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Alex Holmes of Hidden Britain

Visitors enjoy Marlborough, but can’t find the Tourist Information Centre and are turned off by the loos

Marlborough is a clean and tidy town with an excellent range of shops offering outstanding customer service. But it is congested, the toilets are lousy, the parking policy is confusing, and signs to the tourist information centre lead nowhere.

Those were the findings of a ‘mystery visitor’ from Hidden Britain, which were presented to a meeting of businesspeople in Marlborough’s Town Hall on Tuesday.

Alex Holmes of Hidden Britain, the charity that helps communities to promote themselves to tourists, explained that the ‘mystery visitor’ was a member of the Hidden Britain team who was visiting the town for the first time, and viewing its offering as a tourist – albeit a very picky one.

“Marlborough scored very well, with 75.5 percent against a national average of 73.5 percent,” said Alex. 

Marlborough scored highly for:

  • Appearance – it was generally clean and tidy
  • Shopping – an excellent range of shops
  • Accessible – everything was within walking distance
  • Service – a great welcome, and good customer service
  • Internet – excellent mobile coverage and free public wi-fi
  • Parking – car parks were easy to find and well maintained. 

But some aspects let it down:

  • Signage – inconsistent or absent
  • Toilets – poor
  • Information – generally lacking. The ‘mystery visitor’ was particularly mystified by the ‘phantom tourist information centre’ which he could not find despite following the signs (editor’s note – there isn’t one).
  • Parking charges – the town has a confusing parking policy. In The Parade, visitors can park free for two hours. In the long stay car parks, the per-hour rate is more expensive the longer a visitor stays.
  • Congestion – traffic flowed slowly in the central area
  • Litter – cigarette butts detracted from the overall look and feel of the town.

Hidden Britain also conducted an online audit of Marlborough, which found the town was well-served by large number of websites portraying a strong and positive message about the town, not least the Marlborough College website, which boasted that the public school was ‘situated in one of the most attractive market towns in the country’.

However, the audit found that there was no clear ‘destination website’. There were no downloadable tourist guides – either to paper or mobile device. And that there were limited opportunities to interact and engage with tourism providers and promoters online. The town scored 0/20 for its use of social media.

The tourism forum was organised by Marlborough Council, Hidden Britain and Visit Wiltshire, and attended by around 40 business people with an interest in the sector, including retailers, coffee shop owners, and the proprietors of B&Bs. 

During the public forum, a number of ideas were discussed, including a team of volunteers to meet and greet coach parties, tourism leaflet stands in shops and public buildings, the creation of a trail leaflet and a Marlborough App for mobile devices, and the establishment of a Tourism Development Group co-ordinated by the Marlborough Area Development Trust.

And, predictably, a show of hands confirmed that the majority would prefer to see a dedicated tourism information centre.

Town clerk Shelley Parker said: “The Town Council will continue to work with Visit Wiltshire and Hidden Britain on taking some of these ideas forward with local business.”