Scotland: Tartan tourism

15 February 2007
Scotland: Tartan tourism

The Scottish hospitality industry has been set a target of boosting tourism value by 50%. Rosalind Mullen spoke to Philip Riddle, chief executive of VisitScotland

Watch out. You might find yourself inexplicably drawn to booking your holidays in Scotland over the next decade. Not only is VisitScotland on a mission to make the country a green destination, chiming with the public's new-found eco-conscience, but there's a tough marketing strategy under way, too.

In short, the Scots have set themselves the target of boosting the value of tourism by 50%, from £4.2b in 2005 to £6.3b by 2015.

It's certainly not a mad ambition. The hotel market across Scotland is buoyant. The latest HotelBenchmark Survey of the UK from Deloitte reports that Aberdeen saw the highest growth in revenue per available room (revpar), at 15.1% in 2006. Revpar in Glasgow has seen a 9.5% rise and Edinburgh 6.7%. Edinburgh also commands the highest hotel rates outside London, at £67 revpar. And, according to recent figures from VisitScotland, in 2005 17 million tourists visited Scotland, including 2.5 million from overseas.

Debate on setting the 50% targetwas initiated in 2004, and the industry, Scottish Executive and other partners signed up to it in March 2006 in the Executive's Tourism Framework for Change.

The goal will be achieved partly through natural growth. Philip Riddle, chief executive of VisitScotland, predicts this will come from the trend for short breaks and customer demand for health, wellbeing, unique experiences and personal development.

"Scotland offers this, so we are seeing growth, assisted by improved direct access to western Europe," says Riddle. "But there is a decline in traditional holidays, so natural growth alone won't take us to the 50%."

It's clear, therefore, that initiatives are needed, too, and Riddle says the challenge has to be met by the industry itself - from small caterers to restaurants, hotels and tourist resorts. He gets the message out through monthly e-updates and publications that hit 13,000 tourism businesses, area tourism partnerships and business relations managers and through simply visiting sites.

The importance of maintaining Scotland's natural environment through green initiatives has been well documented in the preceding article. From a business perspective, Riddle reckons the industry needs to address "capacity utilisation". In other words, it needs to increase occupancy rather than simply build more hotels. At the moment, average occupancy is 70% across Scotland, with 90% occupancy in August and 40% in January.

Riddle explains: "If we increase occupancy by 10-15% from November to May, it will be worth more than £300m."

To achieve this, he wants to see operators pushing off-season offers. The unreliable weather is an obvious stumbling block, but Riddle points out that the market has changed. Tourists don't want to just go on holiday in August they want to play golf, have unique experiences and enjoy the great outdoors.

"We need to be clever," says Riddle. "It doesn't require more investment in the infrastructure, but by getting more visitors out-of-season we can cover overheads, improve staff-retention and generate more income."

Marketing off-season breaks is not new, but Riddle argues that businesses need to make more use of initiatives such as cross-selling and to use the internet for last-minute marketing.

Starting with the internet, Riddle believes hotels and tourist resorts should be adopting the techniques of airlines by making compelling offers at short notice. "We need to look at short lead times. If they want to fill a plane, they reduce prices. Scotland's [tourism industry] as a whole should be moving towards that idea."

He also wants more Scottish hospitality businesses to market themselves on a month-by-month basis in response to the market. For instance, ski buffs can't always rely on snow in Scotland, so it isn't a number-one winter sports destination, but he reasons that if the snow is good, hotels should be sending out a last-minute internet offer to UK clients offering, say, a three-night package, including train, room and dinner.

Although VisitScotland will have a facilitation role - offering advice to help businesses get the information out - the onus would be on individual hotels to group together to organise their marketing.

"The main thing is to get everyone to think along these lines," explains Riddle. "The way we actually do it will follow."

Cross-selling is another method he hopes to use to boost tourism spend. Obviously, bigger hotels already offer a concierge service, but Riddle wants to encourage hoteliers and restaurateurs to suggest other things visitors might do in the area.

"A lot of people want to pack a lot into their experience, but we don't talk enough about the other things they might want to do," says Riddle. "Small things do add up. If all visitors were encouraged to spend an extra £5 a day, it would generate an extra £400m-£500m.

Riddle is keen to focus operators' attention on small targets. He admits that the aim of increasing the value of tourism by 50%, or £2.1b, is daunting, but reckons that by breaking it down into achievable amounts it is do-able.

"We set this target because we think it is possible to get thinking turned around to it," says Riddle. "We want growth because it's good for the economy, so it's not just about increasing the number of visitors, but about increasing their spend."

Riddle is active in trying to keep tourism high in the Government agenda. Some 200,000 people are employed in the industry in Scotland, which is 7-8% of the workforce. In some areas it is the single biggest employer. It also accounts for 4% of gross added value and is fourth behind engineering, construction and finance.

There is no specific Government programme of investment in tourism, but the industry is, nevertheless, attracting funds. For instance, £30m is being pumped into expanding the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. Similarly a 12,500-seat arena is being put in to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, Glasgow, at a cost of £62m.

There is also investment in events such as the 2014 Ryder Cup, which will be held at Gleneagles, and a bid for the Commonwealth Games in the same year, as well as hopes to attract the Rugby World Cup.

"These all fit in with capacity utilisation and cross-selling," says Riddle.

For more on Scottish tourism

What's happening around Scotland

Edinburgh and Lothians

Apex Hotels is to open its fifth hotel in Scotland having clinched a £13m deal for the former council buildings on Waterloo Place, Edinburgh, and will redevelop the property into a four-star hotel with 150 bedrooms .

