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.
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.
Dartmouth Business News