There is no place for complacency in tourism, says Sue Gruellich
A tour operator bringing French visitors to Scotland during the summer season advises their customers in advance: “You no doubt already know that neither the quality of accommodation nor the menus on offer are strong points of Scotland, which is a country of adventure, discovery and culture.”
As a tourist guide accompanying such guests on their tour, how does one cope with this warning? Sadly, certain hotels in remote parts of the country do not meet the quality standards expected by our visitors. Rooms are often small and bathrooms date back to a bygone era.
Hotel staff may be willing, but are ill-trained and inefficient. Why are some waiting staff unable to carry more than one plate in each hand? Are they not given basic training before being allowed into a restaurant? A friendly smile and a welcoming greeting is always a good sign at the check-in desk, but this has to be followed through with efficient service.
With some of the best ingredients on our doorstep – beef, lamb, shellfish, salmon, cheeses – why do we so often offer our visitors turkey escalope, tasteless chicken and orange cheddar in plastic wrapping? How many times must we see sticky toffee pudding on the menu during a one-week tour?
Tourism: A vital sector of our economy
Scotland certainly is a country of magnificent landscapes, varied culture and amazing discoveries. It is my job, as a tourist guide, to bring all this to life for visitors from many different countries. And this I invariably do while travelling by coach, ferry, train and car.
But on arrival at our hotel each night it is with some trepidation that I check in and hope that all will be in order. My colleagues and I are often embarrassed by the rundown nature of some accommodation, and on translating the menu for non-English speakers my heart sinks when I see what is on offer.
Tourism is an increasingly vital sector of our economy. In excess of £4.5 billion per year is generated by more than 16 million overnight visitors, with day visitors contributing a further £6.2bn (2011 figures). More than 200,000 jobs are created by tourism activities – many in rural areas.
We must not be complacent in the product we offer, because tourists follow fashion and another destination will catch their eye for the next time. We cannot rely on our landscape and culture alone. Visitors of the 21st century expect 21st-century quality and service. That is all part of the package.
The pre-emptive letter issued to clients by the French tour operator also asks: “Do the Scots not have the legendary reputation of being more ‘grasping’ than ‘spendthrift’? Is this the reason why many hotels are not always renovated?”
Try as we might to disabuse visitors of this unwelcome slur on our national character, the dilapidated condition of some rural hotels only confirms it.
Invest in the future so visitors will return
Investment in buildings, fixtures and fittings must surely be the watchword of any industry. Many hotels offered to touring groups have no lift facility, but I have also found some where a lift has been installed in the past year – thank goodness! Alternatively, I have also come across hotels which have invested in beautiful flat-screen televisions in each room, but with totally inadequate bathrooms! A quick fix of a new television, with no foreign language programme reception, does not compensate for a trickle of a shower!
These are the observations of someone who is operating in the front line of the tourism industry.
But it is not all doom and gloom. Many hotels provide exactly what everyone expects: a warm welcome, a comfortable room with a clean and functional bathroom, a delicious and well-served dinner and breakfast.
And then we can continue on our journey to explore more of the glorious country that is Scotland, relating tales of clans and castles and how the country operates today and how it is looking to the future.
We just all wish that the minority would invest in their future too so that visitors will return and also spread the word to their family and friends about what this country has to offer.
• Sue Gruellich is chair of the Scottish Tourist Guides Association, www.stga.co.uk