Travel firm AC Group targets Scottish ‘hotbed’

This year AC Group saw a 167 per cent year-on-year increase in visitors to Scotland, led by Edinburgh (up by 107 per cent). Picture: Ian Georgeson
This year AC Group saw a 167 per cent year-on-year increase in visitors to Scotland, led by Edinburgh (up by 107 per cent). Picture: Ian Georgeson
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A travel firm specialising in visits to the UK is looking to accelerate its presence in Scotland, an area it sees as a “hotbed of activity” and where it has experienced triple-digit year-on-year growth in visitor numbers in 2018.

AC Group started out in the 1990s, initially focused on German coach tours, with trips to Scotland proving popular.

“Scotland’s a huge attraction for inbound tourism,” Rob Russell, joint chief executive, told Scotland on Sunday.

The London-based business-to-business firm sells to tour operators and travel agents, and three of its strongest markets – the US and Iceland as well as Germany – feature highly for Scotland, with their preferred travel seasons meaning it can give many of its Scottish partners year-round custom. This year the company saw a 167 per cent year-on-year increase in visitors to Scotland, led by Edinburgh (up by 107 per cent) and Glasgow (a jump of 64 per cent), with Fort William and Inverness also in the UK top ten. In the past 12 months, AC Group has facilitated trips for 120,000 travellers across Britain.

Russell joined the firm in 2013, and it has been moving into more “handheld, concierge-style” travel.

AC Group is seeing trips to the Highlands increasing in popularity, as travellers seek locations connected to their family history, while the “Outlander effect”, with the Scotland-set TV series credited with driving a tourist boom also having a positive effect. “People do want to see where their heroes have walked,” said Russell, who is among the owners of AC Group. He also believes rural hotels are also upping their game. “What we’re finding is really popular this year is so many of the properties have developed their own offering to really make themselves destinations.” These include having a gin distillery on site or a ghillie who can arrange for visitors to go fishing and eat their catch for dinner.

As for growth potential in Scotland, he expects this both from its existing and new markets, for example forecasting “significant” growth from the US in 2019. The group is also looking to tap into the Australian market, which offers “huge opportunities”, with passengers booking longer trips. “It’s a great market that we’re looking to do more in.”

Tour group sizes can range from single digits for a multi-generational family from the US, for example, to 150 for, say, a visit from Iceland, and Russell also highlights the ongoing popularity of food, drink, culture (boosted by the new V&A in Dundee) and golf.

AC Group has been working with Emirates Holidays, and is looking to harness inbound travel on its new Edinburgh route. It is also looking to increase its partnerships in Scotland. “It’s such a hotbed of activity – we’re always looking for more.”