Reflection and the Future for Scottish Tourism

27 March 2016


So, if you read my last post which was an overview on my blogging series for the next couple of weeks, you'll know that last Friday I attended the annual conference for the Scottish Tourism Alliance - a thank you once again to my college for allowing me the opportunity to go!

I'm aware this is not Friday, this will not happen again. In this post, I'll be talking about Fergus Ewing's address as well as the reflections and what the future may hold for Scottish Tourism. Please stick with me through this, I will endeavour to keep the posts short and interesting but informative. Thank you.


The current vision is of 2030 - where Scotland will be a first choice of destination by providing excellent customer experiences, service and excellent value for money. Collaboration is of vital importance - and this is the biggest purpose for the creation of the Scottish Tourism Alliance. "Being together and how to do things better", ie the whole of the tourism industry is one team.

Themes have been running with Visit Scotland and have been proving successful. Last year was the year of Food & Drink, this year is the year of Architecture & Design.

Fergus Ewing's address:

Fergus Ewing is the minister for Business, Energy and Tourism. He gave a 20 minute speech discussing things from the recently Visit Scotland visitor survey to current developments and trends.

One of the first things he talked about was joking to use all that we should book up a holiday in Scotland - and to be perfectly fair, we should. Most of the time, as citizens of Scotland, we have a tendency to just want out, to seek the sun but we forget about the natural beauty we have on our door step. He mentioned that the Western Isles was voted as being one of the best places to stay, in par with Alaska, Japan and India, and the visitor survey by Visit Scotland revealed that 49% of visitors come for the scenery, 44% for sightseeing and 56% for our food (I hope that's not for the deep fried Mars Bars!), where 45% rated the country 10/10 and 25% rated us as 9/10 which, you know is pretty good going!

Scotland is becoming a brand - and is fast becoming one of the most recognised the world over. And it was said that one of the greatest achievements in the last decade has been Scotland's emergence as it has given a range of possibilities and it is all down to our people - even the Glasgow marketing bureau's slogan is "People Make Glasgow"! 4 billion visitors stayed overnight, and attractions have brought in 15.5 million visitors and that number is expected to rise.

The above video is the new video created by Visit Scotland in order to promote the country. "A spirit of its own" is also a subtle play on not only the human element of Scotland's greatness, but also on the distilleries in the country - of which there are 98. Ewing was confident about this promotion of Scotland - both visually and auditory, and that this has provided the chance to try for the potential 1.184billion visitors.

Business tourism is one of the biggest potential markets, as there is higher expenditure through bookings of conferences as well as companies looking to purchase 3-4 star hotels for their employees, and just in general business will spend more money. In 2013, he said, there were 104 conferences, a number that is again expected to rise. With public spending, there was said to be more than a 50:1 return. He compared it to a game of roulette, where you go in knowing that your chances are good. But instead of it only being like a 37:1 chance, it's a 50:1 chance, and has said that it is everyone's responsibility to promote Scotland - ie the worker in the local cafe could talk about what a tourist could do or see locally, or suggest places elsewhere. There are lots to do in the country, and it is everyone's job to make sure people know. Not just the professionals.

With regards to the cruise industry, marine tourism has given a boost to Green Tourism and has also hugely boosted the economy of places like Greenock, Invergordon and Kirkwall. There has also been improved investment in attractions - food and drink, better hotels, restaurants and attractions themselves. Just a selection of new, and successful attractions include: The Helix/Kelpies, Dumfries House, Bankside and the Tate in Dundee.

Heritage tourism is also a popular trend, and Ewing stated that Clan chiefs are 'all about friendship' and this provides a great opportunity for those with heritage in Scotland to come back and rediscover their routes - much like Ireland saw success with (especially with the US market). However, he joked, that there were no plans to create a 'Trump' trail in Stornoway. Which did make me chuckle.

