Brian Ferguson: Bloggers help tourism start year with a bang

Hogmanay in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL
Hogmanay in Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL
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TODAY is the first working day of the year for many in Scotland – not a bad result considering it is the seventh of January. It is a full week since my own return to the chalkface and the Hogmanay celebrations in Edinburgh already seem a distant memory.

The fact the festivities passed off without any of the weather-related problems that had hampered them over the previous decade has a lot to do with that.

Tuesday evening’s dramatic street theatre show in Buccleuch Place, the finale to an inspired expansion of the capital’s New Year’s Day programme, definitely felt like the heralding of a changing of the seasons. In fact, the winter chill lifted so dramatically by the middle of last week that Edinburgh’s ice rink was rendered almost completely redundant.

But the undoubted feel-good factor engendered by the city’s festivities is still having a ripple effect, right across the country.

Plans to lure 21 travel bloggers to Edinburgh for Hogmanay and then take them on trips around Scotland merited only a single sentence at the end of the press release announcing the festival programme.

I can still recall cringing when I saw that the initiative – backed by Festivals Edinburgh, EventScotland and travel firms Skyscanner and Haggis Adventures – had been dubbed “Blogmanay”. This was at a time when another marketing initiative, the ill-fated “incredinburgh” campaign, was imploding, after a less-than-subtle intervention by current and former councillors.

We all know what happened next. The creative expert behind the campaign was suspended for a string of outbursts against its critics and the highly-paid chief executive responsible for “Incredinburgh” resigned before Christmas.

Yet Blogmanay won over this old cynic, thanks to a lack of overblown hype, backroom wrangling and meddling politicians, combined with an ingenious basic premise. They have let the bloggers speak for themselves.

Based loosely on a model deployed during the Disney-Pixar-Brave bandwagon last summer, the mainly international bloggers were treated to the very best of the festivities in Edinburgh, then whisked off on a whistle-stop tour of the Highlands.

It was certainly a gamble. What if the whole shebang in Edinburgh fell victim to the weather, as happened twice in the previous ten years? Two years ago the whole country virtually ground to a halt for weeks due to unprecedented snow and ice in December. What levels of hospitality could possibly compensate an army of bloggers beseiged by blizzards and gale-force winds for a week?

Edinburgh’s programme has also been scaled back of late, but by concentrating on the basics, like the fireworks display above the castle and its curtain-raiser torchlight march, it does enough to retain its place in the global spotlight.

To an extent, it had to make its own luck, in keeping with the clever theme for the programme. After a year in which all manner of events fell victim to the weather across Britain, the conditions were pretty much perfect over Hogmanay. I have to confess the bloggers have cast a strange spell over me over the last week. Their enthusiasm and amazement at what unfolded before their eyes is there for all to see on their Twitter profiles. A Google search using the #blogmanay hashtag threw up more than 10,000 results by the weekend.

Unique Events, the Hogmanay producers who dreamt up the Blogmanay venture, are coy about the overall costs of the initiative. But I doubt it will have cost more than £300,000, and priceless publicity is still being generated even as I write this, with the bloggers still lapping it up in St Andrews.

If anything, their impressions of the rest of Scotland have been the real eye-opener. As luck would have it, the apocalyptic weather conditions they could well have been confronted with simply stayed away.

In the depths of winter, while many parts of the tourism industry have gone to sleep for several months, there were stunning shots of Glen Coe, Skye, Culloden and Loch Ness being dispatched around the globe.

The Blogmanay venture alone has helped ensure that the Year of Natural Scotland is off to a flyer. When news dropped last week that CNN Travel had rated Scotland the number one travel destination in 2013, when Ireland is staging its own version of “Homecoming”, the thought struck me – has our tourism industry ever enjoyed a better start to the year?