The Macdonald Marine hotel in North Berwick, East Lothian, has had a multimillion-pound refurbishment.

The Plumed Horse restaurant recently moved to Leith from Crossmichael, Dumfriesshire.

Leith is attracting top-quality restaurants, including Michelin-starred Martin Wishart, and the Kitchin.

Cruz restaurant and bar has just opened on a boat in Leith following a £1.1m refit by restaurant entrepreneur Matthew Tabatabaie and entrepreneur Sassan Pour.

Inside view "Edinburgh has boomed since parliament arrived," says Chris Black, chef consultant at recruitment specialist Berkeley Scott in Glasgow. "It's attracting the type of people who want to eat in those types of restaurants. Glasgow is funkier, but the really high end is in Edinburgh."

Glasgow and Clyde Valley

Ken McCulloch is expanding his affordable, chic Dakota brand. He's opening a Dakota hotel at Forth Bridge near Edinburgh in March, following the opening of Dakota in Glasgow last August. He is also planning to open the first Columbus outside Monte Carlo in Glasgow.

The Town House Company is redeveloping the former Royal Scottish Automobile Club buildings in Glasgow, which will open as a 109-bedroom hotel in 2008 under the name Blythswood Square.

Hotel du Vin moved into the city's One Devonshire Gardens in the autumn.

Inside view Craig Gardner, area general manager, Glasgow Hilton, says: "There has been more competition from new hotels in the budget sector within the past five years. This is helping to increase the mix of products to tourists, who now have more choice between B&B or luxury. Hilton is investing millions in its hotels and is gearing up to bring in four-star brands, such as Garden and Doubletree, as well as budget brand Hampton."


Highland 2007, a year-long celebration of culture in the Highlands, has just started.

The Rocpool Reserve opened last year to become the first five-star boutique hotel in Inverness.

Barry Larson, owner of the Abstract restaurant at the Glenmoriston Town House, which was featured on Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares programme, is opening a sister restaurant in Edinburgh.

Argyll, the Isles, Stirling, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs

Glenskirlie House at Banknock near Stirling is building the Castle Skirlie development aimed at the weddings and functions markets.

Steven Mcleod of the Airth Castle Hotel & Spa resort now has a new sister hotel development at Glenbervie House, Larbert.

Aberdeen and Grampian

Malmaison is moving into the 34-bedroom Queens hotel, Aberdeen. Total investment is expected to be £7m and a further 16 bedrooms will be added. It's the company's third property in Scotland.

Donald Trump plans a $500m (£217m) golf development at the Menie Estate north of Aberdeen.

Hot chefs

Berkeley Scott's Chris Black says that - the likes of Martin Wishart, Tom Kitchin and Andrew Fairlie aside - there are plenty of movers and shakers in Scottish kitchens. Here are a few of them:

Tony Borthwick, the Plumed Horse, Leith, is looking to regain the Michelin star he lost when he moved from Crossmichael.

David Williams, Greywalls, Gullane, used to be at Chapter One in Bromley, Kent. Now he has three AA rosettes.

Gordon Ramsay-trained chef John Paul Maclachlan, now at the Houstoun House hotel.

Drew Heron at the three-AA-rosette Road Hole Grill, Old Course hotel, St Andrews.

Martin Greenaway built Room, at One Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow, up to two AA rosettes and has moved to City Inn, Glasgow.

Paul Tamborini, formerly with Martin Wishart, has moved to Hotel du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow.

Hot topics

Healthy eating and concerns over obesity are causing debate.

VisitScotland is forecasting that eating out in Scotland will rise from £3b to £3.8b by 2015.

Pubs will see the largest growth in food revenue, whereas fast food will see slower growth.

There has been a 50% increase in international visitors to Scotland since 2001, particularly from European destinations, partly because of budget air links.

Source: VisitScotland

Michelin coups

There are currently eight one-Michelin-starred and one two-Michelin-starred restaurants in Scotland.

This year saw new entrants for one Michelin star at Glenapp Castle in Ballantrae, Lanarkshire, and the Kitchin in Leith.

There are six Bib Gourmand restaurants, including a new award for 63 Tay Street, Perth.

Tourism Innovation Day

On Wednesday (21 February) the Edinburgh Corn Exchange is hosting the 2007 Tourism Innovation Day, run by the Tourism Innovation Group. Ben Walker spoke to project director Sue Crossman…

"We want the day to be a catalyst that inspires and equips tourism businesses to innovate. This year's theme is collaboration.

"The three keynote speakers are Tim Smit of the Eden Project, T in the Park organiser Geoff Ellis, and Gerben Baaij from Rembrandt 400 - the celebration of Rembrandt's 400th birthday in Amsterdam. In 2009 Scotland will run a similar year-long celebration, known as Homecoming, centred on the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns's birth.

"There will be four best-practice workshops during the day. Scotland is ahead in terms of managing a whole visitor experience in one location. Aviemore and the Cairngorms is the area that is best advanced, but there are another seven areas identified as strong opportunities.

"We'll hear from the Pitlochry Festival Theatre on the question of how you attract visitors in the winter. The theatre has created partnerships with local businesses to create tourism packages that build on theatre skills such as storytelling, set making and costume design.

"Another initiative, Scotland Whisky, has identified ‘whisky embassies' - hotels or bars where the staff are knowledgeable about whisky - so they can upsell the whisky experience. At Glengoyne distillery, visitors can even blend their own whisky. Participants will brainstorm and develop similar products and effective collaborations."

• To book tickets go to

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