Hunstanton Civic Society has repeated its call for a staffed tourist information centre (TIC) to be reinstated in the town.
The organisation said it has written stating its concerns to both West Norfolk borough and Hunstanton town councils following the decision to close the centre at the town hall and use the former railway Coal Shed in Le Strange Terrace as an unmanned venue for information for visitors.
The town hall-based TIC closed in March during the pandemic lockdown and in June the borough council sent out a press release explaining The Coal Shed was to be used for a “centralised provision of tourist information”.
The civic society has said the decision to permanently close the prime location venue had created “widespread shock” and concern from local businesses and the society has called for a staffed TIC to be provided – even it if means reduced hours and services.
It has criticised the closure decision claiming a lack of consultation with the community and businesses which rely on the tourism industry.
The society has also said it believed there could have been other options including the possibility of a smaller TIC inside the heritage centre in the heart of the town.
The society has carried out a survey of its members and also local businesses regarding the change.
In a document released, it said of 106 businesses surveyed, 70 per cent highlighted a “variety of negative effects on the town’s local business economy”.
The society also said as well as providing information for visitors, TIC staff provided services for residents and its closure had left a “void in information and service provision, particularly for the elderly.”
In response, a borough council spokesman said: “Hunstanton Town Council approached us because they were facing operational difficulties with the TIC in its existing location due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“A decision needed to be made quickly. At the time, council meetings were not taking place, awaiting amended regulations to allow virtual meetings. Telephone discussions took place with the portfolio holder and relevant assistant director to identify a temporary solution.
“The arrangements identified for a temporary unstaffed Tourist Information Point (TIP) at The Coal Shed, were felt to be better than having no TIC at all. Signs to direct people to the new TIP are being put in place, along with signage at the venue to inform people of the COVID-19 arrangements – limiting the number of people entering at any one time, and encouraging people to use hand sanitiser and so on.
“It is difficult to quantify what impact this change will have on local tourism businesses given the far-reaching, global effects of COVID-19 on people’s holiday options and behaviours. There is some suggestion that there may be a later season this year, as people opt for staycations in this country. This could be a benefit to our own coastal communities.”
The spokesman also said VisitBritain advice to tourists was to research and book online beforehand.
“The benefit here is that businesses can update their online information as guidance changes and restrictions are lifted, where as traditional leaflets produced for TICs may be out of date,” the spokesman said.
“We understand that people feel the Tourist Information Centre is the heart of the community, especially when staff have worked there a number of years but, in terms of the benefit they bring to local tourism businesses, it is much harder to quantify.
“We will of course continue to liaise with our tourism businesses as we head towards recovery from this pandemic, with a view to assessing what sort of tourism support they need in the future,” the spokesman added.