Being a marketing person, I tend to always think in terms of brands. In Culture Liverpool and Marketing Liverpool there are many – VistLiverpool, Invest Liverpool, Club Liverpool and Liverpool Convention Bureau – each of which champion Liverpool City Region in distinct and different ways.
But one of our most enduring and effective offers isn’t strictly a brand at all. It’s a service. One that has steadfastly welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to our city over more than 40 years, with little fanfare but great success – The humble but highly-regarded Liverpool Tourist Information Centre (TIC).
Expertly run by Culture Liverpool’s super-friendly and informal Visitor Services Manager, Jackie Crawford, with front-of-house support from her team members Chris Noon and Mark Mckenna and a small team of casual staff, Liverpool’s Visitor Services Team is a small but mighty one, with a big role to play in our visitor economy’s enduring success.
Marketing Liverpool recently sat down with Jackie to find out more about the Liverpool TIC offer and even we were surprised by how much great work our TIC does. “We can be a little unsung,” admits Jackie, “But we’ve been recognised nationally several times and our visitor welcome would not be what it is without us.”
Read on for more about Liverpool’s Tourist Information Centre and the important role it plays in our city region. It’s pretty impressive stuff. So, let’s do some singing, shall we?
Jackie, tell more about the work of the Visitor Services team and the Liverpool Tourist Information Centre.
“There are several strands to our offer but one of our most important is our personal B2C [business to consumer] service. Through the Liverpool TIC, we help many visitors and residents on a daily basis, telling them all about what’s going on in Liverpool, and offering advice and guidance on just about every visitor economy question imaginable.
“We’ve been around since the 1980s and we’ve moved location several times, always to reflect what’s new and happening in the city, going from Clayton Square to Royal Liverpool Albert Dock, to 08 Place on Whitechapel, St George’s Hall, BME, Liverpool Beatles Museum, Liverpool Central Library and finally here at Liverpool ONE, where we are now. We’ve seen many changes, both to the city and to consumer needs and we’ve adapted to them.
“Due to ongoing scarcity of funds, we now largely rely on support from partners across Liverpool City Region’s visitor economy sector and we’ve become very self-reliant, managing all aspects of running the centre, from commissioning merchandise, to developing pop-up centres and managing city welcomes. We also manage our own online marketing and social media, design and create our own officially licenced merchandise, sell tickets for tours and attractions, which offer excellent value for money and we also host a regular Visitor Economy Stakeholder Meeting that keeps us all informed and working together.”
You mentioned the personal service you offer to visitors. Why is this important to Liverpool?
“For us, it really all comes back to the word ‘welcoming’ and what that really means to people. How can we best welcome visitors and provide them with the information they need? How can we stand apart from other destinations and really say something about the city of Liverpool itself? We believe that the answer is through a friendly face-face service, which can quickly adapt to their individual needs. Some things you simply cannot get from an online blog.
“For example, we had a French guy in the other day. He wanted to hire a bike, visit a typical English garden, enjoy afternoon tea, create some pottery and go to a comedy club. We were able to put together an itinerary just for him, including travel advice and give him guidance on the best British Gardens across the city region. People often think that we simply serve the city of Liverpool, but we actually serve the wider region as well.
“The gentleman also wanted to travel to Southport and then on to the Lake District, so we put him on the right bus and put him in touch with the Lake District TIC. Another woman from Canada left her bag on the airport bus and we were able to track it down and get it back to her through our industry connections, now second to none.
“This kind of unique request happens by the minute in our busy TIC and the knowledge and connections we offer can only be conveyed in person because a real, genuine welcome is almost always a conversation with the visitor and it’s only by talking to people that you can really find out what they need or how you can help them.”
Tell me more about how the Liverpool TIC puts together packages and sells attraction tickets.
“As a TIC we have significant convening power. Through our connections, we can bring visitor economy organisations together and we can help to create packages based on what we know visitors are asking for because we’ve witnessed it first-hand. Visitors trust us because they know we can get them good deals. Ones that are much more competitively priced than many other places out there. Which is something we pride ourselves on.
“We’re always impartial. We would never say one tour is better than another or one attraction more fun than another. Nevertheless, through a few simple enquiries, we are confident that we can design personalised itineraries, tailored to that visitor, helping them to make the most of Liverpool City Region, within the timeframe and budget they have.”
So, it’s not just one size fits all or simply handing out maps?
“Not at all. We do an awful lot for Liverpool’s visitor economy. A lot more than most people know. That’s actually a common misconception about TICs; that they’re run by little old ladies, giving out maps all day. But we’re a lot more proactive than that. Even that one simple thing of giving out a map can be a bigger job than people might initially realise.
“We take the maps to where they’re needed and set up ‘pop-up’ centres for special events. All in all, we give out around 600,000 maps a year and that’s just one very small part of the work.”
