Interview: David Cochrane, chief executive of the Hospitality Industry Trust (HIT)

Tourism industry must prepare now to reap the rewards of 2014

WITH Olympic football kicking off in Glasgow in less than six months, David Cochrane is calling on businesses to prepare just as top-flight athletes do for the “once in a lifetime” series of sporting events being held across Scotland.

The chief executive of the Hospitality Industry Trust (HIT) – the charity dedicated to raising standards across the country’s leisure sector – says travel, tourism and catering firms must get ready now for a hectic 2014, when both the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup will be hosted in this country.

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With a prelude coming later this year in the form of Olympic football at Hampden Park, Cochrane says there’s no excuse for being ill-prepared.

He said: “It really is unique to have events at this level coming one after another – it is the kind of opportunity that does not normally come around. We will be able to take stock of what happens with the 2012 events and then we have two years to get our house completely in order for the Commonwealth Games.”

The theme of preparation will be paramount at tomorrow’s Emerging Talent Conference, where about 100 applicants will receive one of this year’s HIT Scotland scholarships to attend some of the world’s most prestigious training facilities.

The charity invests about £100,000 each year placing industry professionals in local and international sites with the likes of Michelin-starred chefs and award-winning sommeliers. Bursaries are also available for courses in hotel schools in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Disney Institute in Florida and training behind the scenes at six start resorts in Dubai.

Discussions with this year’s crop of candidates – about 200 of an initial 500 applicants were interviewed by HIT Scotland – included a keen focus on how experience in the coming months can be used to leverage opportunities in 2014.

“If you can see the bandwagon, you have missed it,” says Cochrane. “Now is the time to be getting training or managers in place so they are up to speed and comfortable with what they are doing.

“If a business is considering putting up new fronts or overhauling the premises, the time is now, rather than waiting till a couple of months before and running the risk of turning people away because the dining room is being redecorated.”

The benefits of being prepared will also feature at tomorrow’s conference at the Glasgow Science Centre, which about 400 people are expected to attend. Keynote speaker Katherine Grainger, the Scottish three-time Olympic silver rowing medallist, will talk about the extensive planning and training required to grab fleeting opportunities for international glory.

It’s a subject dear to Cochrane, who began his life-long career in the hospitality industry as a catering assistant in the athlete’s village of the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. He remembers the excitement of the event vividly – including getting the chance to serve Diana, Princess of Wales.

He recalls: “There was a lot of pride among everybody working in the village, seeing all of this happening in our home city. Of course, it was not just about hosting the event, but also all the preparation that went into it as well.”

Looking ahead to the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Cochrane says one of the crucial factors will be how the country is portrayed in the international media.

“This will hinge not just upon a smooth-running competition, but will also require a good display of what else is on offer, particularly for those travelling in to watch the events.

“Once we have got people into the cities, we need to then get them out into the country. We need to make sure things are joined up. There are lots of pockets of very dynamic things planned, but we need to be sure the Scottish package is all put together so it is easy for visitors.”

Leadership on this front will need to come from within the industry, where HIT Scotland strives to develop home-grown talent up to the highest levels.

Cochrane is furthering this aim as chief executive of the new International Leadership School in Scotland, a joint partnership between Strathclyde Business School, Cornell University in New York, and the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne. The two-year executive masters course received its first participants last month.

As for the industry’s forthcoming opportunities, Cochrane says the mantle must be grasped by all, not just “those in the know”.

“There are a lot of great ideas out there, but now we need to spark more action,” he says. “We have had some dynamic thinking, but that then needs to translate into dynamic doing.”