It is not easy to be a tourist in our Town, in fact it initially requires a huge leap of faith to come to visit in the first instance, and even more to actually get into the town centre.
Let us start with the train station. It may surprise you but you cannot get a bus to the town centre from the bus rank outside the station.
You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, although you can get to Wivenhoe on numerous buses, which is great for the university but not so for a visitor to the historic centre.
If you ever get a chance, sit by the bus rank and watch people for 30 minutes or so, and also the behaviour of the bus drivers.
This can be summed up with the regular site of a hand written notice placed in windows of stationary buses stating ‘We don’t go to the town centre’
Can you imagine that the demand for this and countless questions that has pushed many a bus driver to the point to do this?
I guess the first biggest opportunity would be a shuttle bus from the Station to Town Centre and back again.
*To increase customer sentiment first impressions count, and creating a great first impression enhances the customers intention to recommend to a friend or family Colchester as a destination
Another interesting idea is what they do between Cardiff Bay and Cardiff Town centre, they have an overground train which continuously shuttles back and forth all day with single journeys for £1.90. We could actually do this from platform 5 at North Station.
The current price to do this is £2.40 per single journey, and is woefully under promoted and also not many travellers realise that if you purchase an All Stations ticket that this could be used to go to the Colchester Town Station.
Our transport system is a great opportunity to promote our town, and something that Cardiff does well is use bus stops very effectively.
Being clear on locations and details of all attractions this way takes advantage of how we make decisions. I worked in Hotels for many years and one thing I learnt was that when you changed a poster for a food menu item in a lift, sales of that item increased around 11%. This is because lifts become a key place where we make decisions as we are captive to the surroundings.
Using bus stops in this way will create awareness.
And create the ultimate goal, a ‘Colchester Card’. This is not a new idea but there is a purpose to it with all retailers involved.
The example below is from Cardiff and costs £4, for a tourist its an opportunity to save money on key attractions and also put local businesses in mind for a residual purchase.
The card is available to purchase and hold virtually on your smart phone and is available to purchase at all tourist destinations. Amsterdam and Berlin have similar successful schemes which are well received by visitors.
This was brought about by having a detailed Destination Marketing Plan. Relationship marketing is very important with regards to loyalty and the retention of customers so it is a worthwhile investment.
However, this is all works when you have an anchor Tourist Information Centre.
Let us look at Colchester.
If you follow the signage, this is what you will find, not a great first impression but when you walk to the main entrance you soon find the location of the replacement.
I did joke earlier about the buses and the hand written notes concerning that buses do not go to the town centre, but the theme has been carried on.
So as per instruction ‘Look behind you’.
I did approach however it was clear that this was not the entrance, especially for the disabled so followed the arrow into Castle Park.
It was at this point that I noticed the information sign and noticed that it was not sign posted, but approached Castle Park anyway. I saw that the entrance is in the Park, so I followed the arrows.
To be fair, the Visitor Centre is in a beautiful building and really compliments our heritage. Having been in there quite a few times I can state that they do a wonderful job and the team are very warm and welcoming and a credit to our Town.
The Visitor Information Centre is a powerful thing as is a focal point for Tourism and Heritage. I would like to see additional hubs, with ones at the empty shop in Colchester North Station, Firstsite and Colchester Zoo.
However, going down the route of using Take One Media is not recommended. These are the stands which provide leaflets about tourist attractions, but not normally the ones in your area.
As a Hotel Manager in London they used to be the bane of my life these used to be full of leaflets to Edinburgh, Paris, Cotswolds and nothing on London, which really frustrated visitors.
In summary then, visitors should be able to find information about the town centre on bus stops then get a bus from the station to the town centre, once there to be able to find the Visitor Information Centre and all attractions and local business to promote Colchester by selling ‘Colchester Cards’.
A Destination Marketing Plan would cover all of these aspects and, in my eyes, Colchester still is the ancient capital of Britain.
P.S An urgent priority before the summer would be to de-brand the old Visitor Centre.
Scott Everest works as Special Projects Manager for a European based Hotel Group. His experience includes working for Pontins Holidays, CentreParcs, Disneyland Paris and Travelodge in various senior management positions across the UK. He has also attended committee meetings and briefings for the 2012 Olympic committee, and Government Department for Culture and Sport for hospitality representing the budget hotel chains. He has also consulted for Norfolk County Council and Blackpool Fylde Council in aspects of Leisure and inbound Tourism.