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New Visitor Information Centre opens

Jonathan Schofield on the re-sited, state-of-the-art touch button information nexus

Written by . Published on June 18th 2010.

New Visitor Information Centre opens

“Is there anywhere as advanced as this in the UK when it comes to giving visitor information?” I ask.

“No,” says Andrew Stokes, the chief executive of Marketing Manchester.

It’s a good answer, and leading everywhere else in the country is a good place to be.

The new centre, which opens to the public on Sunday 20 June, certainly looks completely different from the rack and brochure heavy tourist information centres of old. In fact it looks like an Apple store. This one is all about being totally twenty-first century, it's consciously cutting edge.

There’s even a cheeky reference to the nerd’s company of choice on the shirts worn by staff: iManc.

Sharon sports her iManc cheeky ID

The touch screen tables are the real nod to slick techno convenience. The name for these is Microsoft Surface Tables. To quote, ‘these are an innovative computing platform that responds to touch, natural hand gestures and real-world objects placed on a display’.

Magic tables

You can focus in on geographical areas, focus in on areas of activity such as food and drink, what’s on, hotels and so forth. The map will show you what’s taking place and where. You can open the info as you would on an iPhone and print it out nearby.

Here’s our demo video. In this Karen of the Visitor Centre amiably and comprehensively shows how to use the tables while my camera strap gets in the way.

Click to watch the video

I played about with a 'surface table' for a moment or two myself and all was well. In fact it was fun. Then I noticed one of the restaurants listed had closed two and half years ago, the Lotus Bar and Restaurant on King Street.

“The good thing is we can correct that really quickly by going into the backoffice and removing it,” said Stuart Aiken, of Marketing Manchester's New Media section, when I pointed this out. That speed of reaction is a fine thing but also highlights how necessary it is to get the information correct in the first place and to keep editing it. It’s a little lesson for the Visitors Centre.

Andrew Stokes, the boss of Marketing Manchester and a surprised lion

There’s another potential problem.

The location.

The previous centre was in the Town Hall Extension in St Peter’s Square with a big pedestrianised space outside. It had room to breathe. This one is under the concrete canopies of the Piccadilly Plaza complex on the corner of Parker Street and Portland Street. From the other side of the road you literally can’t see it for double-deckers passing by.

“There would be problems wherever you go,” says Stokes. “We’ve not gone into this site without careful research. We’ve had a project measuring various areas against each other, Exchange Square, Albert Square and so forth. We’ve had people monitoring visitor traffic.

“This is a very busy area for visitors and is located close to Piccadilly Station and the coach station. Plans are in place to move the local buses from outside -eventually - and to do something with the broad adjacent pavement on Portland Street. More events are coming into Piccadilly Gardens as well, and the Visitor Centre will work for those.”

“For extra visibility,” continues Stokes, “we’re going to run an electronic ticker tape around the canopy outside with information. This should help build identity - make it obvious where it is. We're convinced the Visitor Centre will get far heavier traffic than in St Peter’s Square. It will be more use for more people.”

View across the Visitor Information Centre

He’s undoubtedly right, footfall here must be ten times that of St Peter’s Square. But it will mean a very different clientele and probably a great deal of ‘which bus should I catch?’ type questions, rather than ‘which museums should I visit?’ The management might also want to get in some Diamond White, to sell with the other Manchester memorabilia. They'll make a killing at tea time around these parts.

Cheap shots aside, this is an exponential leap for on-the-ground delivery of visitor information in the city. Nor will it all be about the gizmos, which at some point break down. There will lots of smiling staff around to do the face-to-face thing too. The new Visitor Information Centre should combine the human touch with the electronic touch. Indeed, it will only work if this is the case.

Background info
The new Manchester Vistor Information Centre was paid for with £800,000 from Manchester City Council and the Northwest Regional Development Agency. It is expected to significantly increase the number of visitors using the service, which currently stands at 300,000 a year. Andrew Stokes, chief executive of Marketing Manchester, said: “Tourism in the city-region is a £5.5 billion industry. We welcome over one million international visitors a year to Manchester and support some 77,000 full time equivalent jobs". The Centre will be open from Monday to Saturday 9.30am–5.30pm, Sundays and public holidays 10.30am–4.30pm. It can be found at Piccadilly Plaza, Portland Street, Manchester, M1 4BT. 0871 222 8223.

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Matt WilliamsonJuly 3rd 2010.

£800,000? Seriously? Surely that money could have gone to better causes

AgricolaJuly 4th 2010.

Matt, like what? More social services. We have to compete as a city for investment we have to provide visitor services,

squirrelitoJuly 6th 2010.

I was reasonably impressed with the new visitor centre - love the table map things, but I too noticed out of date listings on them. With regard to the gifts/memorabilia on sale, are we not with unending deference to Madchester/Smiths/Hacienda era(s) going down the much-mocked "Beatles/Cavern/Beatles/Beatles/Beatles/Cavern/Beatles" route that our self-pitying near neighbours went down?

We've enough with aging musos regurgitating all that.

Hooky: I mean you. Let it go, love.

AnonymousJuly 17th 2010.

Yes The Hacieneda had its funeral rights last year at Urbis, whose death followed soon afterwards (who is designing the bit about England 'triumph' in the recent World Cup..maybe MC will get someone to sponsor a competition for this)
All we have now is Doves Elbows and Echos 'resurrected'

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