When I was appointed Chairman of VisitScotland back in April, I joined Scotland’s national tourism organisation on the back of a period of unprecedented exposure for the country.
Thanks to high-profile events such as the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and the 1000-plus events around Scotland that formed the second Year of Homecoming, the nation was under the global spotlight like never before.
The question for me as the incoming Chairman was, where do we go from here and how do we maintain this incredible momentum?
I’ve been hugely impressed with the exceptional performance of VisitScotland and the passion of its staff, but as far as I’m concerned tourism is more than a holiday experience. I believe this industry can play a much bigger role in the economic growth of Scotland, sustaining communities and creating jobs in every corner of the country.
For every £64,000 spent by visitors a new job is created in tourism, and spreading the tourism ‘cake’ will help regions and districts of Scotland that have previously been by-passed by mass tourism.
On my epitaph when I leave VisitScotland, I’d love them to say that together we achieved two things: one, that the cake grew bigger and, two, the slices were dispersed more across Scotland.
This is about helping Dumfries & Galloway, or Lyness [Scapa Flow, Orkney], Stromness, Durness or even Aberdeen, wherever, to actually fulfil their potential for visitors. Tourism is the bedrock of the Scottish rural economy and without it communities cannot thrive.
This is not to say, however, that a wider focus would be at the expense of the likes of Edinburgh, Glasgow and even St Andrews.
Edinburgh and Glasgow are lead attack brands for Scotland. If you are growing the cake, you can only do it if more people are coming to Scotland, with the vast majority flying in to either Edinburgh or Glasgow airports.
These are seriously important destinations for all kinds of reasons. However as the numbers grow, it allows visitors to spread out more to savour new places that have been off the beaten track. And we have plenty of glorious gems that are worthy of more visitors. It is not an ‘either/or’ situation. Increasing the cake and sharing it out are two entirely complementary aspirations.
I want everyone to understand the importance of tourism. It goes beyond the hotel reception into supporting jobs in a diverse range of sectors – from florists to laundry services.
Spreading the cake means finding new opportunities to promote Scotland. For the likes of Dundee, a city emerging as a vibrant tourism destination, it is for those interested in design and technology, sparked by the V&A Dundee.
If we are smart and sell our brand well, then there is enough to go around for everybody. The team at VisitScotland are also tuned-up to face the challenge of the digital world, where social media does so much to attract visitors.
As a son of Caithness, I understand the value of ensuring more visitors take the journey to the far north of Scotland.
The creation of NC500 (North Coast 500), a 500-mile scenic road tour of Caithness, Easter Ross, Inverness-Shire, Sutherland and Wester Ross, is a fabulous addition to the north’s global appeal.
Another part of our strategy is about encouraging more people to visit in the shoulder months of early spring and late autumn.
We’ve had events such as the O’Neill Cold Water Classic, a world surfing championships in Thurso in April. Thirty years ago nobody knew how great the waves were for surfing in the north of Scotland. We need to make more of the outdoor sporting activities that go on around the year.
There is now a lot of first-rate event space in Scotland. What a fantastic product we have – we really couldn’t be luckier.