Anger as VisitScotland announces all 25 information centres including Inverness to close

The Inverness Courier – Val Sweeney

The planned closure of all VisitScotland’s information centres – including Inverness – has prompted concern and anger.

The national tourism organisation has announced its network of 25 centres, which provide tourist information and advice as well as local recommendations, will close over the next two years.

It says the demand for information centres has reduced while the demand for online information and booking has continued to grow.

The closures are part of a strategy designed to grow the visitor economy by influencing visitors in the planning stage of their trip, before they leave home.

But the announced closure of the icentres, which also include a retail element, promoting gifts from local artists, designers and craftspeople, has provoked concern about the impact in the Highlands and Islands where tourism is key to the economy.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, described it as a “deeply worrying” announcement from an organisation which is partially funded by the Scottish Government.

“Tourism is the lifeblood of the Highlands and Islands and to close these centres says to the world that Scotland is closed,” she said.

She would be appealing to Scottish Ministers to step in to try to save the centres

“I don’t think anyone would disagree that the shift in booking holidays has moved to online but these centres are here for tourists who need help and advice while they are actually here on holiday too,” she said.

“Pre covid visitor spend in the Highlands and Islands averaged £1.5 billion with 3200 registered tourism businesses in the area providing jobs for up to 43 per cent of the workforce in some areas of the Highlands and Islands.

“The tourism and hospitality sector has been one of the worst hit from the pandemic and we need to be bolstering these businesses at this time, not cutting services to the millions of people who visit Scotland annually.”

Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston is also writing to the Scottish Government and VisitScotland.

“While it’s undeniable that online support is increasingly available and important, many visitors still rely on face-to-face interactions for help,” he said.

“This decision risks both VisitScotland’s outreach efforts and the availability of local knowledge and experience in some of our most popular tourism destinations.

“These planned closures coincide with the Scottish Government in Edinburgh slashing funding for VisitScotland, and it’s clear that the impact of these budget cuts is now being felt in critical sectors of our economy.

“Our important tourism sector has been put under increasing pressure by the Scottish Government and its central belt-focus over the last few years.”

Others voiced their anger on social media.

Former Inverness events manager Gerry Reynolds posted: “I feel sorry for the staff who did a great job promoting the events I organised in Inverness and deservedly were held in high regard by every tourist I encountered who had used their services.”

He added: “Tourism needs the foundations provided by local folk in love with everything their region has to offer.”

Bob Mackay said: “It’s a disaster for all the staff. I know a couple of the folk working there, feel gutted for them.”

Nicky Godfrey pointed out that not all visitors had a smart phone with data, or a computer at home.

Loch Ness tourism leader Willie Cameron also took issue with the assertion that everyone booked everything online and planned their holidays online, or that everyone had a smart phone.

“All you have to do is ask the receptionists in our hotel,” he said.

“They get asked questions day in, day out.”

Mr Cameron said closing the information centres was not a good idea but cited the Loch Ness Hub in Drumnadrochit as an example of how the community could take over the provision of tourism services.

After the closure of the village’s tourism information centre, a new community benefit company to provide tourism and green transport services was set up by Glen Urquhart Rural Community Association (Gurca).

“The Loch Ness Hub is run by the community and owned by the community,” Mr Cameron said.

“It is going really well.

“It provides lots of information for travelling tourists and locals, too.”