Leader: Window of opportunity open to pitch Scotland worldwide

NOT too many people will be familiar with a film called Brave, which isn’t surprising because it hasn’t been finished yet, never mind released to cinemas. But next summer Brave could become very important to a significant part of the Scottish economy. According to the advance publicity it will feature stories of epic battles and mystical legends, passed through the generations across the rugged and mysterious Highlands of Scotland.

The tourism pulling power of the movies has already been proven with such epics as Braveheart. Visitor numbers to the Wallace Monument in Stirling tripled to 150,000 in the year after the film’s release and the Scottish locations used in the Harry Potter series have experienced a significant influx of visitors. Even though Brave is a digital animation, the Scottish voices that will appear in it, including Kelly Macdonald and Billy Connolly, should ensure that the setting is identifiably Scotland. Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland believes that this film, plus the 2012 Olympics in London, the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games in Scotland in 2014, means that there is now a three-year window of opportunity in which Scotland’s tourism industry has an unprecedented opportunity to present itself to the world.

The importance of tourism to the Scottish economy is often overlooked. It generates about £5 billion in income or about 4.5 per cent of GDP. It also employs more than 200,000 people. Many of these jobs are in remoter and rural areas.

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Visitor numbers could be swelled next year, though it sounds counter-intuitive, by the Olympics. Already, reports suggest that many people have been put off from visiting London during and close to the Olympics because of reports of little accommodation being available and only at high prices. Worries about congestion and security may also act as a deterrent. That presents an opening for Scotland. We have more royal palaces than London, better castles (including one with Crown Jewels on display), splendid art galleries and museums, as well as coastal and inland scenery London cannot match.

These attractions in themselves, however, do not necessarily add up to an enjoyable holiday. Many tourism businesses have worked hard to improve what they offer. Those that have survived the recession have learned investment in a quality service offered at a reasonable price leaves visitors thinking they have had good value for their money is the key to ensuring repeat and additional custom.

But yet more needs to be done. Because tourists are ever more discerning while also having increasing choice, tourism cannot stand still. Scots have grown better at understanding what providing good service means. And if the people who work in tourism can get better still, Mr Cantlay’s prediction of good times ahead stands a chance of coming true.