AMID many stories of economic woes over recent years, two sectors in Scotland have been both ambitious and strengthening: tourism and the food and drink industry. There’s now an understanding that their futures are heavily interlinked, and as we mark Scotland’s Year of Food & Drink, we’re seeing increased collaboration.
Food and drink accounts for £1 in every £5 visitors spend in Scotland – or, £2.5 million every day. Research also shows that high quality local food and drink really matter to Scotland’s tourists, ranking second on their ‘to do’ list – only sightseeing is more popular.
Importantly, Scotland is forging a reputation in this area. VisitBritain data shows that food and drink has become a much more integral part of Scotland’s tourism experience than in other parts of the UK.
That’s good news for Scotland’s food and drink producers. A vibrant, local customer base is critical. It also matters in terms of our export ambitions. Quality food and drink experiences in Scotland are a shop window, stimulating future export sales when overseas visitors head back home.
The tourism industry is pushing hard to improve its food and drink proposition. VisitScotland’s Taste Our Best accreditation scheme is driving this, showcasing businesses that shout about the local produce they’re using. Launched only 18 months ago, the scheme now boasts around 600 members from tearooms to fine-dining restaurants, all focusing on provenance.
However, while there’s no doubt the Scottish food and drink landscape has transformed in the last decade, there’s still room for improvement.
I still see hotels and restaurants failing to tell customers anything about the delicious local produce they’re serving or just not sourcing the quality food and drink they have on their doorstep. If menus and staff don’t shout about provenance, it’s a missed opportunity to secure repeat visitors and drive economic growth for themselves and the wider Scottish economy.
It’s said “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. It turns out that for the 15 million visitors that will come to Scotland this year, the same is also true. Let’s give them a feast they will remember.
• James Withers is CEO of Scotland Food and Drink.