Town’s Volunteer-run Tourist Network you need:

  1. No more than 7 people who are ‘doers’, share a love of their town and have at least one of the following attributes:
    1. sits on at least one Committee of a local organisation and has an understanding of the town
    2. is connected to and aware of local developments in the Town Council
    3. has a background or works in tourism
    4. is currently a local trader and comes into contact with visitors to the town
    5. has hands-on experience of creating and developing websites
    6. is a designer or has a creative mind with experience in printing
    7. has an enthusiastic and positive personality
    8. is happy to organise or support an event
    9. has at least one hour a week to spend on setting up a Tourism Network
  2. Depending upon the size of your town, at least one local trader who enjoys sharing their knowledge of the town’s attributes and has space to display tourist information in their shop. These traders will be your Tourist Information Site(s)
  3. Create and publish a local town map with key sites that will help visitors navigate your town, e.g. public car parking, public toilets etc
  4. Collect and collate a list of local accommodation providers into a folder to put in the TIS
  5. Use the town map as a template to create an interesting trail map to show off your town’s attributes that could include important people or places from earlier periods.
  6. Have a social media presence with a Facebook and Twitter page and/or a website
  7. Find out what events are going on in the town and publish as a flyer, write on a central board or post on your social media site(s)
  8. Keep local networks and associated organisations/businesses informed of your progress including the local press
  9. Make links to neighbouring tourist centres/networks
  10. Ask for financial support (e.g. donations) to fund printing of maps, trails etc.

Good luck! If you have any other questions on how to set up a volunteer-run Tourism Network, please send us a comment.

 

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