The TIC is vital for Dartmouth

Angie Cairns-Sharpe accuses me in her Dartmouth Chronicle letter last week of inaccuracy in my last opinion piece, but her accusations about my attacks on the TIC are themselves inaccurate. I have never attacked the TIC itself and the volunteers who make such a vital contribution to the Dartmouth experience. I, Like Angie, have also sat on many of the committees and groups she has served so well over the years as a volunteer. My comments are aimed at the Board of the TIC who are responsible for setting its strategy, and are intended to be constructive.

The TIC has not changed strategy significantly for 15 years now at a time when destination marketing has changed beyond recognition. Personal attacks on people who put forward ideas for positive change make it difficult to have an open debate about this important issue and, while most people are too frightened to raise their heads above the fence, I have been stopped in the street several times, and received letters to my address by hand in support of my views. (see scanned letter at bottom of this page)

I believe the TIC has two roles to play in the town. Firstly it is a visitor centre which supports people when they visit the town, a job the volunteers do brilliantly, but its biggest role is promoting and marketing the town in order to make sure those visitors come in the first place and support our tourist economy. In order to fund this it sells its marketing services to local business subscribers. This is the activity that generates their income to support the visitor centre, so this is where their effectiveness must be measured.

My criticism, which I repeat is intended to be constructive, is that you can’t measure your success by the number of web hits you get or the prizes you win from the Tourist board. The most important measures are how many businesses you retain that get positive value from their subscription to the TIC, and how many visitors does the TIC actually bring to the town.

Footfall on Lower Street up to 2015

Some years ago I understood they were losing subscribers at the rate of about 10% per year and visitor footfall has been dropping by about the same percentage.(see chart) In those circumstances the TIC Board should be looking at the reasons for this and responding in some way and It’s not difficult to understand why this is happening.

Destination marketing has changed dramatically over the last 18 years since I have lived and worked in Dartmouth. The launch of Facebook in 2004 (yes only 13 years ago!) was the start of a digital revolution in the way tourist destinations market themselves. You now not only need a strong website you also need a complete digital strategy embracing social media, e-newsletters and pay per click advertising to drive more traffic to the website. My old business recognised this years ago and continues to go from strength to strength.

The TIC has not significantly changed its approach to marketing for many years now. In fact when the BID was closed they discarded £20,000 worth of investment in their website and reverted to the old and, in my opinion, dreary website they had before. A clear illustration of the board’s resistance to change. It has a website, but the accommodation subscribers only represent a small proportion of all accommodation providers in the town. So the website and the Discover Dartmouth brochure are no longer definitive guides to where to stay. It is competing with Hotels.com, trip-adviser and many more which are complete and definitive and there is very little social media activity driving traffic to the site. The TIC has 118 followers on Facebook and 2166 on twitter! I know of one accommodation business alone in Dartmouth that has over 40,000 followers on twitter, so advertising with the TIC may seem a pointless investment to them. I remember talking to one accommodation provider during the BID consultation who invested £1200 every year in the TIC and could only count a handful of room bookings for the year generated by the TIC directly. I am sure they influence a lot more than that, but when businesses are running on tight margins then they will make tough decisions based on the return on their investment.

So I repeat – the TIC volunteers and employees work very hard on behalf of the town but unless the Board bring the TIC’s marketing strategy up to date then they will continue to struggle for survival and the towns economy will suffer as a result. Handing ownership of their website and brochure over to outside organisations may make financial sense for the TIC but it can only make it more difficult to control their marketing activities. Your success will only be assured if you start increasing the number of subscribers and driving more visitors to the town, and I mean a lot more!

Sadly Angie doesn’t seem to understand that I am fighting for the survival of the TIC just like she is, its just that we measure success by different criteria. My motivation has only ever been to try and help the town prosper as I don’t own a business in the town any more. So please stop attacking me for fighting for my beliefs, as I have nothing to gain personally and please take your heads out of the sand and respond to this challenge.

Paul Reach

Dartmouth Business News

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21 Comments

  1. Agree in full. Marketing is critical – look at Torquay which after decades in the doldrums is now very organised from a marketing perspective. Actually – the content generated from Coast and Country cottages is far and away higher quality than anything else that incorporates Dartmouth – check out their blogs and guide – the latest “south Devon loves dogs” guide is very good for example. One full time marketing person generating content could push that content out to all businesses for them to share to their own audiences on whatever platforms they have. That approach would reach a huge audience rather than the TIC trying to generate its own audience perhaps ?

  2. Good point Colin. The TIC could still coordinate a serious social media campaign using their subscribers to build a much bigger following. As you say a single person with the right knowledge could have a big impact.