I saw some of your new merchandise on your recent Twitter posts and it looked great. It’s actually what made me think of writing this feature. Tell me more about the goods you sell online and through the Liverpool TIC.
“Developing revenue streams is really important to us and our survival and, along with attraction ticket sales, merchandise is one of the key ways we do this. We’ve created official merchandise for all of our city’s major events for the past 40 years. We also sell officially licenced products, specifically designed for the tourist market featuring ‘The Beatles’ that always sell very well.
“We can also work directly with our attractions and accommodation venues to help create merchandise for them and sell it wholesale, using our connections to get them great deals and supply them with bespoke merchandise or the same merchandise that we sell here in the centre.”
How else do you work with Liverpool City Region’s visitor economy businesses?
“There are lots of ways, really. We support any new start-ups in the sector and help make introductions. We also see opportunities and work to develop mutually beneficial business relationships, which aid the sector and lead to new successes.
“For example, through Liverpool TIC’s regular Visitor Economy Stakeholder Meeting, which I chair, we discovered that Hope Street Hotel has a beautiful cinema room in their hotel, which they felt was underused. We were able to put them in touch with Real Tours, which offers film tours of Liverpool and the room is now part of their tour, offering a fantastic location to screen movies for visitors. So you see, it’s about having that deeper knowledge and overarching view of the sector and how it can work together to support each other.
“We also love to help young people break into the industry by offering placements and training. There’s so much potential to build a lasting a rewarding career in the travel and tourism sector. It’s a sector filled with CEOs who started at the bottom and worked their way up, perhaps more so than any other sector. Recently, Joe, a young man, who was part of the city council’s ‘Steps to Work’ scheme, joined us for a placement. He was extremely shy but he came to work with us at our pop-up TIC at Liverpool Cruise Terminal and he was fascinated by the work of the TIC team and how they interacted with visitors. By the end of the placement, his confidence had grown so much. He really came out of his shell and would confidently approach people and start a conversation with them. A huge leap, because even eye contact was a struggle for him at first. That’s the thing about this industry. It makes people realise their true potential.”
“Liverpool TIC can offer a great experience for young people seeking a placement because we’re not just an attraction or a bar or a hotel. We have to know about everything in the city. We have to keep up to date with the bigger picture across the region and across sectors too.
You mentioned ‘survival’ earlier. Is the current situation secure for Liverpool TIC? What would you want the future to look like for Visitor Services and Liverpool Tourist Information Centre, If you could just ‘wave a magic wand’?
“Nothing is certain for us. We’re not strictly an essential service like schools and hospitals and councils across Britain are facing huge cuts. There have been times in the past when it looked like Liverpool TIC may face closure but through the support of the industry and by being as lean as we possibly can, we’ve so far managed to continue to survive. In fact, I think it’s made us stronger and more competitive, as a business. We’ve gone on to win VisitEngland’s ‘Tourist Information Centre’ of the year twice. We’ve been runner-up twice and in 2018 we were bronze winners.
“In terms of the future, I’d love a stand-alone tourist office that has ample space for merchandise and literature, and a meeting space where visitors could meet, chat and read about Liverpool, like many UK cities have.
“I’d also love to get more involved in travel and tourism industry training. In a post-pandemic world, the sector is crying out for talented individuals to help drive it forward. This industry represents Liverpool’s biggest sector. Our role primarily is to welcome visitors to the city region and provide much-needed information but we’re also uniquely placed to champion, connect and propel the sector forever forward. In many ways, we’re the warm, welcoming face of the industry and visitors always want to see a friendly face.”
On a daily basis, Liverpool’s Tourist Information Centre presents a bastion of knowledge on Liverpool City Region as a visitor destination. One that easily rivals even the most thoroughly researched website or blog. It also gives visitors something uniquely ‘Liverpool’ and that’s a personal touch – something that can make the world of difference in the highly-competitive travel and tourism sector.
With no big-budget, splashy campaigns or substantial funding, Liverpool’s Tourist Information Centre has quietly, yet tirelessly played a critical role in the success of every major event Liverpool has witnessed in recent memory, including; Three Queens, The LFC Parade, the annual River Festivals and Eurovision 2023, to name but a few. Our often taken-for-granted TIC is much more than simply a shop, giving out leaflets and travel advice. It’s the living, breathing nerve centre of our visitor economy and it should be cherished.
Visit the Liverpool Tourist information centre in person:
5 Wall St
L1 8JQ (map)
If you represent a Liverpool City Region visitor economy business and you would like to take part in the Liverpool TIC’s regular stakeholder meeting or you are interested in their wholesale merchandise service please contact Jackie by emailing Jackie.Crawford@liverpool.gov.uk
[Top image caption: l-r: Visitor Services Supervisor, Chris Noon and Visitor Services Manager, Jackie Crawford from Culture Liverpool’s Visitor Services team]