Hot off the press are the results of a national 'mystery shopper' campaign in tourist information centres (TICs) -  and Winchester's award-winning TIC has come first out of 474 centres across the UK in its response to an email test.

The centre, which is housed in the city's historic Guildhall and managed by Winchester City Council, handles over 230,000 personal enquiries each year from all corners of the globe and was named Tourist Information Centre of the Year in the national Enjoy England Awards for Excellence earlier in the year.

The national mystery shopper campaign consisted of a joint package of email and telephone enquiries made by expert independent consultants on behalf the official UK tourism body VisitBritain during August, the centre's busiest month.

The consultants evaluated each email response on the basis if speed of response, writing style, grammar, spelling and punctuation, depth of detail and enthusiasm.   Winchester TIC scored an impressive 90% compared to a national average of just 27%.  The south-east region, which stretches from Hampshire through to Kent, was ranked the third in the country in terms of overall performance.

Winchester City Council's Tourist Information Centre Manager Alison Woods said, "We are thrilled with this result which supports the findings of the Enjoy England judges earlier in the year.  Julie Berry, Information Assistant, who handled the email enquiry, has been nominated for the city council's staff recognition award, the Alfies."

But Alison was even more delighted with the result of the telephone call, which placed Winchester at 29th out of a total 486 participating centres, showing a rise of 229 places compared with the last year.  She added, "It's great to be top, but in some ways it is still more satisfying to see the results of training and staff development initiatives by watching your performance improve.  The telephone enquiry results show that we have successfully implemented suggestions made in the 2005 report."  

Winchester City Council's Leader and Portfolio Holder for Economy and Tourism, Cllr George Beckett, added, "Winchester was one of the first TICs to embrace new technology and we are well resourced and have excellent staff to meet the challenges and opportunities of e-marketing, as this result shows.  Our tourism website is now handling over a quarter of a million hits from customers each year so ensuring our email response is second to none is essential for good marketing and good customer service."

The tourist information centre is open from 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday and can be contacted on: 01962 840 500 or e-mail: tourism@winchester.gov.uk or via the website at: www.visitwinchester.co.uk