A COUNCIL that closed tourist information centres to save money yesterday unveiled its replacement service for visitors.

Durham County Council was widely criticised for axing the offices in Durham City and Barnard Castle.

But with an expected influx of visitors over the Easter break, a new service has been launched.

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The Visitor Information Network (Vin) includes a Visitor Contact Centre for telephone, text and email inquiries, accommodation booking and ticket sales.

Face-to-face, telephone or computer access to information is available at 16 locations, including Durham World Heritage Site Visitor Centre, Locomotion at Shildon, Durham Indoor Market, Durham Gala Theatre, Bowes Museum, Bishop Auckland Town Hall and the Durham Dales Centre.

Branded tourism leaflet racks have been installed at 17 “Level Two” partners.

A total of 16 tourist information boards in the county have been renovated and there are 80 unbranded leaflet racks across the county.

Councillor Neil Foster, the Labour-run authority’s cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, said: “We know that, historically, only one per cent of people visiting the county used tourist information centres as a means of finding out what was on offer.

“This new approach will ensure that many thousands of people have easier access to information via our Level One partners.

“In addition, while face-toface options remain available for those who prefer that approach, everything from theatre tickets and hotel rooms, event information and attractions are now just a text, call or touch of a screen away right across the county.”

Ivor Stolliday, chairman of Visit County Durham, said: “People expect to be able to access information in lots of different ways and the network has a variety of channels to help people make the most of their stay in the county.”

Colin Wilkes, managing director of Durham Markets, where the network was launched, said: “We believe we have a prime location to help inform visitors to Durham about what they can see and do while here in Durham City and across the county.

“In addition to the literature racks, our touch screen kiosk will also enable visitors to explore and search online via the thisisdurham website or connect directly to the Visitor Contact Centre, helping to make their visit to Durham a memorable one.”

The Visitor Contact Centre, which opened in November, is on 03000-262626, and can be emailed at visitor@thisis durham.com People can also text “Visit”

and their name to 80011 or skype on ThisisDurham.