The value of conferences and exhibitions to the Scottish economy has topped £1 billion for the first time, according to new figures.
The overall benefits of business tourism are now worth 11 times the value of the hosting of the Ryder Cup to Scotland, a major industry gathering was told.
The £1.1 billion figure emerged as Scotland’s tourism minister admitted more needed to be done to persuade visiting event delegates to extend their stay with a holiday.
Business tourism chiefs told the annual Scottish Tourism Week conference in Glasgow that they harboured ambitions for the sector in Scotland to become the strongest in the UK.
The event was billed as a major rallying call for the industry ahead of the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games being held in Scotland next year.
Attracting more conferences and exhibitions are believed to be key in meeting a new industry target of increasing the overall value of tourism to Scotland by at least another £1 billion by 2020.
The research carried out by the Scottish Tourism Alliance in Scotland’s four main cities may also be an under-estimate as it does not include rural areas.
And it is set to increase further with the opening of significant new facilities at the Hydro arena in Glasgow, the EICC in Edinburgh and V&A Museum in Dundee over the next few years.
Judy Rae, spokeswoman on business tourism for the STA, said: “We want to see business tourism in Scotland act as a catalyst for economic growth and investment, and be recognised as the UK leader in business tourism, with an influential voice with the global conference and meetings industry.”
Tourism minister Fergus Ewing said: “One of the areas where we could do an awful lot more is to persuade those who come to Scotland from outwith the country for business events is to have an extender holiday around the country.
“Have we done enough on this? No, we have not.
“The way to do this is to reach the delegate when they first gets the notice of the conference so can make their plans then. It’s too late when they actually get here.”
Meanwhile a blueprint aimed at radically improving levels of customer service in the Scottish tourism industry was unveiled at the event.
Making what is now Scotland’s biggest industry more attractive to school-leavers, encouraging a new generation of tourism entrepreneurs and introducing new training courses are included in a major new action plan.
Industry leaders, who have worked on the blueprint with the Scottish Government, say it is aimed at offering an “authentic and high-quality” experience in everything from cafes and hotels to museums and music festivals.
Chris Brodie, key industries partner at Skills Development Scotland, which has helped draw up the blueprint, said: “We need to take advantage of the major tourism opportunities we have in 2014 and use this action plan as a conduit to raise standards even further in the future.”
Alan Rankin, chief executive of the Cairngorm Business Partnership, told the conference: “We want the visitor to have a seamless experience as they go around the country and that means bringing every business on board.”
Mr Ewing told the event: “Tourism employs more people on a wider basis across all parts of the country than any other sector.
“Nearly one in 10 people are now employed in tourism, in around 15,000 business, and are making a massive contribution to the economy.”