    • Then how about the town council employing – marketing executive dedicated full time to the TIC as an apprentice and achieve multiple wins – the town council gets to satisfy its apprenticeship levy responsibilities, a local young person gets a job and training, and the TIC gets a tourism content generator and marketeer ? Link them to Visit South Devon / Visit Devon for training, get them to draw ideas from the NCTA etc etc – it’s really not that difficult !

  3. As one of the new directors of the Dartmouth Visitor Centre – formerly the TIC – I am very pleased to hear the various ideas of how we should be promoting the town. But can you please stop preaching to us in such a patronising way? You talk as if we are all naive idiots, without any previous business experience, and a complete lack of knowledge of the town, its residents, its visitors, its traders etc etc. If you care so much about the town why not give me a call, email me, or meet me for coffee so we can have a chat about your ideas? Why do you feel it necessary to write newspaper articles and continually bombast us with perceived failures of the past? We know that we have a very important job to do for the town, we don’t need to keep hearing that, thank you. A quiet word with an offer of the benefit of your knowledge would show me that you do have the town’s future at heart. Continuous drip-feeding the same old words in such a public manner only proves that you are doing it for self-aggrandizement. We have only been in charge of the business for five minutes and have already made plenty of improvements with plenty more being worked on. Please give us a bit of breathing space to allow these improvements to work.

    • Gina I would love the opportunity to discuss my ideas over a coffee with you. I have already made that offer to Karen before she joined the TIC. If I sound patronising it’s because I have been singing this song since 2012 when I first took the chair at the Dartmouth Business Forum and it has been very hard trying to find someone who is prepared to listen. My ideas have been developed over 15 years running our successful gallery in Dartmouth so I think they have proven value. I will email you privately to arrange a first meeting.

    • Well Gina, you seem to have proved that you have little knowledge of the town and it’s people and even less knowledge of modern marketing methods. My offer of help is still on the table although I suspect it will be ignored as before. I wish you would think of the town’s wishes more than your own!

      • Pardon? I really wish that I knew what you are talking about. Any chance of explaining your comment, please? And why, pray, have you regurgitated comments on here that were made some months ago? Do you really think that is helpful or clever?
        As I have said before, why not stop your negative and patronising comments about me and the visitor centre until we have had a chance to show what we can do? Instead of sitting here replying to your unhelpful and uninformed rhetoric I could be using the time to market the town!

        • My explanation is that in other comments on Facebook you have stated that you avoid social media if you can! My point is that social media is the vehicle of choice for destination marketeers so your aversion to it is, for me, a big negative. As for giving you time to show what you can do, the season is nearly over so it is a little late to “show us what you can do”. Your attitude towards Woofstock has also illustrated your failure to understand the nature of our visitor economy and the importance of new events like Woofstock. One of the objectives you have is to increase the number of events in the town by encouraging people like Harry Nesbitt to hold their highly successful events here. In fact I suggest you take a look at their social media campaign which played a large part in their success with 2000 tickets sold online. Their social media presence was significant and is an object lesson in how to raise the profile of a destination. My comments are not meant to be negative and patronising, but constructive and positive. I have strong views on how we must raise the profile of Dartmouth based on my own experience running a successful business here for 16 years, and with my son continueing that success I will keep fighting for the businesses and economy of my town despite your opposition.

  4. Thank you, Colin, for your suggestion of a marketing person for the Visitor Centre. Obviously, I agree that it would be wonderful to have the funds for a marketing executive who would have the experience and knowledge of tourism, presumably through a career in the tourist trade, that would be required for a person to walk in, hit the ground running, and do the job at the top level from day one. However, as you are aware, the Visitor Centre is not awash with cash at this time, neither could we expect the town council to spend money on employing someone to improve tourist numbers to the town, which is mainly for the benefit of businesses and the job of the Visitor Centre. True, residents do benefit in some ways from a more vibrant town but it is the bottom line of businesses that we are aiming to improve.
    I am at a loss to understand how you can see the importance of a ‘proper’ marketing person but you are suggesting that we give that vital job to a young person, presumably fresh from college, without work experience and who needs intensive training. The two are poles apart in my opinion.
    I am hoping that we can get some young people to volunteer in the Visitor Centre and perhaps we may get one or two that would like a career in tourism and we can take our time and train them properly, through an apprenticeship scheme, to progress into the marketing of the town. In the meantime, however, I hope that my fellow directors agree with me that we will continue to work alongside Visit South Devon and Discover Dartmouth, both of which are tourism marketing experts and don’t expect a salary from us!
    I would like to thank you again for your suggestion and may I confirm that I am not writing on behalf of the Visitor Centre or my fellow directors, but putting my own personal views.

    • The funding difficulties are constraining for sure so it is a prioritisation issue. My meaning of “proper” was perhaps more intended to indicate “dedicated” and “focused” on marketing really and I do think a young apprentice would be good. Hard to find the right one, but I believe in our young people perhaps more than your comments suggest you do, and with the right supervision, mentoring and support alongside them I believe such a person would be a great addition – and the suggestion is in fact intended to be a win-win-win for everyone. In this type of role, there is much really great content that can be used to learn from too so their inexperience could be built up fast with their enthusism.

