Woolacombe Tourist Information Centre has been in its’ current location since it opened in March 1999 by local MP at the time, Nick Harvey, it is situated in a prime spot, looking down the length of the award-winning beach, all the way to Putsborough.
Tourism has played a big part in Woolacombe and Mortehoe’s history and there has been active promotion of our beautiful coastline for many years. We have brochures dating back to the early 60’s, and no doubt they were in existence before then too, bearing in mind that the introduction of the railway from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe in 1847 saw the birth of tourism here. The Woolacombe Bay Hotel was built in 1887, and many more guesthouses and shops followed in the early 1900’s. Things have changed over the years, with the changing demands of visitors, and now the number of apartments far outweigh the serviced accommodation options, although there are still some lovely B&B and Hotels on offer.
The first information service started, we believe, in the 1960’s, when The Red Barn had a dedicated staff member and phone line to assist visitors in finding accommodation.
A more official TIC started up sometime in the 1970’s, initially housed in the foyer of Hall 70 (now known as Woolacombe Village Hall) and later, back to The Red Barn in a temporary building in the car park. This was run by the Woolacombe & Mortehoe Publicity Association. In 1998, the Woolacombe & Mortehoe Tourism Association was formed, and the new building, to be shared with Mortehoe Parish Council, was purpose built. Funding for the new centre came from grants from the EU, Rural Development Commission, North Devon District Council, and Mortehoe Parish Council, as well as the Publicity Association, Chamber of Commerce, Parkin Estates and Lancaster Holdings, who all recognised the importance of promoting the area and having an Information Centre.
The way in which Tourist Information Centres are run has changed dramatically. From receiving funding to run the centres, including everything from staff uniforms and the annual ‘tool kit’ (a wide selection of reference books, including enormous train and coach timetables!), these days there is no funding to be had, and we have to operate as a business to meet our overheads … a bit of a conundrum when people (both visitors and some businesses) still expect us to offer an information service for free.
If you call in and see us, you’ll see that we now provide lots of other services that complement the free information and extensive local knowledge on offer – everything from boat trip tickets, discounted attraction admission, Tramper and Beach Wheelchair hire, accommodation booking service, parking permits, buckets & spades, ice-creams, gifts, souvenirs, local crafts, postcards … a one-stop shop for all your holiday essentials … and all crucial in keeping the TIC open!
We are also very fortunate to have some 130 businesses who recognise the need for a Tourist Information Centre, and subscribe as members to generate much needed income for the TIC. In return, we not only promote their business, but the area as a whole. The internet and social media have wiped out the need for a holiday guide, although we do still produce an information pack that we will gladly send out to enquirers.
We spend many hours each week working ‘behind the scenes’ updating the content of the website, especially events and special offers, as well as posting frequently on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
We live and work in such a beautiful area. It is easy to post images and information about Woolacombe, Mortehoe and the surrounding areas.
In 2016, we strengthened our links with the National Trust, as they became partnered with us, and helped fund a partial refurbishment of the TIC. We continue to work closely with the Trust, hosting their annual Cadbury Easter Trail, selling Memberships and Gifts, and promoting their events and conservation work through the TIC.
In 2018/19 we were proud to be Silver Winners in the ‘Visitor Information Service of The Year’ Category in both the Devon Tourism Awards and South West Tourism Awards – we strive for excellent customer service and it is a pleasure to promote our beautiful corner of North Devon!
Unlike my husband, I am not a true Devonian, however, I have lived in North Devon since I was 5; first in Shirwell, then Lee and Ilfracombe before finally settling on my husbands’ dairy farm in Woolacombe in 1998. I have worked at Woolacombe Tourist Information Centre for 17 years now – before that I was the Manager at Ilfracombe TIC, and was involved with the move from the old premises down near Capstone in to the then brand new Landmark Theatre in the mid-nineties.
I left there in 1998 when my eldest son was born … when he was 18 months old, I was keen to find a part-time job and was delighted to find that Woolacombe TIC needed an information assistant. And so it began! I remain working here part-time as with 3 sons and various other projects on the go, including my own holiday lets and campsite on our dairy farm life is pretty hectic!
It is quite a challenge to get everything done but I am lucky to have a very small but amazing team of 2 other part-time staff – Bev has been here for years too, so is an expert in all things local and a great sales-woman, and Sue, who joined us 3 years ago has previous TIC experience and great local knowledge. The job itself is great … not only do we have the best view of the beach, we meet lots of (mostly!) lovely people … it is easy to spend the whole day talking about a place that you love! There are plenty of challenges, mostly in generating income to sustain the TIC … trying to encourage local businesses to support us is difficult but many are very supportive and see the benefits of having a Tourist Information Centre, not just in helping visitors when they are here, but also to promote the area, and encourage people to choose Woolacombe & Mortehoe as their holiday destination. Unfortunately we are often the first port of call for complaints … not that we get many, but if the parking meters are broken, the car parks are full, the bank’s closed down, or even if it’s raining, we often take the blame! We also seem to attract lost property, including anything from phones, wallets, clothing to dogs and even people!! One aspect of my job that I love is selecting stock! Sourcing gifts, souvenirs and local crafts is great fun … shopping on a big scale … and vital for keeping the TIC sustainable. I often wish we had more retail space as there are so many lovely things out there. We’ve introduced lots of new services to the TIC over the past 3 years, including an All Terrain Mobility Scooter (with the National Trust), car parking permits, Charity Christmas Cards, the Woolacombe, Mortehoe and Lee Calendar (both on sale now!), the Woolacombe & Mortehoe village map, as well as setting up our partnership with the National Trust.