Seek­ing a new BLEND

DrMikeCant­lay, chair­man of Vis­itScot­land, be­lieves it is time to vig­or­ously shake up­the £4bn tourism in­dus­try. RonClark lis­tens to amanon­amis­sion

The Herald Business - - TRAVEL AND TOURISM -

SIR Wal­ter Scott, as he put the fi­nal painstak­ing flour­ishes to his epic Trossachs-based poem The Lady of the Lake 200 years ago this year, would prob­a­bly have been jus­ti­fi­ably de­flated to hear it de­scribed as Scot­land’s first re­ally suc­cess­ful mar­ket­ing cam­paign. But as Dr Mike Cant­lay, the most re­cent in­cum­bent in the chair at Vis­itScot­land, pointed out, the poem sold like hot cakes and thou­sands of tourists – the first real tourists in the mod­ern sense – de­scended on Aber­foyle and Cal­lan­der and show­ered largesse on the be­mused but nonethe­less ea­ger lo­cals.

As mar­ket­ing cam­paigns go, Cant­lay would be happy to repli­cate it many times over and, since he was in­stalled in the chair this spring, he has gone about what he per­ceives as his fun­da­men­tal

task – to drive growth into the Scot­tish tourism in­dus­try – with a will.

The prompt de­par­ture of long-serv­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive Philip Rid­dle was an early in­di­ca­tion that rad­i­cal change was at the top of the agenda and that Cant­lay is search­ing for ways to kick­start growth in an in­dus­try which is con­tribut­ing £4.1bn to the econ­omy – much the same as it was five years ago.

“We had as­pi­ra­tions for 50% growth in 10 years,” he said. “We are half­way through that pe­riod and there sim­ply isn’t any. That’s why I’m here.”

He has ploughed an im­me­di­ate £5m into a “guer­rilla” mar­ket­ing cam­paign – the brain­child of in­terim CEO and ex-Di­a­geo ex­ec­u­tive Mal­colm Rough­head – and he is con­fi­dent that it will re­turn £100m of tourist rev­enue by the end of the year.

He said: “The great thing about tourism is that the re­turns on in­vest­ment come very quickly. If govern­ment gives me £10,000, I can guar­an­tee rev­enues of £200,000 as a re­sult of it. The tax take alone meets the cost of in­vest­ment. It’s win-win.”

His frus­tra­tion stems from Vis­itScot­land’s ap­par­ent in­abil­ity to cre­ate mean­ing­ful growth, al­though this year’s com­bi­na­tion of vol­canic ash clouds, air­line dis­putes and pub­lic sec­tor fund­ing is­sues have not been con­ducive to a bumper year.

To over­come this, Cant­lay and his new chief ex­ec­u­tive, whom he in­tends to an­nounce later this au­tumn, will seek to iden­tify “step changes” – pri­mar­ily cap­i­tal in­vest­ment projects which will pro­duce steady rev­enue streams for decades into the fu­ture.

As ex­am­ples, he cites the high speed rail project, the Trump devel­op­ment in Aberdeen­shire and a sus­tained cam­paign to per­suade Scots to take hol­i­days in their own coun­try.

“Next year we will be fo­cus­ing on the Scot­tish Is­lands. Nearly 40% of Scots have never hol­i­dayed at home and I find it pretty hor­ri­fy­ing that so many Scots have never even been on a Cale­do­nian MacBrayne ferry,” he said.

He will also at­tempt to re­vi­talise the Vis­itScot­land web­site, tar­get of vit­ri­olic crit­i­cism from within the in­dus­try over a lack of on­line book­ing fa­cil­i­ties and book­ing fees.

He said: “I take on board crit­i­cism of these dif­fi­cul­ties and we have just ap­pointed dig­i­tal me­dia spe­cial­ist Rob­bie Parish to sim­plify the web­site for users and the in­dus­try. We have a huge com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage with this site and I ex­pect to see it evolve very quickly over the next few months, us­ing dig­i­tal me­dia and so­cial net­work­ing me­dia to our ad­van­tage.”

