As you might imagine, we keep a close eye on how other nations promote their country to the visitor. It is an essential part of VisitScotland’s job to keep abreast of international trends and we can learn a lot by examining what works well for other destinations. While Scotland is regularly acknowledged as a tourism trend-setter - and we are watched and followed by many other nations - we can never rest on our laurels.
I visit New Zealand on a regular basis due to family connections. It ticks many of the boxes as a great destination and I am impressed by how the country continues to sell its natural beauty and outstanding outdoor environment.
Of course, Scotland and New Zealand have great links forged by a common language, sport and historical colonial links, but New Zealand has been very successful in terms of promoting its own brand of ‘Lord of the Rings’ tourism.
What I discovered in New Zealand was the size of the country mitigates against a lot more growth. The nation is facing infrastructure issues because there are more people wanting to visit. With a smaller population than Scotland, at 4.4 million, how can they afford to make the necessary improvements? There are limitations within their economy. The nation is still recovering from a massive earthquake that devastated a great deal of Christchurch, the third largest city after Auckland and Wellington.
More investment is urgently required. I heard my New Zealand tourism industry contemporaries discussing a tourism tax and how this might be able to raise funds for specific infrastructure improvements, and there was also a debate on increasing departure duty from the airports. I also heard discussion about a skills shortage and the capabilities of the hospitality industry to meet the increasingly high expectation of visitors.
It made me reflect on our situation in Scotland and re-inforced my view that we can never take our tourism legacy for granted.
We have our own capacity issues – with the travel industry calling for more quality hotels to be built in some parts of Scotland. We’ve identified some £16bn being invested in tourism related projects– from the A9 to the V and A in Dundee – but more product investment, innovation and development is needed to meet the increasing demands of visitors.
The tourism tax debate continues with strong views on either side. However that pans out, any tax collected should be used to promote Scotland or develop the tourism product and the value for money argument is important as visitors make decisions based on cost.
When I hear about the tourism industry coming up with fantastic ideas like NC500 – I see that innovation is alive and kicking – but we need more of that to thrive in the future. And for every Lord of the Rings reference for New Zealand we have a Local Hero, Skyfall, Brave, Outlander and even a Braveheart moment to encourage visitors to Scotland.
When I returned to Scotland after my latest visit, I heard that a nation closer to home picked up an international award for its tourism campaign. The Swedish Number was a clever idea that encouraged potential visitors to phone a free number and speak to a random Swede. Even the Swedish prime minister got involved and encouraged a visitor to come to his country. The Swedish Number was all about getting the whole country to act as friendly ambassadors, something we have been advocating in Scotland for many years.
People across the world can now walk through the prehistoric village of Skara Brae in Orkney, soar high over Edinburgh Castle, journey into the depths of The Hollow Mountain of Ben Cruachan and experience the Northern Lights – all from the comfort of their own home, with the this new virtual reality app from VisitScotland. ScotlandVR is a virtual travel experience that allows people, wherever they are in the world, to be immersed in Scotland’s finest attractions.
I’m very proud of our team and how we strive to keep at the forefront. But what the Swedes and the New Zealanders – and a host of other nations - are showing us, is that we are in a global contest to attract visitors. While virtual reality can open the door, it is the 'people reality' that matters most. Friendly Scots are the real ambassadors and we all need to be the best we can be.
Malcolm Roughead OBE, VisitScotland Chief Executive