      I’m also disappointed with the lack of interest in tourism by your comments. When you have a USP as a town it seems simply unbelievable to not make the most of it ! You really should look at what Torquay is doing – a massive focus on tourism. I would strongly suggest dartmouth finds a way to piggy back off that and their tourism BID since the dartmouth BID kneecapped itself. I would urge every single member of the town council (and businesses too) to read the NCTA (National Coastal Tourism Academy) work – done specifically to help towns like Dartmouth and is so rich with very high quality research into how to help coastal towns become more vibrant and sustainable for all that it would be foolish to not just grab it and integrate it into local strategies asap. It really is comprehensive and it has ALL the information the town needs to help prioritise and focus on a prosperous sustainable future local economy for all. https://coastaltourismacademy.co.uk it is because of some of these resources that I believe a junior role with a young enthusiastic apprentice who was capable of interpreting some of this kind of information would be a great and cost effective action. I do note that the town council strategy does actually include commitments to supporting the length of the tourist season and marketing Mayflower 400 – this could be how ! I also think the link to visitsouthdevon is good, but not sufficient alone. They don’t have funding either.

      Well worth a try. Believe in our young people and give it a go ! Take a paper to the council and show how you support our young people and tick an apprenticeship levy box too. Nothing to lose, lots to gain !

  5. Gina I see no reason why the council should not invest in marketing Dartmouth. It is not just the businesses who will benefit as a vibrant economy benefits everyone in the town. Plymouth council have ploughed £2.5 million into their Mayflower project, that is a pure marketing initiative. This is the point I have been trying to make all along about the town council not regarding themselves responsible for the economic success of the town. £350,000 spent on the guildhall would fund 5 years of marketing at the highest level. I’ll be in touch soon.

    • Paul. Please look at Plymouth’s budget, then look at ours, and then scale the figures down and you will probably find that Dartmouth, pound for pound of income, is doing at least the same, if not more, for M400. The council has budgeted up to £40,000 for M400 and has already given something like £15,000. If that isn’t investing in marketing Dartmouth then I don’t know what is!
      I think that the Guildhall refurbishment has already been explained to you, but basically, the place was falling down. It needed urgent treatment for damp and to stop the roof and some fenestration leaking. It needed to comply with disability access laws so a lift was essential. These were the high priority problems. A study was done by council members to look into the prospect of selling the building and relocating the council chamber and offices but the estimated property value wasn’t as high as some believed it would be. Once the decision was made to retain the building and market it as a venue for weddings, parties, exhibitions etc etc etc, other refurbishment was required. New toilets, a new catering kitchen and repairs to the council chamber – which had a big hole in the ceiling where water had come through – were vital.
      We now have a lovely building that we are proud to offer for so many different functions and this will bring in an income stream that wasn’t there before. We are also in the position of owning premises where the council can meet and conduct its business so we don’t have to pay rent – at Dartmouth’s shockingly high rents – for eternity, or until the then council decides that it would be more prudent to buy its own premises and save the rent!!
      What we don’t have is a building that, without the repairs that former councils decided to ignore, was on its way to being beyond repair.
      Do you still seriously maintain that the town should have spent the cash on a marketing manager at £70,000 a year?

  6. Colin, I am disappointed that you are disappointed by my comments. I have reread my reply to you and cannot find anything that can remotely be attributed to a lack of interest in tourism. My computer desktop is littered with links to various tourism sites and I devour the NCTA newsletters and Resource Hub.
    If there is any kind of undertone to my comments it is probably my frustration that both you and Paul continue to assume that since I became a director of the Visitor Centre I have done absolutely nothing except attend a couple of directors’ meetings. Please be assured that nothing could be further from the truth. I am continually looking at ways to increase visitor nights in town and that there is no-one in Dartmouth that appreciates its USB more than me. Despite appearances, a great deal of work is going on to both make Dartmouth Visitor Centre both viable and a marketing force.
    If I didn’t believe in young people I wouldn’t have suggested that I am hoping to find a suitable apprentice. Hopefully, by the time that happens, we will have someone with time to train them! What I do firmly believe is that the marketing of Dartmouth cannot be left to someone, of any age, that has not had a firm grounding in business and sales. Visit South Devon is ideally placed to market the town now. If you Google anything to do with tourism for Dartmouth the Discover Dartmouth website is top of the list and it is full of information, things to do, places to visit etc. We even have a current Blog from Karen, the Visitor Centre manager. Stuff IS happening – we just aren’t sending reports to the Chronicle every week to say so.
    You mention the amazing marketing being done by Torquay so I Googled ‘hotels in Torquay’ and the list gave Trip Advisor, Booking.com and laterooms.com. at the top. The English Riviera website was fifth on the list so obviously not attracting as many clicks as we are!
    Hopefully, I have now allayed some of your concerns and you are happier that work is being done to market our beautiful town. My plea for you and Paul to allow us just a little more time to show the results of our hard work still stands. As always, I do appreciate your ideas and welcome them.
    BTW, have you seen the latest Coastal Tourism Monitor? As well as a pretty good report of both business improvement or same as previous year’s figures, it’s amazing how many businesses do not intend to do anything special to promote the next season. On the plus side, a great many are expecting as good as or better business performance for the next season. The statistic that sums up so much of what we are fighting against is that almost half of all businesses do not engage with any tourism organisation – that is what we are fighting against and what we have to rectify.

