In his latest blog, VisitScotland Chief Executive Malcolm Roughead reflects on his listening tour of Scotland.
“The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.”
The phrase espoused by 18th century English writer, Samuel Johnson, comes to mind as I continue my “listening tour” of Scotland.
For no matter how successful we are in capturing the imagination of visitors to entice them to Scotland, true success comes when it is matched by the reality of the visitor experience. And we mustn’t forget that tourism is more than a holiday experience – it is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy and touches every community, generating income, jobs and social change. As such, we need to create world class experiences, events and attractions to keep up with ever-changing consumer demands.
My journey across the country has been far removed from the unflattering account depicted by Dr Johnson of his Scottish trip in his travelogue, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.
I have been encouraged and delighted to see first-hand the successful partnership working between the tourism industry and destination management organisations.
In Arran I met with VisitArran board members, whose strong working ethos and creative partnership working were rightly rewarded at this year’s Scottish Thistle Awards National Final.
The team received the ‘Working Together for Tourism’ award for their innovative collaboration in launching the Arran Card in 2017, which has already generated £11,000 in sales in the first year.
At Falkirk Stadium I met with the Falkirk Area Tourism Partnership who are really on the ball in developing tourism in the area – and an excellent example of collaboration in the sector.
On my journey in Moray I was impressed by the local industry’s collaboration on tourism products, including an impressive events programme at Gordon Castle, the proposed year-round opening by the Scottish Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay and the growth plans of Ace Adventures – demonstrating that despite success, businesses are not resting on their laurels.
Most recently I had the pleasure of travelling to the Nevis Range in the wake of another successful UCI Mountain Bike World Cup at Fort William and spoke with local industry leaders about the opportunities the area has to bring more signature events.
Later this summer my listening tour will take me to the islands of Orkney which, through their combination of stunning scenery, fascinating history and culture, have seen significant tourism growth in recent years, revealed in the findings of the latest Islands Visitor Survey.
Since the last survey five years ago, increased visits have brought in an extra £18 million to the local economy, demonstrating the important role that tourism plays on these islands.
But Orkney isn’t alone. The survey, commissioned by the local authorities of Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, in partnership with VisitScotland, found that across all of the islands, visits have risen by up to 22% - bringing in an extra £36.9 million to the local economies (with total visits valued at £137.7 million).
The survey revealed that a third of leisure visitors to the islands came from outside the UK – around one in five from Europe with the remainder from North America – but what was most encouraging was that nine in ten said they would highly likely recommend the islands to others with at least 60% saying they would likely make a return visit within the next five years.
And the warmth of the welcome couldn’t be more important, especially as nine in ten visitors agreed that local people really added to the experience.
There are always areas for improvement and digital coverage was highlighted as one area by visitors – not surprising, in light of an increase in online usage which saw more than half of all leisure visitors actively sharing their experience online during or after their visit (e.g. uploading photos or updating their Facebook status).
These surveys give a fascinating insight into visitor expectation and the reality of the experience. It is through listening and learning – and collaboration – that Scottish tourism can improve and deliver a world class experience.
You can find a range of insights and tourism statistics on our corporate website www.visitscotland.org.