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Competition review victory for Oxford's Mad Hatter tour guide
IT has taken more than a year of complaints and campaigning.
But one man’s fight to change how tourism bosses promote tours in the city has paid off.
Oxford’s Mad Hatter tour guide Alasdair de Voil is celebrating after persuading Visit Oxfordshire to take another look at how it promotes independent tour operators in the city.
The tourism organisation, which charges companies up to £10,000 to be “partners”, has agreed to carry out a review.
It comes after Mr De Voil, who also runs the ILove Oxford walking tour, complained to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) about its policies.
He said tourist information staff in the city were only promoting tours run by the Guild of Guides, despite the fact that he pays almost £400 a year to be a “partner” of the group, which this year won £126,000 in city council funding.
Mr De Voil, 40, whose tours sell up to 20 £8 tickets a day during the summer and employ up to four people, said: “We have had people coming out of the visitors’ centre who say they have been told by staff that all the tours are booked up.
“When you go in or if you go on the website, you are told about the Guild of Guides tour but not about us.
“I pay the £390 copper-level membership fee, the minimum payment, but I don’t feel like I get much in return.”
Steward Holloway, 50, runs Oxford Walking Tours with two other guides, charging £9.50 for tours which include entry to the larger Oxford colleges. The group runs four tours a day for anything between five and 25 people.
He said: “I do agree with Alasdair that for a supposedly un-biased visitor centre to only promote one tour is wrong. I would subscribe if they changed the policy to promote all tours equally.”
Mr De Voil complained to the LGO last year and LGO investigator Victoria Miles asked them to review their policy.
She said: “My concern was that the agreement with the Guild of Guides confers an advantage without being transparent and could be seen to be unfair.
“It may be the case that other operators could provide the standard of quality required without being a member of the guild.”
Visit Oxfordshire director Giles Ingram confirmed the organisation had reviewed its policy, but would not confirm what changes would be made.
He said: “I have been in touch with many of them [tour operators] to explain that we did review our policy in July.
“We will be changing the policy and we will be in touch with the tour operators about those changes. I invite anyone interested to meet with me.”
He said the Guild of Guides did not subscribe to the partnership scheme, which launched in 2010 and has 140 members, but paid into the Visit Oxfordshire group with a share of its takings.
The scheme has a range of partnership packages, from a £115 “basic copper” up to a “diamond” rate, which costs £10,000.