Search engine Google has revealed the questions the world wants to know about Scotland and its major cities and unfortunately, not all of them are flattering.
Google’s autocomplete service, which automatically suggests the most common search terms people are using when certain information is entered, has passed judgment on Scotland’s four biggest cities, and the results suggest that despite efforts to “sell” Scotland as an upmarket tourist destination worldwide, certain stereotypes are hard to shake off.
When asking “Why is Glasgow so...” Google autocomplete suggests words such as “violent”, “unhealthy”, “poor” and “dangerous”, while the question “Why is Edinburgh so...” elicits responses including “cold”, “expensive”, “haunted” and “windy”. Aberdeen is viewed as “expensive” and “cold”, while people around the world are keen to know “why is Dundee so popular”.
When it comes to Scotland itself, internet users ask why it is so “cloudy”, “rainy”, “violent” and “poor”, and also enquire why the Scottish are so “racist”, “angry”, “tough” and “bitter”.
In contrast, when it comes to our southern neighbours, people want to know why the English are “reserved”, “good at war”, “cool” and “arrogant”, and why England is so “cloudy”, “boring”, “cold and windy”.
Dr Jason Turner, lecturer in marketing at the University of Abertay, said the results reflected how people research information online in the digital age.
“People go to Google as a first resource,” he said. “If they haven’t visited Scotland before, it’s likely they will be asking negative questions rather than positive ones, in order to get a balanced view and learn more about things they’ve heard. People want to reassure themselves, so if they’ve heard Glasgow is dangerous, they might well ask Google about it in order to find out.”
John Donnelly, chief executive of Marketing Edinburgh, said words like “expensive” and “cold” were not a true representation of the capital.
“Anyone who’s experienced Edinburgh themselves rarely reverts to cliché,” he said.
“The true representation of visitor experience in Edinburgh is hugely positive, as is proven through the likes of TripAdvisor reviews, blogger articles and press coverage the world over, which almost universally agree that Edinburgh is one of the most iconic, inspiring places on Earth.”
The Glasgow Marketing Bureau, which recently launched the “People Make Glasgow” slogan, which replaced “Glasgow: Scotland With Style” at a cost of £500,000 to Glasgow City Council, said it did not wish to comment.
However, Councillor Will Dawson, Dundee City Council convener of city development, said there could be a number of reasons why internet users were asking why the “City of Discovery” was so popular. “The £1 billion regeneration of our Waterfront and the development of the V&A [international design centre] are only two of the reasons why people are paying closer attention to Dundee,” he said.
“Our achievement in making the final four for the UK City of Culture 2017 is also shining a national spotlight on the strength of our creative sector and our shared determination to help the people of Dundee benefit.”
Meanwhile, Aberdeen City Council was keen to point out that earnings were higher in Aberdeen than elsewhere in Scotland, which might explain why people perceive it as expensive, and that while it might be a bit nippy sometimes, it was also rather sunny.
“Aberdeen is one of the most prosperous parts of the UK and a key driver of the Scottish economy,” said a spokesman. “Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire regularly top surveys as some of the best places not only in Scotland, but also the UK and the world, in which to live. As well as being one of the UK’s snowiest and windiest cities – bearing in mind that we are also one of the most northerly – Aberdeen is one of the sunniest cities in Britain.”
Google itself – the world’s most popular search engine, which uses algorithms based on popularity and location in order to come up with its autocomplete suggestions – says it cannot be held responsible for words entered by users.
In a recent legal case Bettina Wulff, the wife of the former German president Christian Wulff, attempted to sue Google because the search engine added words to her name that referred to a red-light district and escort services. The American company said it was “incomprehensible” it could be held liable for what people chose to search for online. The case is still pending in a Hamburg court.
VisitScotland has recently spent millions promoting the country abroad, with a £7 million campaign on the back of the Disney-Pixar movie Brave.
Joe Goldblatt, a professor in tourism, hospitality and events at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, said that marketing officials should not be too downhearted at the results, as they can change depending on what people were seeking.
“The algorithms set by Google and other search engines rapidly change based upon internet traffic patterns,” he said. “The key messages received about both Glasgow and Scotland in general are traditionally very positive according to many studies conducted regarding leisure and business tourist pre- and post-perceptions of our iconic land.”
A VisitScotland spokesman said: “We’re not going to pay too much attention to the automatic answers on Google, when putting in the same question about England, Ireland or Wales, the responses are very similar and therefore aren’t a true representation.
“This has been a remarkable year which has seen numerous accolades bestowed upon Scotland, including a CNN travel award, several TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice awards, not to mention Dunnottar Castle [south of Stonehaven] currently in the top-ten of global poll to find the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’.”