This morning I called in to one of our charity shops and was browsing the books when I overheard an American voice asking a question. I heard the assistant reply “You’ll need to go into Derby for that”. When the customer expressed surprise the response was “Oh yes, we have hardly anything here”. As the guy was leaving I asked him what he was looking for and he said he wanted a launderette!
I led him to the bottom of the market square and showed him the one at the top. He then asked where he could get a newspaper to read while he waited and then his wife arrived. They asked about the change required for the machines and then asked where the market was. I asked where they were staying and they replied that they were between Buxton and Ashbourne and had called in by chance to try and get their errands done. They were heading to Chatsworth tomorrow and looking forward to it.
We have to get much better at welcoming people to the town. This is not the fault of the assistant in the charity shop if they are not residents in the town but its the second time I have found people essentially telling visitors to the town to go elsewhere. At the very least lets not talk Ashbourne down and at best lets try and sell the town to them.
Belper have a system of town Ambassadors. Shops display a badge which indicates they have someone trained on the premises who can point people in the right direction. This not only invites people to go in to their store but also ensures they stand a chance of maximising their visit and getting what they need.
If we don’t concentrate on keeping visitors in the town through apathy, ignorance or xenophobia we only have ourselves to blame. It takes so little to put this right. This should be self-financing because there should be no requirement for the ambassadors to pay to be trained and the return from parking fees should easily outstrip the cost of training, badges and stickers.
An hour later I saw the gentleman’s wife with bags of shopping which she’d done while waiting for their laundry to finish. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a coffee and called in at the Tourist Information Centre for some other ideas while they were here.