It’s Good Friday, and thousands are in the centre of Nottingham soaking up the Spring sunshine, making the most of the holiday atmosphere in our wonderful shops, bars and restuarants. What’s not to like?
Well, for the two couples I spotted outside the city’s Tourist Information Centre, it’s more a case of what is to like, because as Easter (and arguably, the core visitor season) gets into full swing, the doors of the TIC are locked. As they will be on Easter Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday. You couldn’t make it up.
The first couple I meet are from Wales, and are studying the “Welcome to Nottingham” map. “You are here,” observes the man. “But where is here exactly?” Thanks to its medieval roots, Nottingham doesn’t have a convenient grid system of streets. Roads wind and merge into Old Market Square, where a few finger posts suggest routes to other attractions. But if you’re here on a Bank Holiday, the Information Centre remains closed. So why?
In days gone by, when Robin Hood wasn’t a dirty word, facilities were provided by the City Council. But some years ago both the city and county authorities put all of their tourism eggs into one basket, funding the much heralded visitor company Experience Nottinghamshire. It didn’t exactly start well. The firm controversially spent money developing a new logo, which became known as the “Wonky N”. This was soon dropped for another emblem, but not a mention of Robin Hood.
That was eight years ago. Today the City Council put £250k into Experience Nottingnamshire annually, with the county contributing just short of £120k. The company prides itself on bringing in visitors from outside the county, and beyond the UK. And you can’t fault glitzy marketing campaigns like this one seen on the London Underground.
So why, then, are those making the trip here met with locked doors on a holiday? There is simply no excuse. And another thing – the only attractions and accommodation you’ll ever see featured on EN’s website are those that pay a membership fee.
What’s more, Experience Nottinghamshire is itself getting a rebrand and expanding its remit as a “Place Marketing Organisation”. A council report suggests that our local authorities will pump in £1 million per year over the next three years. Along with tourism, the new company will be resposible for attracting conferences and exhibitions.
It saddens me as a resident and taxpayers that my home city – a place I dearly love – can’t seem to get the basics right on this one. The new, larger organisation will inevitably eat up more money. One of the greatest “triumphs” – according to an Experience Nottinghamshire document – was the “sold out” Ashes Test at Trent Bridge. Did we really need to spend half a million to achieve that? I think not.
It’s time to make things simple again. Robin Hood at the heart of everything, fewer noses in troughs, and a tourist information centre which is actually open when the tourists are here.