Charlie Smith: Changing the game when it comes to tourism

THERE'S nothing like a personal recommendation to help fly the flag for Scotland around the world, says Charlie Smith

The Scotland team at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The Scotland team at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Events in the past few weeks have provided quite a distraction. I’ve spent more time watching political commentators speculate on the unfolding drama on television than my wife deems healthy. As entertaining as all this has been, I’m not any nearer knowing what the future holds, but I remain optimistic.

While the soap opera and uncertainty that surrounds geo-political events play out, it’s worth remembering that the work we all do, every day, can have a profoundly positive impact on our collective futures and our national economic wellbeing.

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Tourism is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy – supporting communities and creating jobs throughout the year in every corner of the country. Latest figures show that, during the first three months of this year, the number of overseas visitors to Scotland went up by 27 per cent.

One of the main reasons Scottish tourism punches above its weight in a competitive global market place is because the dedicated members of this industry are doing what they do best – providing outstanding hospitality and a warm welcome to visitors from all over the world.

Beyond anything else, VisitScotland’s recent Spirit of Scotland marketing campaign has shown that, more than our incredible landscapes and our rich heritage, it’s the passion, pride and positivity of the people that inspires visitors from all over the world to come here.

Just look at the momentous year of 2014, when Scotland hosted the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles and the nationwide celebration of Scottish culture that was Homecoming.

The kind of positive energy generated by these amazing events, and the army of volunteers who helped make them happen, is the kind of positive energy we want to harness.

It’s a priceless natural asset in an industry that generates £13 billion worth of economic activity, sustains 200,000 jobs and provides a shop window for investors, students and those who may wish to choose Scotland as their adopted home.

When I was young, my dad used to tell me that, if I ever saw tourists looking lost with a map in their hands, that I should go and help them because it was good for Scotland and would give visitors a positive impression of the country. I know thousands of such conversations happen between families and colleagues across Scotland. At VisitScotland, we want to export that warmth and goodwill through a new Online Community.

We have begun an online mission to plant a Scot in every location worldwide, to share exactly what it is that makes this country so special. Traditional methods of marketing have their place, but there is nothing more powerful than a recommendation from those truly ‘in the know’.

Our new Online Community, which can be accessed on from anywhere in the world, is somewhere Scots can share their stories, their local knowledge and their warmth - and to inspire more people to visit these shores than ever before.

As a nation, we have an outward-looking and welcoming nature which, through this Community, is being multiplied and magnified.

We have already enjoyed an incredible response, as people around the globe share their remarkable stories of Scotland with would-be visitors.

These stories encapsulate some of the most amazing things the country has to offer. One member of the Community, for example, talks about achieving a “life tick” after spotting a white-tailed eagle in Wester Ross, while another has shared her attempts to recreate some of Scotland’s most memorable movie scenes. Some have shared their favourite Scottish islands, while others have extolled the virtues of our most accessible visitor attractions.

One of the great things about our Community is that the stories can be about anything – from favourite places to eat in the Borders, to the hidden natural gems of the Highlands.

While the world-class events of 2014, such as the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, showed that this country can deliver truly world-class events, our Spirit of Scotland campaign shows that events aren’t the only way to rally the industry. What is most important is to have clear purpose.

Through our Community, Scotland is being brought to life online in a way never before seen. We are galvanising Scotland’s tourism industry and utilising the latest technology to spread this nation’s positivity around the globe.

Fortunately, here in Scotland, we have the best places – and people – in the world to do just that.

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• Charlie Smith is director of marketing at VisitScotland