End of manned tourism centre in Rother area?

9/1/14- Rye.  The Tourist Information Centre in Lion Street
9/1/14- Rye. The Tourist Information Centre in Lion Street

ROTHER could be left without a manned tourist information office next year.

Rother District Council looks set to slash its annual budget for the service from £65,000 to £30,000 - which will mean it cannot afford to maintain a face-to-face service.

In 2011 tourism in Battle was dealt a blow when the local authority announced plans for one ‘hub’ Tourist Information Centre in either Battle, Rye or Bexhill.

Despite Battle boasting one of the most important sites of historical significance in the country, Rother opted for Rye.

Smaller satellite offices were set up in Yesterdays World in Battle and the No 48 cafe in Devonshire Road, Bexhill, with dedicated phonelines linked to the hub centre in Lion Street.

But now the manned service in Rye may be at risk if Rother councillors vote to re-tender the tourist information service with the revised budget.

A decision on the future of the Tourist Information Centre is due to be made at a Rother District Council cabinet meeting on Monday.

In a risk assessment statement, Anthony Leonard, executive director of business operations at RDC, warned councillors that the authority would not be able to maintain a face-to-face service with a £30,000 budget.

He said: “Members should be aware that given the reduced budget level it will not be possible to maintain a face-to-face information service beyond March 2015.

“A restructured service is likely to be limited to maintaining the existing ‘satellite’ information points and leaflet points, possibly with some telephone and/or email cover; however this will largely depend on the bids coming forward.

“At the present time it is not possible to anticipate the likely level of operator interest.”

The Rye centre is currently run by Tourism South East (TSE).

Rother recently offered Rye Town Council the opportunity to take over responsibility of the tourist information hub.

But the council turned down the offer and criticised the centre.

The council already runs the successful Heritage Centre at Strand Quay.

Speaking at a recent council meeting, Heritage Centre manager Peter Cosstick said: “Financial performance data for Lion Street is one of the key things and none has been provided.

“Yet the tender document, when Tourism South East took over, clearly stated that this was required.

“They can offer no break down on costs or what is spent on postage.

“There is a huge question mark over the accuracy of reported footfall.

“They have one phone and yet they are responsible for Rye, Battle and Bexhill.

“The telephony system is not sophisticated enough to log abandoned calls and there is not even an ansa-phone system. People just get the engaged tone. It is pretty poor.

“The information we have had from them is virtually non-existent. It is pretty awful.”

When RDC first made the decision to downgrade Battle’s Tourist Information Centre, Dale Cromwell, vice president of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, branded it ‘a massive disappointment’.

He expressed fears the town could lose vital tourism revenue as a result of the move.

Speaking to the Observer this week, Dale said: “They just keep chopping the corners off again and again.

“It’s disappointing because we keep having to adapt to this.”

He added: “It’s good that there is still going to be some budget for it but it would be better if they had taken this decision a couple of years ago.

“It’s just a massive waste of everyone’s time.”

RDC’s contract with Tourism South East is due to come to an end in March 2015.