Early briefing sought over future of visitor centres

The number of people visiting the region’s five VisitScotland information centres (VICs) has fallen by nearly 10,000 in a single year.

In 2014/15, the total footfall at the outlets – in Jedburgh, Hawick and Peebles which are open all year round and in Melrose and Kelso which operate seasonally – was 95,584, compared to 105,342 the previous year.

Accommodation bookings made at the centres over the same period were down by a third – from 421 to 311.

The figures reflect a downward demand for the facilities which, five years ago, attracted more than 120,000 visitors and took 738 over-the-counter bookings.

The future of the local network – to which Scottish Borders Council contributes an annual £61,000 – is due to be decided in the new year, following a major review by the national tourism agency.

A report to SBC’s executive on Tuesday acknowledged that, while VIC business had fallen, there had been a “significant” increase in website visits and online booking to the benefit of businesses.

“We have to bow to the inevitable with regards to how people now access tourism information,” said Councillor Stuart Bell, executive member for economic development, who chaired the meeting.

“However, we need to ensure we are fully consulted on any changes this review may throw up.”

To that end, the executive agreed that senior managers from VisitScotland should brief all councillors on the implications and progress of the review.

“I will be pressing for this briefing to take place next month, so we don’t end up being tail-end Charlies,” said Mr Bell.

However, the report from chief economic development officer Brian McGrath conceded: “It is likely changes will be made to the delivery of visitor information in the Borders.”

A spokesperson for VisitScotland said: “The way visitors access information about Scotland has changed dramatically … we need to ensure we respond quickly to those changes.”

Mr McGrath had earlier highlighted that “interactive screens” already installed in Kelso and at the Galashiels Transport Interchange, would be available in Tweedbank, Melrose, Hawick, Abbotsford and Stow by next spring.