AS I sat on the plane waiting to land, I could only marvel at the fantastic scenery around me. The blue-green ocean lapping the sandy coves, the landscapes and the anticipation of touching down at one of the most iconic airports in the world made me realise what an amazing country we live in.
Landing on the beach in Barra was one of the many brilliant moments I have experienced as I holiday and work across Scotland – an experience that will be retold many times and recommended to everyone I meet.
This year, we are calling on visitors, and importantly everyone living in Scotland, to experience their own brilliant moments in a country that boasts breathtaking scenery, history, cityscapes and a calendar packed so full of events you don’t even have to travel far to experience them. Next year, 2014, Scotland will welcome the world – a year of two of the most iconic sporting events in the world and a Homecoming programme of more than 250 events.
To mark the occasion, VisitScotland is selling Scotland hard on the national and international stage. The reality is that the amazing success of the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup means that ticket sales have been incredible and that 2014 is already a success story.
The fact that July will also be the focus of many cultural events and that the Commonwealth Games will end as the Edinburgh Festival begins allows us to use a potent combination of sport and culture which will be unmatched anywhere else in the world. The ultimate win is to harness the power of Homecoming to ensure every community across Scotland will benefit.
What we need to do now is ensure that 2015 and 2016 benefit from the biggest opportunity for tourism in decades. We know that Sydney suffered following the Olympics in 2000, with visitor numbers dipping significantly. Complacency could be our worst enemy. The world doesn’t owe Scotland a tourism industry and we need to spend 2014 using the fact that the eyes of the world are on us to change watchers into visitors in the next two to five years.
Our Brilliant Moments campaign, which was launched yesterday, features “ordinary people”, alongside three very special icons, telling of their brilliant moments in Scotland. A paramedic, wildlife ranger, chef, swimmer, golfer and whisky ambassador stand alongside Commonwealth Games ambassador Sir Chris Hoy, world-renowned musician Nicola Benedetti and European Ryder cup captain Paul McGinley to promote Scotland at home and abroad.
It tells the story of 2014 through the eyes of those who live and work in Scotland, spotlighting many beautiful areas of the country and the brilliant moments they are looking forward to in 2014. It invites the viewer to get involved in an amazing year by developing their own brilliant moments in every corner of Scotland. It focuses on elements of the big three – Homecoming, the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.
This £5.3 million campaign will be showcased across the world and include TV, radio, direct mail, e-communication and social media activity. On social media, visitors will be able to film their brilliant moments and share them through various channels and their films will be shown in VisitScotland Information Centres.
You will have seen the recent announcement that Scotland has won the MTV Awards in Glasgow for 2014. But did you know there are another five world or European sporting championships coming in 2015, from swimming to gymnastics?
The Open will come to St Andrews in 2015 and Royal Troon in 2016 and the Turner Prize will come to Scotland in 2015. We are firmly established as a world-renowned events destination and our pedigree is growing by the day. Business tourism is becoming a major success story for Scotland, with investment in infrastructure and interest in the country as a destination for conferences and events higher than ever before.
And 2015 is the year of food and drink – a great opportunity to celebrate the fantastic progress we have all made in turning around the image of Scotland’s food. Today the country is celebrated across the world for its amazing produce and restaurants.
Tourism is Scotland’s largest industry in terms of employment, and stimulating tourism might prove to be the most immediate route to stimulate our economy beyond these tough economic times. In short, the events we will enjoy in 2014 must not be seen as an end in themselves. They are the beginning of a new phase of prosperity for Scottish tourism and Scotland. Selling Scotland on the world stage has been the greatest privilege of my life. I get goose bumps on the back of my neck every time I see our new Brilliant Moments advert. Lonely Planet is right to have declared that Scotland will be one of the top three places to visit in 2014. As we look across the globe, perhaps we should dare to anticipate a lonely planet in 2014 – because the world will be in Scotland, having fun.
• Mike Cantlay is chairman of VisitScotland #brilliant moments