He brought up the North Coast 500 - a walking trail. He mentioned that walks such as this attract a lot of visitors and gave recognition to the achievement of creating a trail like this, with the existing resources and at no extra coast. He compared it to Route 66 in America and encouraged work like it.

Accessible tourism is another growing trend - and rightly so. As we are aware, accessibility does not stop at having lifts and ramps in a building, but there are other forms of disabilities which also need to be catered for - such as deafness and blindness. He said that this was a potential market to help boost repeat visits and over night stays. We need to meet the needs of those who are not able bodied. Not just in the short term - but as an ageing population this becomes important (not Ewing's words) but everybody deserves the right to have their needs met, and by facing this head on today, we will make access issues virtually non-existent.

After his brief mention of Accessible tourism he went on to give thanks to those who have helped him recently, including Janet Wilson who arranged visits to caravan parks for him (which are vital and must be improved to offer a boost in the economy.) He thanked the British Hospitality association for their promotion, Linda Dalglish for her work, Sheila Gilmore for her efforts in making Arran a worldwide destination. David Smith for his work and Judy Kay for being an "evangelist" for business tourism. He also gave thanks, of course, to the Scottish Tourism Alliance for bringing the industry together. He mentioned that 1 in 12 people in Scotland are employed in tourism, but to come back to his "it's everyone's responsibility" from earlier, he said that 11 out of 12 people must be engaged in tourism and understand its importance.

He said that we need to get to know our customers and encourage them to visit - both domestic and international, additionally we need to encourage the use of digital tourism. However, although we are in a 'sharing' economy and that competition is not a bad thing, sites such as Air BnB are potentially very damaging - as this takes business away from hotel and other accommodation developments.


I've added this under a separate header as there are a lot of notes on this issue, given its current significance with Scotland's new tax powers.

He referred to several taxes as the 'fiscal midges' (the midges were an issue he'd talked about previously in his address - stating that they were one of the things visitors didn't like about Scotland. If you've never been in Scotland before, avoid walking around trees or woodlands in evening/night because you will probably get bitten. Just a warning.)

These taxes are of course Air Passenger Duty (APD), VAT and the bedroom tax. 

With VAT he mentioned that Ireland had already seen the positive impact of reduced VAT, and that because of its benefits the reduction was kept in place and more people were employed. He stated that out of 28 EU countries, 25 had reduced rates of VAT. Alongside the UK, the countries without reduced VAT were Denmark and Slovenia.

APD has been something that has been in the news a lot recently. The Scottish government are looking to reduce APD because it would be a benefit to overseas visitors who have travelled by plane. Regarding competitiveness, the UK are ranked pretty low and this is largely due to just how expensive we are as a destination. However, he has stated that although they are looking to reduce the APD, there are no plans to add new taxes onto tourism.


With skills he said that there is a lot to do, and that we should continue to raise the quality and increase it. Here, he made a joke about the fact Ben Nevis has increased in size (which as a sidenote, I find slightly worrying, because when I think of a mountain rising in size my first thought goes directly to a possible magma build up. But, hey! I'm not the volcanologist, and I'm no expert, if the experts aren't panicking then I shouldn't either!) He talked about boosting the reputation of the industry in this way - to summarise, we should make the experiences for visitors bigger and better.

Broadband is an improvement to be made. Around £400million has been invested in tackling the task as a lack of broadband connection is "the first ask on people's lips". The problem is currently being targeted in rural areas. This is because having no access to the digital world is more likely to put visitors off visiting the beautiful countryside. The current idea is to provide mobile coverage and more than 700 masts have been erected, with a further 200-odd being granted planning permission. He alongside this, came back to the need to digitalise Scotland; to improve websites and that this is fast being moved up on the political agenda.

He finished his address by asking the following question: what 3rd 4th is 6th? The answer was the bridge over the Forth. The 3rd bridge over the Forth (4th), and after the Railway bridge's 125th birthday, it has become the world's 6th heritage site.


