Scottish Tourism Alliance boss Marc Crothall on the industry and challenges ahead

Job title: Chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, a position I’ve held for nearly ten years. We have a core team of five staff, but have a high-profile board and a wider industry council. We have more than 250 member organisations – which is about 65 per cent of every tourism enterprise in Scotland.

Filmed in the Highlands near Spean Bridge, Edinburgh's Hogmanay hosts the premiere of the first instalment of its 2020 online celebrations, entitled Fare Well.
Filmed in the Highlands near Spean Bridge, Edinburgh's Hogmanay hosts the premiere of the first instalment of its 2020 online celebrations, entitled Fare Well.

The Alliance was formed when the Scottish Government invited the sector to shape the national tourism strategy. We represent the voice of the industry to the government and feed the growth ambition back to members, with the aim of Scotland becoming a world leader in 21st Century tourism. I am also on the board of the UK Tourism Industry Council.

How did you get started?

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I worked in bars and restaurants after school before accepting a trainee management position in South Africa. I worked there for five years in various hotels and a restaurant.

Chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance Marc Crothal. Picture: Simon Williams

I returned to the UK in 1985 when the South African government suggested I was eligible for National Service…

My career since has seen me run the catering side of Alton Towers, work with major hotel groups and have a spell working in health and fitness.

I’ve spent 30 years working in almost every sector of the tourism industry. I don’t have a lot of qualifications but I love meeting people and that has been key to my career.

What is your typical day like? I don’t really have a typical day. The last two years have been focused around the Covid response, but my usual daily activities can include meeting with government ministers, speaking engagements, going into schools to encourage young people into the industry and taking part in workshops for members. I am fortunate to travel a fair bit, representing our organisation as a gold standard model for other countries.

What are the factors which affect the success of the industry? Obviously we are a people industry and we need the right workforce, so migration policy does have an impact.

Supply chain issues are also a factor, and with the situation in Ukraine the rising costs of energy is probably a greater concern than the pandemic. The cost of energy going up, as is aviation fuel, and the cost of living will influence people’s decisions on whether they can afford a holiday, while individual businesses will see rising costs, so that is an overarching concern.

All of our priority areas have to be viewed through a lens of socio-economic and environmental concerns.

What advice would you give someone wanting to work in the industry? It is sometimes a challenge to explain as people don’t appreciate the depth and breadth of opportunity – it offers so much more than being a waitress or a hotel manager.

Tourism is everyone’s business, your careers can range from being an engineer on a CalMac ferry to being a digital marketeer. In fact, anyone with digital expertise has huge opportunities at the moment.

If you are a people person, or you want to be creative with food and drink, there are so many career pathways. My own experience is starting straight from school to a career that has taken me round the world and has been immensely fulfilling.

What innovations in the industry do you see making the biggest difference in the future?

Technology is a huge part of what is changing the experience oftourism – whether it is geo-tourism or advances in online ordering in food and drink.

We have robots in the industry already which can address some of the workforce challenges in food productivity. And end-users can experience innovative technologies such as the Battle of Bannockburn Experience or the incredible drones used in Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.

What could the industry or the government be doing differently? In terms of the recognition of the significance of the industry to the economy, we still feel can be undervalued and underappreciated. But Covid suddenly stopping so many different areas really underlined its importance. It isn’t just the restaurants and the pubs, but all the supporting industries.

We are fortunate that the Scottish Government does seem to recognise the importance of investing – other sectors will come and go, but people will always go on holiday and eat out. They should continue to invest with real conviction in our value.

What are your predictions for tourism in Scotland in the years to come? A lot of what we have seen post-Covid is a real draw to the outdoor environment, the pandemic has accelerated people’s interest in walking, watersports and adventure seeking.

There are “bucket lists” that people suddenly start acting upon – perhaps when they realise that life can be short.

There is also a lot more consciousness about the environment.

We are also much more adventurous in our choice of food and drink so food tourism is a growth sector. Agro-tourism is on the rise, which involves farm diversification into tourism, and we are seeing a real rise in multi-generational trips for larger family groups.

In Scotland, we also have a really strong music scene – this will be a record year for live music with hopefully in excess of two million ticket sales.

Life file

Born and raised Born in Guildford, Surrey, and then lived around the world as we travelled with my father’s job. I lived in Florida, Sweden, France and Switzerland, as well as stints in the UK.

Education Wellington College, then sixth form college in Oxford. When in the US, I attended school with Chris Evert, the tennis player.

Family Five children – aged 32, 29, 17 and twins at 14 – all born and bred in Scotland. Married to Adele, who is a personal trainer.

First job Milkman, driving a milk float as a friend’s father had a dairy. Then working in restaurants and bars before working in hotels in South Africa.

Favourite holiday We go all over Scotland. but as a family we also love the sunshine and hospitality of Turkey. We enjoy city breaks – we are just back from Seville, which is fabulous for food and culture.

Plans for retirement Having teenagers, it will be a while before I retire, but Adele and I have discussed living in the Canary Islands. But travel will always be a part of our lives.

Personal motto “Never say no to an invitation and take every opportunity.”