Bringing Scotland to palm of visitors’ hands

Visitors to Scotland today are often staring down at a� hand-held device telling them where to go. Picture: PA
Visitors to Scotland today are often staring down at a� hand-held device telling them where to go. Picture: PA
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DIGITAL supports personal touch, writes Malcolm Roughead

Up until a few years ago, when someone talked about taking a tablet on holiday, it was usually to stop travel sickness or hayfever. Yet now, in the age of digital technology we find ourselves, a tablet means so much more – a portal to information, news, social interaction, games, and images; our window to the world.

As chief executive of VisitScotland, I spend a good deal of time when I’m out and about observing visitors to our stunning country. Nowadays, it is very rare that I witness the classic tourist stereotype – standing on a street corner, full map opened out looking lost, carrying multiple cameras. The visitors of today are often staring down at a hand-held device telling them where to go, or holding up a tablet to capture the moment and share it with the world through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and so on.

I stumbled across a couple sitting on a wall in the middle of Glencoe a few weeks ago, looking down at their phones. The landscape around them was majestic, awe-inspiring, and as breath-taking as I’d ever seen it, and still they looked down. I wanted to say look up! Look away from your phones, WhatsApp can wait while you soak in the atmosphere of one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.

But the world is changing, and we in the Scottish tourism industry must adapt and diversify to ensure we are meeting the needs and expectations of the visitors of today.

So let’s look at the evidence. Some 85 per cent of travellers use smartphones while on holiday, and about half use tablets. The most popular uses for these devices includes taking photos, looking at map features, searching for restaurants, activities and attractions and even checking in for their flight home.

And the online activity doesn’t just start when they enter the country either – 64 per cent of visitors will have booked their accommodation online before they left home and even more will have searched the internet for inspiration about where they should go on holiday.

Over the next year, VisitScotland is investing more than £2.2 million in developing digital platforms to improve our connectivity with potential visitors across the world. Key aspects of this will include: website improvement and optimisation on; providing useful planning tools online to cover the whole visitor journey from start to finish; increased social engagement and interaction; ensuring our content and digital marketing is aligned with what visitors are searching for at any given time; increasing online industry referrals; and exploring the world of interactives and augmented reality.

The developments are exciting and needed if we are to stay ahead of the trend, but we can’t single out online and digital as the only route to information. Although 57 per cent of travellers are using the internet on holiday, 34 per cent still rely on leaflets and 47 per cent still rely on face-to-face contact with locals, service staff and other holidaymakers. There are a lot of pieces to the information jigsaw.

We want Scotland to lead the way in welcoming the world by delivering information that meets visitor needs and inspires them to stay longer.

Outside of the top ten VisitScotland Information Centres, footfall has declined by a third across our visitor centre network across the country. Some people might see this as an issue; but I see it as an opportunity. Things change; people change. As visitors diversify, so shall the tourism industry, ensuring that digital, print and people knowledge interweaves seamlessly between one region to the next.

Information will be quicker and easier to access, whether it’s at the touch of a button or from the local B&B owner, or the shopkeeper, or the ferry captain who knows more about the islands than any internet encyclopaedia site.

Information should be fluid and within arms reach at any stage of the visitor journey. We know internet connectivity may not be as good in some of the more remote parts of the country, but when getting online is impossible, there is someone on hand to help the visitor in person, and in that way the river of information is able to flow.

The future is bright for tourism and we will work hard with industry and partners to provide high quality inspiration and information to more visitors than ever before, connecting them with businesses and creating real growth across Scotland.

If the success of 2014 has taught us anything it is that we all have a role to play in welcoming visitors to Scotland. Have a great season.

• Malcolm Roughead OBE is chief executive of VisitScotland