  7. The reason Gina Coles computer is littered up is because she does not know how to use one as yet I could go on and possibly will in the future on how Gina Coles as a Moderator on the Discover Dartmouth Facebook page could not find time to remove four letter words from comments left.

    • Mr Walker. Why, oh why, do you keep saying this? I told you a while ago, to your face, in person, in front of witnesses, that I was not aware, until you told me, that I am listed as a moderator of the website. I have NEVER posted on it because Karen, Sarah and Anna do it. I am not a fan of social media and keep away from it, but I did manage to post two Twitters recently, which I am quite proud of. I don’t have a clue what the comment regarding my computer being littered up and that I don’t know how to use one means so perhaps you could enlighten me? I wonder how you know that I am not computer literate? Did you ask your newspaper friends – I am sure that they told you that I managed to edit eight newspapers for six years, and sub-edit them for two years on top of that, and every day I designed pages using Quark Express. Also, I used to use Photoshop, I use Excel and Word all the time and, because I don’t have the professional software anymore I use Publisher to a high standard, so I think that my computer skills are adequate, thank you.
      I admit that my desktop does get a bit full – have you been into my office and looked at my computer while I was out?
      If you are going to continue this pathetic personal campaign against me can you at least find something to say that is actually true?

  8. My explanation is that in other comments on Facebook you have stated that you avoid social media if you can! My point is that social media is the vehicle of choice for destination marketeers so your aversion to it is, for me, a big negative. As for giving you time to show what you can do, the season is nearly over so it is a little late to “show us what you can do”. Your attitude towards Woofstock has also illustrated your failure to understand the nature of our visitor economy and the importance of new events like Woofstock. One of the objectives you have is to increase the number of events in the town by encouraging people like Harry Nesbitt to hold their highly successful events here. In fact I suggest you take a look at their social media campaign which played a large part in their success with 2000 tickets sold online. Their social media presence was significant and is an object lesson in how to raise the profile of a destination. My comments are not meant to be negative and patronising, but constructive and positive. I have strong views on how we must raise the profile of Dartmouth based on my own experience running a successful business here for 16 years, and with my son continuing that success I will keep fighting for the businesses and economy of my town despite your opposition.

  9. 1. We are a team – some of us do social media – very well – and some of us leave it alone.
    2. It is ridiculous to expect a full turnaround of a business in six months.
    3. I can’t comment on Woofstock, but read the papers again and try to find a comment that says I don’t want Woofstock in Dartmouth. – you won’t be able to!
    4. You have strong views and so do we – and ours seem to be working. Come to the council meeting in September and hear our quarterly report.
    5. Harry Nesbitt is a DOG.

  10. 1. Social media is a very visible method of marketing, so I can see how active the TIC is and it is not high enough. Please present your marketing strategy at Septembers council meeting
    2. Was it that bad?
    3. try this – In an email to the Chronicle, the mayor said: “The dog show was not supported by a majority of the council, not just Cllr Coles, when we were asked our opinion by South Hams [District Council]. Nevertheless South Hams permitted the show and by all accounts it was a great success.”
    4. I shall be there in September and I hope many other businesses will attend.
    5. Yes I know, great is’nt it!

  11. 1. You cannot tell how much reaction is obtained by one post on social media – we may get one booking, we may get 100 from one post. You can check the output – but not the results.
    2. You know exactly what the situation was.
    3. This is not a comment from me saying I don’t want Woofstock in Dartmouth. It is a generalisation of the council’s opinion on having Woofstock ON CORONATION PARK.
    4. Great.
    5. My point was that you said ‘people like Harry Nesbit’ and I was pointing out that he is not a person. Normally, a dog could not, on his own, organise a dog show. If Harry Nesbitt can, completely on his own, then that would really be a great event to have in Dartmouth.

  12. The simplest thing would be for Gina Coles and the town council to invite WoofstockUK back to Coronation park. Not sure what is stopping this from happening apart from bloodymindedness.

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