Cant­lay wants to tap more ef­fi­ciently into mar­ket of 60 mil­lion Euro­peans, 35 mil­lion English and three mil­lion Scots who can get to the coun­try eas­ily with their dis­pos­able in­come in their wal­lets.

He said he would ex­pect Vis­itScot­land’s next chief ex­ec­u­tive “to have views sim­i­lar to my­self – to lis­ten to the in­dus­try, learn the step changes we need and then lead them for­ward.”

David Maguire, who is step­ping down as chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Glas­gow Restau­ra­teurs’ As­so­ci­a­tion af­ter nearly four years and 16 ma­jor mar­ket­ing cam­paigns, agreed that in­vest­ment for growth was vi­tal in re­ces­sion­ary times and said that his mem­bers were hold­ing the line on diner num­bers and vis­i­tor spend with fig­ures broadly sim­i­lar to the past two years.

He pointed out that Glas­gow, with its large in­dige­nous cus­tomer base, was in a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion from the rest of the coun­try, which is much more vis­i­tor de­pen­dent. But he said that the is­sues fac­ing the res­tau­rant sec­tor were the same across the coun­try – ser­vice, qual­ity and avail­abil­ity.

“The days of tourists turn­ing up at 2.35pm and be­ing told the chef has gone home are a thing of the past in Glas­gow,” he said, “but it’s still a prob­lem in many parts of Scot­land. Restau­rants must be there when­ever they’re needed, not when it suits them.

“There are still ma­jor prob­lems with shoddy, shoddy ser­vice – and or­gan­i­sa­tions like Vis­itScot­land and guide book pub­lish­ers need to get into the faces of op­er­a­tors who are let­ting the side down. These op­er­a­tors need to be told that they should be ashamed and that they are driv­ing peo­ple away.

“There is a case for amend­ments to the li­cens­ing regime, whereby li­censees would need to demon­strate not only that they could sell al­co­hol in a safe en­vi­ron­ment but also in a friendly, help­ful, wel­com­ing one. Too many op­er­a­tors still think they’re do­ing the vis­i­tor a favour.”

Scot­tish ho­tels have also been re­mark­ably re­silient, said Garry Sand-

er­son, gen­eral man­ager of Ho­tel du Vin at One Devon­shire Gar­dens in Glas­gow. He said that his in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tor num­bers were up by nearly 10% de­spite a hor­ren­dous start to the year.

San­der­son, whose West End venue is the first choice of vis­it­ing celebri­ties such as Simon Cowell and Tom Jones, said: “The first four months of 2010 were hit badly, both in One Devon­shire and across the sec­tor, by the ap­palling win­ter and the knock-on ef­fects of air­line dis­putes and vol­canic ash clo­sures.

“But the last four months have been much bet­ter, with good oc­cu­pancy rates and food and bev­er­age num­bers in­creas­ing. In re­ces­sion­ary times, peo­ple are re­luc­tant to splash out on top end wines, for in­stance, but the food spend is hold­ing well.”

San­der­son said that as vis­i­tors be­come rate-re­sis­tant, the trick is to add value to the of­fer­ing rather than con­tin­u­ally dis­count­ing, and said that across his group, which in­cludes Mal­mai­son ho­tels, room rates have been grat­i­fy­ingly healthy.

He said: “There is no doubt that the tough con­di­tions of the last cou­ple of years have made a lot of peo­ple take stock. Com­pe­ti­tion has in­ten­si­fied and own­ers and man­agers have been tak­ing a long, hard look at their busi­nesses.”

San­der­son also said that Vis­itScot­land had been “do­ing a good job” in pro­mot­ing Scot­land on the in­ter­na­tional stage, but he be­lieved that more could be done in terms of fa­cil­i­tat­ing fa­mil­iari­sa­tion trips for groups of in­ter­na­tional buy­ers.

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