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‘Mad Hatter’ guide angry at city tours ‘monopoly’
A TOUR guide is in a battle with Oxford City Council and Visit Oxfordshire over what he says is a monopoly.
Alasdair de Voil – better known to tourists as the Mad Hatter tour guide – has said he will take both bodies to the Local Government Ombudsman because of the way walking tours around Oxford are promoted.
The city council has given Visit Oxfordshire about £600,000 over the last three years.
But Mr de Voil says the company gives preferential treatment to one tour run by the Guild of Guides.
He previously took Visit Oxfordshire to the LGO in 2012,.
Last August the Oxford Mail reported that investigator Victoria Miles agreed with him that an agreement the company has with the Guild of Guides “confers an advantage without being transparent and could be seen to be unfair”.
But Mr de Voil, who has been a tour guide for about three years, says nothing has changed since then.
He wants to see improvements before the summer season begins.
He said: “Visit Oxfordshire says they are all about quality, but competition usually raises quality.
“It is a monopoly.
“I have no problem with them making money from selling tours as long as it is done fairly.
“Nothing has changed since the LGO ruling and I am going to go to them again.
“I don’t see why we should have to compete with a service that is supposed to help us.”
Visit Oxfordshire runs a partnership scheme which allows tour guides to pay £360 plus VAT a year for standard membership.
Membership includes benefits such as having leaflets stocked at the Tourist Information Centre in Broad Street.
But Mr de Voil says the amount of prominence given to the tour run by the Guild of Guides – which does not subscribe to the partnership scheme – means that the return on this investment is “minimal”.
Colin Cook, the council’s board member for city development, said: “My understanding is that amount we contribute is declining and the amount of money from the private sector is increasing to take over.
“We do fund bodies like Modern Art Oxford and the Playhouse, but I expect that in the longer term we will not contribute to Visit Oxfordshire.”
Giles Ingram, director of Visit Oxfordshire, said the organisation had met the Ombudsman last year and had met his recommendations “in full”.
He said a quality charter had been introduced which all walking tours were asked to sign up to “to make it clear that they will respect the other operators”.
He said they could not reach an agreement with Mr de Voil and he had offered a refund of his membership.
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