Cornwall tourism bosses under fire over 'outrageous' empty stand at expo
Tourism bosses in Cornwall have been criticised for leaving a promotional stand unmanned at a key trade show on St Piran's Day.
The embarrassing revelation comes as the council agency which oversees the industry is accused of favouring big business at the expense of small operators through its marketing strategy.
Visit Cornwall, part of the council's arm's length Cornwall Development Company, said reduced staffing meant no-one could be spared at the first day of the ExpoWest show at Wadebridge.
One visitor who contacted the Western Morning News said the promotional space would have cost £750 and described the absence as "outrageous" and "typical".
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Visit Cornwall said it had been given the stand for free but said a lack of staff was "the price you pay" for cuts. This left the Duchy represented by a forlorn stall bearing a small printed note of apology, which simply said staff would be back the next day.
Yesterday, the simmering row over Tourist Information Centres (TIC) boiled over.
TICs are now privately run, with some council help, but the already reduced budget of £180,000 for the entire county is expected to be cut even further in the coming weeks.
Ahead of this, a letter was sent to councillors attacking the decision to focus on digital marketing for "just 10% of tourism businesses", targeting new visitors only.
Tina Evans, chairman of the Padstow Area Tourism Business Forum, which runs the town's TIC, said the decision was "ill-conceived and misguided".
She said the decision had been made "without any consultation with the small businesses" who do not have one single representative to champion their cause.
"These small businesses are absolutely vital to tourism in Cornwall but cannot afford the expensive Visit Cornwall membership fees or the huge cost of advertising in the annual Cornwall guide.
"They rely on the TICs for their support with marketing and promotion.
"Continued financial support is vital for the TICs to continue this work."
Malcolm Bell, head of Visit Cornwall, said it sought to capture the "elusive" first-time customers, who were 80 or 90% likely to return, which was key in austere times.
He said the marketing sold "the concept" of Cornwall then left people to decide where to visit, in the same way car makers such as Honda or BMW.
"They do the inspiration then leave it to the dealers to sell the cars," he added.
"No decision has been made on funding TICs this year – I have spoken of material reductions but that is not necessarily the case."