STRATFORD’S key tourism and retail leaders say they’re shocked and dismayed at the decision by Stagecoach to end its City Sightseeing open top bus tours in the town this winter.
For a critical six months of the year – in terms of much needed income – visitors will no longer be able to tour historic properties on the easily recognised red buses from November to April.
The news comes as a body blow to businesses in the town at a time when everyone connected to travel, retail and specifically tourism are doing everything they can to support the local economy.
The domino effect is obvious to see; without the option for visitors to hop on and off the red double decker tourism bus at their own convenience, business leaders fear tourists will choose to go to places like Bath, Oxford, Windsor and London instead thus boycotting Stratford town centre all together.
For many years Stratford’s connection with Shakespeare has given it international status but that could all change on Sunday 4th November when City Sightseeing withdraws its winter service for the first time ever for over 15 years.
It will resume on Saturday 13th April 2019, but the decision has been described by Joe Baconnet Stratforward Bid director as “short sighted.” Dave Matthews of Magic Alley in Bell Court fears the decision is a “terrible shame, which effectively reduces Stratford to a second class tourist town.” Meanwhile sources at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – which could be worst affected by a possible loss in visitor trade on the busses – say they’re disappointed that at no stage were they or other organisations in the town consulted by Stagecoach.
Philippa Rawlinson, director of operations and marketing at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust said: “We are naturally disappointed that Stagecoach has taken the decision to withdraw its City Sightseeing service in Stratford for the winter months. We and our partners in Shakespeare’s England are seeking to build on Stratford’s attraction as a year-round destination with new winter programming and initiatives to encourage people to visit more often and linger longer. We are also taking every opportunity to press for improved transport links to strengthen the town’s appeal as one of the UK’s must-see destinations.”
While Mary Arden’s Farm is closed for the winter, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage remains open as do the other Birthplace Trust in Stratford, for thousands of winter visitors to the town the flexibility of the bus is an ideal way to visit historic attractions and enjoy some retail and food therapy as they stroll around.
Helen Peters, chief executive of Shakespeare’s England also things the decision is bad news for Stratford: “The biggest impact is likely to be on the Birthplace Trust and specifically the transport link and connection to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and more importantly, due to distance, Mary Arden’s Farm.
This is an example of why it becomes more important every year for tourism businesses in the region to support their DMO so that we can continue to promote Shakespeare’s England as a destination. In the same way that RSC and SBT already do. It becomes more competitive every year as UK Tourism in all regions of the UK ups its game. No longer can you rely on saying ‘they will always come to Stratford’ when there are so many other iconic places also offering a great experience.”
So why has Stagecoach pulled the plug on what appears to be a popular and convenient City Sightseeing service enjoyed by visitors not just in Stratford but all over the globe?
Chris Child, marketing manager of Stagecoach Midlands said: “Stagecoach Midlands has taken the decision to not run a winter tour this year. As most people will appreciate the number of people wanting to take an open top bus tour during the winter months is minimal and we are therefore not able to run a service economically when we don’t have the demand.”
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