On every count, 2014 has been an exceptional year for Scotland. The international spotlight was trained on the nation – and there is immense satisfaction that the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup and the Year of Homecoming were delivered with stunning success.
Even the way Scotland handled itself during the passionate and often-heated referendum campaign was recognised around the world as an exemplar of a mature democracy in action. However, tourism industry leaders understand there can be no let up, or sense of complacency about keeping up the momentum.
VisitScotland’s marketing gurus dubbed the three years of 2012 through to 2014, the ‘Winning Years’, that does not mean that from 2015, the country can afford to return to the ‘Losing Years’.
Scotland could have a tourism industry worth over £23.1bn by 2025, with 11.5% of the national gross domestic product, and supporting 350,000 jobs, or 12.6% of the total Scotland number. This figure is being revised upwards after the success of 2014.
David Cochrane, the chief executive of Hospitality Industry Trust (HIT) Scotland, says it is important that Scottish business captures and shares the lessons learned. Speaking at a BQ Live Debate, he said that during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow hotels learned that athletes preferred single beds in twin rooms.
“We’ve had some fantastic example of what’s gone really well this year: but have we been able to capture this?” he asks. He said switched-on hotels in Glasgow that were looking ahead to the sporting events in 2015 and beyond have been picking up on specific requests.
“More places who house the sports teams now know that athletes like to travel and stay in twin rooms rather than singles. This has led to consideration on refurbishments to include more twin rooms and zip lock beds to accommodate a greater variety of guests into the future, especially if Scotland gets more international sports events next year and beyond.
“I only found this out by chance in a conversation but if that was shared, then this would help us capture as an industry, the essence as well as the ‘feel-good’ factor.” He feels this joined-up learning could be part of the great legacy of 2014. There were other examples too.
“The forward-looking places did their refurbishments many months ago so the visitor had a great experience of clean and well-presented premises. This has paid dividends, particularly in Glasgow-based properties which have landed repeat business with later events, such as the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards.”
The battle for staff was another issue throughout the summer months of 2014 – although the special calibre of the volunteers, including the incredible Clydesiders, and those working at the Ryder Cup, helped keep everyone smiling.
David Cochrane said that a number of places lost casual staff to the big corporate contract companies who needed hundreds of employees. That placed a strain on staffing. “The good places had already thought of this and had tied up their teams with end-of-contract bonuses and terms to ensure they could still deliver top service with experienced staff.”
There was also a need to look at how loyal workers could be properly rewarded with bonus schemes for their extra hours and effort during peak event periods. Those jobs would be distributed right across Scotland, for while urban areas such as Glasgow or Edinburgh have the highest number of jobs in tourism, the percentage of tourism-related jobs are higher in Scotland’s rural areas.
There were plenty of sound ideas, such as inviting taxi drivers to breakfast and ‘familiarisation’ time over a coffee allowed for knowledge transfers and quicker journeys for guests travelling to the cities for the first time. Productivity in the tourism sector is also expected to increase by 2% per annum.
While Nick Finnigan, the executive manager at Edinburgh Castle, said better networking and joined-up thinking ensured that the castle’s floodlights were kept on while the world’s media was broadcasting live on television during the referendum. This was a brilliant backdrop on which to showcase Scotland.
Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, said: “The industry is still rather shell-shocked that the events of 2014 went so well. But, of course, we have to make sure that we capture the success stories – and replay them to people around the industry.”
Deloitte estimates the tourism GVA (Gross Value Added) multiplier to be 2.2, meaning that for every £1,000 generated in direct tourism GVA there is a further £1,200 that is secured elsewhere in the economy through the supply chain.
According to the Deloitte study, tourism employs 270,000 people in Scotland in 20,000 diverse businesses. The same study calculates that the industry contributes £11bn annually; meanwhile, the tourism figures for early 2014 show inbound tourism to Scotland was at the highest level since 2008.
From January to June 2014 Scotland welcomed 1.1m inbound international visits – an uplift of 16% on the same period in 2013 and the highest number of visits for six years. The amount spent during visits to Scotland in these first six months was £575m – marginally lower than the record breaking £620m spent in 2013 but still higher than any other year apart from 2013.
As BQ went to press, the high-spending of July-September figures was still to be calculated. During these Q3 months the nation hosted a successful Ryder Cup in Gleneagles and of course the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Out of all inbound visits to Scotland, business visits saw the most notable growth, with uplift of 41% to a total of 238,000 visits – the highest number for this six month period since 2009. Holiday visits rose by 9% to 497,000 – a new record – while the amount spent on ‘Visiting Friends and Family’ reached a new record of £163m.
The largest number of visits to Scotland during these six months – 173,000 – came from the United States, with growth of 76%. Visits from Germany followed, with a total of 161,000 visits representing a rise of 42%.
Visits from these two markets also brought in the highest amount of tourist spend with expenditure from the United States up by 42% to £127m and £64m spent during visits from Germany. Visits from China were more valuable than ever before, with this six month period seeing tourism spending by Chinese visitors reach a new record of £20m.
Visits from Scotland’s other major tourism markets, including the Republic of Ireland and Norway, were also up in the first half of 2014 compared to 2013. Visits from the Republic of Ireland grew by 46% to 79,000 and spend went up 38% to £19m. Visits from Norway rose 67% to a new record of 67,000 and spend was up 47% to £35m compared to the same period in 2013.
With a record number of people wanting to come and experience Scotland – the industry is keen to ensure that no stone is left unturned in making sure the visitors have a great experience – and want to return again.