Visit Scotland have recently welcomed their new "spirit" Lord John Thurso as the new Chair. In their reflections, they mentioned several elements which have provided a positive impact to Scotland; the film "Brave", the 2014 Commonwealth games, Gleneagles Scotland 2014 and Homecoming Scotland 2014 as these are all elements which aided and embodied the Scottish Spirit. They mentioned that international visitors rose by 11% with international spend at 10% and 12,600 jobs since 2010.

Dr Mike Cantlay mentioned this thing called "The draft" which often comes after major events once the buzz and excitement has died down, and how the weather which caused floods created devastation to a Dundee caravan park. However, despite the devastation, there was an 8% increase in spend in 2015 which was caused by the creation of momentum.

This was compared to a bike. When you reach a hill, you have to cycle harder to get up it, but if you lose your push, you'll fall. And this is how to overcome the "draft" - that you must deal with both the ups and the downs. Cantlay said that Scotland have learned to win, much like our own Andy Murray. And once you learn to win, you want to keep winning because you don't like the taste of failure. We need to stop looking at tourism as a product, and instead we should focus on the customer. We need to research our customers and really get to know them.

One of the biggest international events was the Tattoo. In Melbourne, Australia, Allan Joyce (Chief Exec. of Qantas) approached Cantlay, and was keen to speak with him. In hand he had Scotland's figures and was impressed, especially with the traffic generated through their (Qantas) codeshare with airlines such as Emirates.

Cantlay mentioned the importance of events and conferences once again - business tourism. He mentioned the new services at places such as the AECC in Aberdeen and the Hydro in Glasgow. However, he mentioned that they were running out of possible events, but that in turn events were being made up - once again mentioning the North Coast 500 which is "number 6 in global 'route 66's". He mentioned that this event has increased the confidence and so more 'made up' events are now being made possible rather than relying on events such as the Commonwealth games and such like.

Linked into the Commonwealth games, he gave reference to the Irn Bru advert after the event, which gave thanks to the people of Scotland. He described this as being 'genius' and that our best USP is our secret ingredient - ie our #ScotSpirit (no2 trending UK on twitter, and no 20 trending worldwide)

Transforming 20s

"Scottish tourism wins for Scotland" - and Scottish tourism is to rocket up in both economic and political interest. This is due to the aforementioned new tax powers and the idea that every one of us should have an "I know" badge (something that currently all Visit Scotland staff has) because, as mentioned by Ewing, we are all responsible for our tourism. We should all be trying to raise awareness and should know enough about our local tourism to pass onto visitors.

Transport transformations were mentioned. The most significant is probably the Edinburgh - Glasgow Improvement Plan (EGIP) by Abellio Scotrail, which will see high speed trains connecting the two cities and reducing travel time. He also mentioned better road connections and driverless cars - which he said would be good as it will 'know exactly what you like and where you want to go".

To expand on the EGIP, he brought up that continued reduction of travel time will make Edinburgh and Glasgow into one destination - and compared it to the likes of London.

He mentioned that 'the world craves Scotland', and again gave reference to Australia and the Tattoo, but also people are interested in the politics in the country. (I've noted down at this point that he made a Back To The Future reference but I can't remember it, sorry!) He mentioned that Scotland have been leading the world for 200 years, from Sir Walter Scott and the Lady of the Lake and that our USP (unique selling point) is people. He mentioned that the future economy will feature tourism, and that selling Scotland is the best job.

The Future

On the floor were Stephen Leckie, Ufi Ibrahim, Paul Gallagher and Bernard Donoghue.

Leckie brought back the idea of the excellent work of Visit Scotland at pulling in visitors, but also stated that without Ewing, the Scottish Travel Alliance (STA) wouldn't have had as great a success - which bring back the idea of just how important politics can be with regards to its involvement in the tourism industry.

In the STA midterm review, they made reference to the importance of improvements - with infrastructure, the need to make the tourism product a higher quality and the importance of Digital Tourism.

