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How well do we welcome?

Blog post   •   Jul 12, 2018 10:00 BST

Glasgow iCentre

In his latest blog, VisitScotland Chief Executive Malcolm Roughead explores the importance of language and discuss what it means for the future of Scottish tourism.

Last month, UKinbound announced a growing language skills gap facing the tourism industry which they believe is going to damage the industry in the UK.

The research, undertaken by Canterbury Christ Church University, showed that Brexit uncertainty for EU workers in the hospitality industry, along with a decrease in young people studying foreign languages, is presenting a real problem if we expect the major tourism growth to Scotland to come from international visitors.

These language skills are currently being provided by EU nationals who have learned English from a very young age and most of them speak it fluently. We have many of them working for VisitScotland and they contribute hugely to the organisation – but they do put us to shame with their language skills.

What is it that is making young people turn away from foreign languages? Is it that they believe that the job opportunities aren’t there because tourism isn’t on their radar? Certainly, the statistics seem to support that conclusion.

Many of you will know that I am a champion of foreign languages. I took German and French at Glasgow University and still use those languages today. They have taken me across the world in my career, helped me understand cultures better and have helped me to understand tourism across our key markets which, luckily include Germany and France. Language is the ice breaker for business, it creates lasting relationships and is the door opener to a world of travel and adventure.

There are so many positive things about being able to greet visitors in their own language and the response you get from chatting even a little bit, creates a relationship from the start.

The findings of the report showed some interesting results – here are some of the more worrying statistics:

  • Only 25 of 78 tourism or hospitality undergraduate programmes offer languages
  • Of 43 higher education institutions that offer a modern language degree – only 16 mention tourism as a career prospect
  • Pupils taking languages at A level has fallen by a third in 20 years

Although there is some growth in learning Arabic and Mandarin – the speed of that is slow and the talent pool is very small.

UKinbound is quite rightly worried about this trend as tourism is the mainstay of many communities, and yet international visitors are not even being welcomed with a Hola, Ciao or Hallo in many establishments. That, and the fact that according to them, 130,000 EU nationals departed the UK in 2017 – the highest number in ten years.

So, it looks like we have a problem on our hands and one that needs urgent attention. At the moment, we could be forced into a corner by the loss of EU workers. Maybe, a look at this by education and business is long overdue. Let’s make Scotland the most welcoming place ever with a proper international welcome. #ScotlandisNow

Find out more about the research at