Tourist information centres in Stranraer and Castle Douglas are to close - despite soaring numbers of visitors from overseas countries.
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. 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.
For Dumfries & Galloway, the decision regarding the location of the regional hub in the area will be made in consultation with the local tourism industry and stakeholders over the coming months. In the meantime, iCentres in Gretna, Kirkcudbright and Dumfries will continue to operate as normal.
The three centres will be supported by over 117 VisitScotland Information Partners (VIPs) in the region, including Cream of Galloway visitor centre at Gatehouse of Fleet, Logan Botanic Garden and The CatStrand Gallery in New Galloway, providing local knowledge to the 672,000 people that visit Dumfries & Galloway every year. The VisitScotland iCentre in Castle Douglas will cease trading from October 2017 and Stranraer will follow by the end of March 2019.
Paula Ward, Regional Director at VisitScotland said: “The way visitors access information has changed significantly over the past five years. It’s time to switch our focus and investment into new and diverse initiatives to ensure we are reaching as many visitors to Dumfries & Galloway as possible with the information they want, in the way they want it, when they want it. With three in four adults now 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. However, we know that speaking to locals is also important to our visitors and with our 26 high impact travel hubs, local information partners and outreach staff, it means that there is always advice on what to see wherever people are.”
“The information revolution is upon us and we look forward to telling more and more visitors all about Dumfries & Galloway across all our different channels for many years to come.”
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.
The latest figures also show that the number of visitors from North America to Scotland rose 38 per cent in the 12 months to the end of June.