John McLellan: Eyes of the world are set to turn on Scotland

Editors will hopefully tell their readers and advertisers what a superb place Scotland is to visit and do business. Picture: Getty
Editors will hopefully tell their readers and advertisers what a superb place Scotland is to visit and do business. Picture: Getty
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The arrival of the world’s media in Glasgow next year will be a golden opportunity for Scotland, writes John McLellan.

Selling Scotland to the world is an expensive business. The net expenditure of national tourism agency VisitScotland last year was £48 million, but that’s set against the estimated £11 billion the tourism sector was worth to the Scottish economy and the 217,000 jobs it sustains.

Just one project – the “Scotland is Now” campaign to attract international business tourists and funded jointly with the Scottish Government and overseas business agency Scottish Development International – had a communications and marketing budget just short of £4m, of which almost £2.3m went on digital advertising and social media activities to target markets in London, New York and San Francisco.

Doubtless the Government’s partner advertising agencies will argue this is money well spent, but next year there is a chance to spread the word about Scotland for an awful lot less, with the announcement this week that the World Association of Newspapers is bringing its annual Congress to Glasgow. The Congress will be just one of three events taking place simultaneously, alongside the Global Editors’ Forum and only the third-ever Women in News summit.

On a very basic level, it’s like any other big trade fair, in which the delegates gather in one place for three days to talk about the issues and trends affecting their businesses, spending money in local hotels, restaurants and bars while partners and families enjoy the sights. This is not just any trade fair, but a meeting of over 800 senior news executives and editors, in other words, global communicators with audiences of tens of millions who will gather at the SECC in June and hopefully return home to tell their readers and advertisers what a superb place Scotland is to visit and do business. Rather than the national agencies spending millions to reach international audiences, next summer the people who know those audiences best will be spending thousands to come here for what promises to be a tremendous showcase for all Scotland has to offer.

READ MORE: ‘National brand’ unveiled to sell Scotland to the world

Full disclosure, as director of the Scottish Newspaper Society, I’ve been involved in the negotiations, but credit where it’s due it would not have happened without the initiative and support of VisitScotland and the expertise of Glasgow council’s Convention Bureau because the process of attracting big international events is far from simple.

The conversations can’t even start without the confidence that suitable facilities are in place and accommodation can be guaranteed which, since the development of hotels along the Broomielaw next to the SECC, is no problem in Glasgow. So I found myself in the odd position of supporting the Edinburgh International Conference Centre in Edinburgh council debates while at the same time working on a bid to secure a major event for Clydeside.

Feeling odd is not the same as feeling guilty, and there was never any question that if an international news conference was going to come to Scotland it could only be in Glasgow where all but two of the big publishers and both major television organisations are based. Once again, the eyes of the world will not just be on us but with us.

READ MORE: Scottish Government tourism campaign accused of ‘pushing SNP message’

Taxing times for Adam

While Glasgow pulls out the stops to bring in business, Edinburgh council’s administration continues to focus on the negatives that successful tourism brings, in particular the demand to tax tourists to pay for the impact they have on the city, whether it’s the litter they drop or the support needed for the shows they go to see in August.

After the revelation this week that Finance Secretary Derek Mackay had joined his Cabinet colleague, Culture and Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop, in attacking the city council’s lack of engagement with the tourism and hospitality industry, council leader Adam McVey was in a bullish mood when he spoke to the Scottish Parliament’s culture and tourism committee on Thursday.

Several things came out of the meeting, firstly that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities will coordinate the negotiations with the Scottish Government, not Edinburgh council. Worryingly, there is also a view, voiced by SNP MSP Kenny Gibson, that a tourism tax could create an income gap between those authorities with a successful tourism economy and those which don’t and therefore any scheme should be national and the resulting revenues pooled. So even if the Scottish Government finally agrees the transient visitor levy is a good idea, what Edinburgh council wants and what it gets are not necessarily going to be the same thing.

Then there was the complete denial by Cllr McVey of the Scottish Tourism Alliance’s claim, endorsed by the recent reactions of both Mr Mackay and Ms Hyslop, that there has been no meaningful consultation with the industry. Given Mr Mackay cited the STA in a parliamentary answer only last week, this suggests Cllr McVey’s communication with his political masters is less than effective.

“Listen to the plethora of voices who are in favour,“ pleaded Cllr McVey, but the plethora was limited to Virgin Hotels and AirBnB, the committee being asked to take the others on trust as having been supportive behind closed doors.

But most startling of all was the veiled threat to the industry that it should be getting on board with the council, not the other way around. “Our door has absolutely been open but this is a two-way process of engagement,” said Cllr McVey.

“This requires the industry to take part and engage and where there are people in the industry who think they can pretend we don’t exist, avoid engagement and therefore make all this go away by refusing to take part in it, [this] is potentially quite an unfortunate route,” he said with a smirk. Fighting talk indeed. Given tourism is very much Ms Hyslop’s responsibility, presumably Cllr McVey’s gun is not being held against her head.