GILES Ingram was two hours into his new job as Oxfordshire’s tourism and arts guru when he fielded his first problem – an angry Mad Hatter tour guide.
He had to calm things down after inheriting an agreement with the Guild of Guides, which Oxford’s Mad Hatter tour guide Alasdair de Voil believes discriminates against independent tour operators in the city.
He said: “I think I was two hours in when this came up. We’re having a face-to-face meeting with all the tourist walking operators in a few weeks.”
He appreciates the viewpoint of tour guides, having started his career straight from Bristol University leading US tourists around Oxford and other European cities.
Mr Ingram, 45, took over last month as director of Experience Oxfordshire, formed from the merger of tourism promoter Visit Oxfordshire and arts event organiser Oxford Inspires.
He has now found his way back, by way of Bristol, Bath and Northumberland, where he took a similar role, forming a new organisation to promote tourism.
He is enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by bringing tourism and culture together.
“Visit Oxfordshire provides information to about one million people a year, through its website, phone line and the tourist information office in Broad Street.
“That’s an enormous audience which arts and cultural organisations now have access to.”
Already he is hatching plans for a year of literature in 2015-16, when the Story Museum in Pembroke Street will open, along with the revamped New Bodleian Library in Broad Street.
He also hopes to increase the number of tickets sold by the tourist information centre.
“If someone wants to go to the theatre and we sell just one ticket, they will probably eat out, spend the night here and spend money in the shops,” he said Experience Oxfordshire is a charity funded by the city and county councils, and has a trading arm that offers services to businesses and earns booking fees.
Ingram intends to encourage co-operation between businesses and among small companies. “If you are a small business, you have to pool with others to fight in the marketplace, to have a profile which you can afford,” he said.
But what about residents fed up with being elbowed on buses or blocked from the pavements by tourists?
“There are measures you can take to spread visitors around, but I see the reason for discussing these things.
“I would ask people to remember the large number of people who depend on tourism throughout the city and county.”
The latest estimates show 30,000 jobs are linked with tourism, with a £1.7bn boost to the Oxfordshire economy.