BLOG: Welcome to the beating heart of Liverpool’s thriving economy.
Liverpool’s Tourist Information Centre (TIC) has been going for more than 40 years and it’s as important to the city as ever. Culture Liverpool’s Visitor Services Manager, Jackie Crawford, writes about why the team play such a vital part in Liverpool’s visitor experience and economy.
It really all comes back to the word ‘welcoming’ and what that really means to people. How can we best welcome visitors and provide them with the information they need? How can we stand apart from other destinations and really say something about the city of Liverpool itself? We believe that the answer is through a friendly face-face service, which can quickly adapt to their individual needs. Some things you simply cannot get from an online blog.
For example, we had a French guy in the other day. He wanted to hire a bike, visit a typical English garden, enjoy afternoon tea, create some pottery and go to a comedy club. We were able to put together an itinerary just for him, including travel advice and give him guidance on the best British Gardens across the city region. People often think that we simply serve the city of Liverpool, but we actually serve the wider region as well.
The gentleman also wanted to travel to Southport and then on to the Lake District, so we put him on the right bus and put him in touch with the Lake District TIC. Another woman from Canada left her bag on the airport bus and we were able to track it down and get it back to her through our industry connections, now second to none.
This kind of unique request happens by the minute in our busy TIC and the knowledge and connections we offer can only be conveyed in person because a real, genuine welcome is almost always a conversation with the visitor and it’s only by talking to people that you can really find out what they need or how you can help them.
As a TIC we have significant convening power. Through our connections, we can bring visitor economy organisations together and we can help to create packages based on what we know visitors are asking for because we’ve witnessed it first-hand. Visitors trust us because they know we can get them good deals. Ones that are much more competitively priced than many other places out there. Which is something we pride ourselves on.
We’re always impartial. We would never say one tour is better than another or one attraction more fun than another. Nevertheless, through a few simple enquiries, we are confident that we can design personalised itineraries, tailored to that visitor, helping them to make the most of Liverpool City Region, within the timeframe and budget they have.
Some people think we just hand out maps but we actually do an awful lot for Liverpool’s visitor economy. A lot more than most people know. That’s actually a common misconception about TICs; that they’re run by little old ladies, giving out maps all day. But we’re a lot more proactive than that. Even that one simple thing of giving out a map can be a bigger job than people might initially realise.
We take the maps to where they’re needed and set up ‘pop-up’ centres for special events. All in all, we give out around 600,000 maps a year and that’s just one very small part of the work.
Developing revenue streams is really important to us and our survival and, along with attraction ticket sales, merchandise is one of the key ways we do this. We’ve created official merchandise for all of our city’s major events for the past 40 years. We also sell officially licenced products, specifically designed for the tourist market featuring ‘The Beatles’ that always sell very well.
We can also work directly with our attractions and accommodation venues to help create merchandise for them and sell it wholesale, using our connections to get them great deals and supply them with bespoke merchandise or the same merchandise that we sell here in the centre.
And it’s also about working with business or start-ups and helping make important introductions. We see opportunities and work to develop mutually beneficial business relationships, which aid the sector and lead to new successes.
For example, through Liverpool TIC’s regular Visitor Economy Stakeholder Meeting, which I chair, we discovered that Hope Street Hotel has a beautiful cinema room in their hotel, which they felt was underused. We were able to put them in touch with Real Tours, which offers film tours of Liverpool and the room is now part of their tour, offering a fantastic location to screen movies for visitors. So you see, it’s about having that deeper knowledge and overarching view of the sector and how it can work together to support each other.
We also love to help young people break into the industry by offering placements and training. There’s so much potential to build a lasting a rewarding career in the travel and tourism sector. It’s a sector filled with CEOs who started at the bottom and worked their way up, perhaps more so than any other sector.
Recently, Joe, a young man, who was part of the city council’s ‘Steps to Work’ scheme, joined us for a placement. He was extremely shy but he came to work with us at our pop-up TIC at Liverpool Cruise Terminal and he was fascinated by the work of the TIC team and how they interacted with visitors. By the end of the placement, his confidence had grown so much. He really came out of his shell and would confidently approach people and start a conversation with them. A huge leap, because even eye contact was a struggle for him at first. That’s the thing about this industry. It makes people realise their true potential.
Liverpool TIC can offer a great experience for young people seeking a placement because we’re not just an attraction or a bar or a hotel. We have to know about everything in the city. We have to keep up to date with the bigger picture across the region and across sectors too.
On a daily basis, Liverpool’s Tourist Information Centre presents a bastion of knowledge on Liverpool City Region as a visitor destination. One that easily rivals even the most thoroughly researched website or blog. It also gives visitors something uniquely ‘Liverpool’ and that’s a personal touch – something that can make the world of difference in the highly-competitive travel and tourism sector.
With no big-budget, splashy campaigns or substantial funding, Liverpool’s Tourist Information Centre has quietly, yet tirelessly played a critical role in the success of every major event Liverpool has witnessed in recent memory, including; the Three Queens, the LFC Parades, the annual River Festivals and Eurovision 2023, to name but a few. Our often taken-for-granted TIC is much more than simply a shop, giving out leaflets and travel advice. It’s the living, breathing nerve centre of our visitor economy and it should be cherished.