Malcolm Roughead: Spirit of Scotland goes the extra mile

Tourism is about more than delivering just a service for a fee, it is a vocation for those who proudly want to offer visitors a genuine sense of our country
Tourism is about more than delivering just a service for a fee, it is a vocation for those who proudly want to offer visitors a genuine sense of our country
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We’ve all been there. Flights delayed. Lost baggage. Missed connections. Stuck in the airport with an acute lack of information. The Bank Holiday weekend issues caused by the collapse of the British Airways’ booking system was just the latest news story of how badly things can go wrong.

However, I know of no other industry that cares about its customers more than the tourism and hospitality sector. And I can speak specifically with some authority here about the Scottish hospitality industry.

As Scotland’s Bard Rabbie Burns put it: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.’’ And Rabbie was not referring to online ticketing terminals when he talked about his mouse.

The global tourism industry carries billions of people to their destinations every year and the safety record of international aviation is outstandingly high. So we need to give a bit of proportion about BA’s predicament because safety came first.

You can’t sanitise everything. We don’t live in a Disney world where everything is perfect. We have to accept that things can and do go wrong. If people are genuinely trying their best, then we need to respect their effort. My experience of how Scotland deals with such blips says a great deal about our national character. Many people are prepared to go many extra miles out of their way. Literally.

Across Scotland I have heard stories in guest houses and major hotels of hosts going to pick up stranded visitors who have landed at strange UK airports, or cheerfully getting up in the middle of the night to give overdue visitors a cup of tea, a dram and a bowl of soup.

One of the greatest things about visiting Scotland is the generosity of folk when they encounter genuine hardship or misfortune. I know of guesthouse owners who have acted as temporary ambulance drivers taking stricken visitors to a local hospital, or shop-keepers opening up early on a Sunday to ensure that the kilt-hire for a wedding can be collected.

I’ve met hoteliers who have lent clothes and wellies to travellers awaiting their bags sent to Barcelona instead of Barra. We all know that flight chaos can spoil a holiday or event that has been long planned and anticipated, and good people do step in to alleviate the disappointment.

I know that tourism is about more than delivering just a service for a fee, it is a vocation for those who proudly want to offer visitors a genuine sense of our country. Often through these acts of kindness, a bond is created between the visitor and the host.

It becomes part of the memory.

Of course, we all want our holidays to go without a hitch, but we must accept that sometimes it doesn’t always work out. One adage is that strangers are just friends you haven’t met. Going the extra mile builds up these friendships and cultivates appreciation.

I think this sums up many of our best folks running great places to visit, eat and stay. That, to my mind, is the Spirit of Scotland.

Malcolm Roughead OBE is chief executive of VisitScotland