Paul Gallagher - Irish Tourism Industry Confederation (ITIC)

Gallagher stated that ITIC is kind of like the sister organisation to STA. One of the biggest achievements for them was when they got over 200 landmarks to 'go green' which in turn has lead to Ireland, in a way, 'owning' the colour as it got people thinking about travelling there. ITIC is made up of around 30 companies; Aer Lingus, Stenaline etc.

There is a huge amount of value in tourism; in Ireland, it is 5% of the GDP, created 1 in 9 jobs, has a 7.3billion Euro value in Irish tourism, has 16% increase in air access and a 1.8billion exchequer return. Also in the last 4 years, there it has been 22% of all new jobs created.

2009/10 saw the market collapse (recession) and 30% of turnover was last, as a result a lot of employees were made redundant. ITIC became a kind of tourism recovery task force, and researched into their customers. One of their biggest ways of doing this was "disruptive growth" in which they essentially jumped into other markets, and taking them (ie USA visitors who would have gone to the UK now going to Ireland). They reduced VAT from 13.5% -> 9% in 2011 which lead to them finding out that the lower the VAT of a country, the more growth they get than countries with higher VAT. There is also a balance between visitor numbers and revenue.

For ITIC the aims are very similar to that of STA: better quality of products, VAT, improved economy, better marketing, value for money and more air access. They are also looking at the exchange rate. It is actually better value for money right now for USA visitors to visit Ireland than it is to visit the UK: it is better value for money. However, the looming threat of Brexit is a concern, due to the UK being one of thir main markets. ITIC expect their overseas visitor numbers 

A summary of Gallagher's points are that ITIC and the STA are both of vital importance; for VAT, for other tax and for keeping the 'brands' at front and centre. Air BnB is a continuous threat to the industry and tourism matters.

Ufi Ibrahim - British Hospitality Association

By the time Ibrahim got the chance to talk, the order was very behind and so she wasn't able to get all of her points out. This also goes for Bernard Donoghue.

The British Hospitality Association is made up of 40,000 industries around the UK, and exports (context: service?) have outweighed manufactured exports. But there are almost 'illegal' operations - bringing the idea back to Air Bnb (Which is not illegal) as this once again poses a massive threat to the Hospitality industry. Another challenge being faced is of the living wage, that not everyone is being given a good progress of pay and finally it is difficult to raise the prices in hoteliers due to the transparency being demanded by the public.

Bernard Donogue - ALVA + Chair Scottish Tourism Alliance

Air Passenger Duty was brought in initially to supply the costs of the infrastructure. And tha this must be reduced; "this is a tax on fun, it is a tax on tourism". Additionally, the bedroom tax which is another looming government threat will not benefit tourism. Tourism impacts on everybody's job, and is one of the sectors that you are able to join with no formal qualifications in it, or very high qualifications.

There needs to be education - those who are still in formal education should be told about the tourism industry and told of the positives of it as this will promote the industry. There are a huge range of jobs available in this industry.


The floor was then opened to questions from the audience. The first question asked was if there would be a collaboration between Ireland and Scotland. The overall thoughts on this were that it would be a good idea (but that let's also not forget that Scotland and Ireland are also competitors) Gallagher stated that Scottish VAT helps Irish VAT and that the tho countries are both very similar in regards to kin, culture and heritage, and that because if this it may become possible for Ireland and Scotland to both be experienced by a visitor's singular trip. Leckie added that there was also room for collaboration between Scotland, England and Wales as well.

The "Brexit" question was then asked, with only 3 people in the room in favour of Brexit. Donaghue stated that there was no reason to leave the EU, and two thirds of our visitors come from the EU. Leckie rounded off by saying that whatever happens, we will continue to trade goods and services to Europe, and we will continue to employ people.

Thank you for sticking this far, this post was longer than I had anticipated. My next post will be on Tuesday on Selling Scotland in a Digital World - expect this to be in two parts to keep it shorter than this. Digital Tourism is something I'm very interested by, so I'll endeaver to make it interesting.

Until next time, be excellent to each other.

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