Tourism industry ‘needs change to flourish’

Air Passenger Duty was one of the barriers highlighted. Picture: Jane Barlow
Air Passenger Duty was one of the barriers highlighted. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE Scottish tourism industry has today warned that a “step change” is needed to remove barriers to growth and to make Scotland a first choice destination for international visitors.

Speaking at the annual Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) midsummer conference in Cumbernauld, tourism chiefs said that problems with tax levied on tourism experiences, air passenger duty, high fuel prices, poor digital connectivity and difficulties recruiting skilled workers all made it “extremely challenging” to compete within a global environment.

A step change is required at a number of levels

Marc Crothall

In his first post-election address to the Scottish tourism industry, tourism minister Fergus Ewing pledged to work with the industry to ensure growth.

He said: “The 2014 tourism figures are hugely encouraging and show Scotland’s tourism industry continuing to grow as we outperform the rest of Great Britain in both domestic and international visitors.

“The Scottish Government is committed to working together with the tourism industry to ensure its continuing success. This includes work in skills, business rates, better regulation, engagement with Europe and investment in infrastructure.

“We understand the importance of the tourism industry to Scotland’s economy and in promoting the Scottish brand across the world and events like this will help this work continue.”

But Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, warned that Scotland needed to look to measures implemented in Ireland to remove barriers to growth in the sector, which generates around five per cent of Scotland’s GDP.

He said that Scotland faced barriers to ensure that visitors would see it as first choice for a “high-quality, value for money and memorable customer experience”.

He said: “Having the support of government and working with local authorities and other public and private sector bodies remains key to enable Scotland to compete as a global tourist destination.”

He added: “A step change is however required at a number of levels to remove barriers to growth and to make Scotland a destination of first choice for a high-quality, value for money and memorable customer experience.

“Tax levied on tourism experiences, air passenger duty, high fuel price levels, digital connectivity, recruiting talent into the industry, destination funding – these are all areas which make it extremely challenging to compete within a global environment.

“As the voice of the industry, and one that has the ear of government, we will continue to highlight these issues to those who can influence change, to relax and remove some of barriers we face to make Scotland more competitive as has happened in Ireland.”

The latest official figures released last month showed that tourism spending in Scotland rose to £4.7 billion in the past year. That was driven by one-off events such as the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.

The statistics, compiled by the Office for National Statistics, showed that the number of visitors to Scotland over the past year grew by five per cent to more than 15 million.

Stephen Leckie, chairman of the STA, added: “Trading conditions continue to be challenging and, as an industry, we need to be focused and pragmatic about what needs to be done to grow Scottish tourism.”