We’re every one of us in tourism today

INCOME from visitors is worth £11bn to the nation, and it’s not only workers on the front line who are part of that success, writes Mike Cantlay.

Keith Brown MSP helped clip the final length of track to the new Borders Railway. Picture: Stuart Cobley

I work in tourism. No surprise there – as Chairman of VisitScotland, that’s pretty obvious. But did you know that my local postman works in tourism? The electrician who fixed my dishwasher last week – he works in tourism. The barber who cuts my fiery Scottish locks – he works in tourism. And how could I forget our wonderful local chippy in Callander – feeding the Cantlay family for generations – well, they work in tourism too. Don’t worry, I’ve not gone out to recruit everyone in my life to join the VisitScotland team. My point is that wherever you work, whatever you do as a career or indeed hobby, in all probability you will, in some small or large way, be part of the £11 billion pound tourism industry. This is what we call the visitor economy. Disagree? Read on to find out more.

Pick a profession – any profession – and we can relate it back to tourism. Let’s start with accountants. Without tourism, accountancy would lose £9 million a year (based on Scottish Government recent accounts). What about the baker? Tourism accounts for a third of the consumption of bread, biscuits and bakery items in Scotland – £15m a year. What about a scientist? Think you’ve got me there, don’t you? Of course not! For us the connection is simple – 70 per cent of applications to our Business Tourism Conference Bid Fund are from the Life Sciences sector, leading to thousands of scientists, academics and business delegates travelling to Scotland year on year to spend money in our shops, restaurants, hotels, transport and so on. From laundry services to sweet shops; insurers to carpet manufacturers; civil engineers to bus drivers – every single person has a touchpoint with tourism in some way.

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“So what?” you might ask. How will knowing this change your life? It’s a recognition from everybody – a worthy recognition – of just how important the tourism industry is to Scotland. It impacts far beyond the hotels or the ice cream man on the beach in the summer – it is so much more than that. A Scotland without tourism would be like a Tunnock’s teacake without the mallow; Charlie from The Proclaimers without Craig; Edinburgh without the Castle ; Haggis without the neeps and tatties – it would still exist in its physical form, but ultimately one needs the other to thrive and be successful.

One of the most interesting case studies when we talk of the visitor economy relates to infrastructure. In August last year, we communicated that a joint initiative between VisitScotland and Scottish local authorities has revealed that more than £8.4bn is currently being invested in the country’s tourism future – and that figure is growing.

The National Tourism Development Framework, which supports the delivery of the “Tourism Scotland 2020” strategy, was launched in 2013 and focuses on a series of actions to help promote improvements in the visitor experience.

The Framework, which is supported by Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Team Scotland agencies, identifies projects that are due to start or be completed over the next three years covering all aspects of the visitor experience, including digital, transport, accommodation, nature, heritage, towns and cities, business tourism and events.

The primary purpose of the Framework Action Plans is to highlight current planned investment and potential/pipeline opportunities for further inward investment and growth in the visitor economy. Projects included within the Framework Action Plans for 2014-16 include (indicative and subject to change):

• Accelerate Aberdeen (City Broadband Infrastructure) – £7.58m

• M8, M73, M74 Motorway Improvements Project – £500m

• Borders Railway – £353m

• De Vere Hotel Development – £20m

• Falkirk Distillery – £5m

• Ayrshire Golf Resort – £40m

• Elgin Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme – £3.3m

• Edinburgh St James Quarter – £850m

• Paisley Abbey Visitor Centre – £2m

• Kirkwall Regeneration and Conservation Project– £1.2m

• Superfast Broadband for Highlands and Islands Enterprise Area – £146m

When we talk about tourism, we think of visitor attractions, hotels and restaurants. But the National Tourism Development Framework showed – in no uncertain terms – that there is so much more to the industry than that. Good internet connectivity, smooth roads, informative signage and urban improvement projects are just a few of the hugely important pieces that join together to ensure our visitors have the best experience possible while in Scotland no matter where they go. And the people who provide these services? They are all part of tourism – driving the visitor economy.

This is the first time all these projects have been put together in one document and it really is exciting to see the sheer scale level of investment in Scotland’s tourism future and VisitScotland will ensure these close workings between local authorities and planning departments continue, creating real opportunities and benefits for many years to come.

Once you finish reading this piece, have a think about your career or hobby and how tourism has impacted on it in some way, whether directly or indirectly.

Tourism is the driving force for providing the jobs of today and tomorrow, sustaining communities and providing an international shop window for Scotland. Indeed, the visitor economy is the largest employer in Scotland. It is leading the way in economic transformation, with every £50,000 spent by visitors creating a new job in Scotland. The tax revenue tourism creates is a core supporter of our public services.

Indeed, tourism is the heartbeat of the economy, supporting communities and inspiring investment. It’s more than a holiday, for Scotland it’s a way of life. In Scotland, tourism is what we do. All of us!

• Mike Cantlay is chairman of VisitScotland. Scottish Tourism Week’s Signature Programme will run from 3-5 March. For more information about the work of VisitScotland, go to www.visitscotland.org