New ideas for visitors?

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Mermaid Street - by day or night guaranteed to captivate visitors - but there is more to the town than just postcard-pretty streets

This week’s Rip Off Britain: Holidays on BBC1 on January 16, led off on a local holiday camp, Pontins at Camber Sands, which has featured before in newspaper stories about complaining holidaymakers.

The cleanliness of the site as a whole, as well as the individual chalets, was a major issue, as was customer service, getting repairs done, whether the swimming pool could be used (on the hottest day of the year), and whether the shop stocked anything.

And similar complaints were featured from Pontins’ other holiday camps around the UK. But the customers keep on coming (often by train and with a long wait for a bus).

However Rye has other visitors and these were discussed by Rye Town Council (RTC) on Monday in a private session because the discussion was based around a very lengthy, and currently private, report on the RTC’s Heritage Centre on Strand Quay and its role in Rye.

I was not present (as a councillor) because I’ve been ill but I’ve read the report, and I hope a shortened version will in due course be widely read around the town.

We are very dependant on our visitors; we no longer have a tourist information centre (TIC) due to government cuts, and the Heritage Centre is the closest thing we now have to a TIC.

But could we do more (or do better, or do things differently) to attract visitors? This RTC report should start a debate around those issues.

As always people want to do their own thing, but now we are in an online world it is easier to join things up and link them to each other – and we may, as a result, discover we may have new audiences for our offerings and new markets for our products.

When I was paid to be a travel writer (not always a bed of roses unless you like visiting Benidorm regularly) I liked looking for the unpublicised local events which the reps knew nothing about (ie they didn’t get commission) but which were part of local life – and visitors often never knew about.

And I suspect we could do more about promoting Rye, and everything that goes on here to our visitors, and I hope this Town Hall report gets more widely discussed and developed over coming months – and even years.

One small example that struck me was how the Arts Festival used to run wartime walks about Rye’s part in the second world war and, while for some of us this is about “memories”, for many visitors this is about little-known recent 20th-century aerial battles which featured Rye.

The town is smugglers, ghosts, Martello towers and historic buildings – but it is also the Battle of Britain, doodlebugs and a first world war airstrip – and perhaps we need (as a town) to upgrade, extend and smarten up our visitor offering and our marketing with RTC and the Heritage Centre taking a lead.

If not, could we end up like Pontins?

Image Credits: Rye News library.

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