Kelso’s VisitScotland tourist information centre is one of almost 40 being closed nationwide.
The centre, within Kelso Town Hall, is to be shut at the end of the month as part of a move by the tourism agency to offer more information online rather than face to face.
VisitScotland cites a 58% drop in footfall to at its information centres over the past 12 years and the fact that two-thirds of visitors now access information online as its reason for that shift, said to be part of a two-year restructuring strategy.
Peebles and Jedburgh’s tourist information centres have escaped that cull, and one of them is now in line to become one of 26 regional hubs for the organisation.
A VisitScotland spokesperson said: “For the Scottish Borders, the decision regarding the location of the regional hub in the area will be made in consultation with the local tourism industry and stakeholders over the coming months.
“In the meantime, iCentres in Jedburgh and Peebles will continue to operate as normal.
“The two centres will be supported by over 81 VisitScotland information partners in the region, including Abbotsford, the home of Walter Scott; Floors Castle at Kelso; Melrose Abbey; and Johnstons of Elgin in Hawick, providing inspirational local knowledge to the 297,000 people that visit the Scottish Borders every year.
“The VisitScotland iCentre at Kelso will close permanently at the end of October 2017.
“Information provision will continue through partnership arrangements with local visitor attractions, businesses, tourism groups and local tourism groups.”
Hawick’s tourist information centre, in Kirkstile, is also remaining open, but it will change hands and will be run by Live Borders in future.
Further takeovers of VisitScotland tourist information centres by Live Borders are expected to follow.
“In Hawick, the current iCentre at Heart of Hawick will change hands from VisitScotland to Live Borders, who will continue to provide information and inspiration for visitors,” said the tourist board spokesperson.
“This is the first announcement of what could prove to be a key partnership between VisitScotland and Live Borders.
“Discussions are ongoing to identify other locations where information provision is sought out by visitors in public buildings such as libraries and museums.
“Additional announcements with more locations across the Live Borders estate will follow in the near future.”
Voluntary redundancy packages or redeployment will be offered to staff affected by the changes.
The VisitScotland spokesperson added: “The new information strategy allows the national tourism organisation to deliver information in the right way at the right time to the 15 million visitors Scotland welcomes every year.
“Around £10m is being invested by VisitScotland each year in digital activity and enhanced information services for visitors including investment in the 26 high-impact regional travel hubs.
“The remaining high-impact 26 travel hubs will operate in locations of greatest visitor demand, providing a cutting-edge experience and information about attractions and accommodation to not only the immediate locale but the wider region as a whole.
“In addition, VisitScotland has recruited over 1500 VisitScotland information partners nationally to ensure there is an information touchpoint in every single corner of the country.
“From distilleries to bed-and-breakfasts, social enterprises to bakeries, local businesses will be working with the tourism organisation to guarantee that visitors are equipped with the best local knowledge about things to experience in every region.”
VisitScotland regional director Paula Ward said: “The way visitors access information has changed significantly over the past decade.
“It’s time to switch our focus and investment into new and diverse initiatives to ensure we are reaching as many visitors to the Scottish Borders as possible with the information they want, in the way they want it, when they want it.
“With three in four adults now owning a smartphone, a key focus is ensuring our digital communications provide succinct inspirational and informational advice to visitors at every stage of their journey.
“However, we know that speaking to locals is also important to our visitors, and with our 26 high-impact travel hubs located throughout the country, more than 80 local information partners locally and our team of outreach staff travelling around the region throughout the year, it means that there is always advice on what to see and do and where to go wherever people are.
“The information revolution is upon us, and we look forward to telling more and more visitors all about the Scottish Borders across all our different channels for many years to come.”
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale MP David Mundell has welcomed the news that VisitScotland’s Peebles iCentre, in High Street, is to remain open.
“It is extremely welcome news that Visit Scotland has decided to keep the Peebles centre open,” said Mr Mundell, also Scottish Secretary.
“This will help protect jobs and continue to boost tourism, which is so vital for this region.
“With areas like Tweeddale, including Peebles, still having many issues surrounding connectivity, it is absolutely crucial, centres like this remain open.
“Many people still like face-to-face contact upon arriving in an area, and they will be getting a first-class service in Peebles from those who work there.
“I hope that the Peebles site can be considered going forward in the consultation for a new Borders regional hub, which would be a major boost for the local economy.”
Fellow Conservative politicians Rachael Hamilton, MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire and shadow secretary for culture and tourism at Holyrood, and John Lamont, MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, have voiced concerns, however.
Mrs Hamilton said: “The proposed closure of local offices will cause uncertainty amongst VisitScotland employees right across Scotland.
“Cutting the number of visitor information hubs comes at a risk.
“There’s nothing better than gaining local knowledge from a local person.
‘Tourists will need to be assured of an efficient rollout and an alternative signposting method to ensure visitors know where the Borders’ hidden gems and attractions are.
“Relying on digital technology for visitor information is not reliable, particularly in rural not-spots like the Borders, and this remains a huge issue.
“There is now real pressure on the Scottish Government to get broadband up to speed in the Borders so the local tourism industry isn’t adversely impacted on.
“I hope VisitScotland has carefully considered the impact on tourists and local businesses.”
Mr Lamont said: “People are accessing information differently these days, so it’s quite right that VisitScotland are looking to modernise their information provision.
“However, it’s disappointing to hear that the centre in Kelso looks set to close.
“Having a physical presence and someone with local knowledge to speak to directly is still worthwhile and adds to the visitors’ experience.
“To lose so many centres at once risks setting our tourism sector back. “I’ll be looking closely at the details of this proposal.
“We need to be doing more, not less, to promote the Borders as the fantastic destination it is.”
Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, Scottish Borders Council’s executive member for business and economic development, added: “I am keen to see that the new approach by VisitScotland will bring more partners on board across the Scottish Borders so that more information than before is available to more visitors at an increasing number of outlets.
“I welcome the investment and particularly look forward to seeing VisitScotland create more partnerships with Live Borders, Historic Environment Scotland and more of the many fine attractions and tourism operators that we have in the Borders.
“With an increased number of partnerships, I’m confident that the new approach will ensure that visitors will continue to be able to access high-quality visitor information on the Borders’ many fabulous attractions, scenery and businesses.”