Malcolm Roughead: Spirit of Scotland is very special indeed

Visitors from around the world said the dramatic scenery in Scotland stirred something deep within them. Picture: Chris Close
Visitors from around the world said the dramatic scenery in Scotland stirred something deep within them. Picture: Chris Close
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EVERYONE who visits has a story to share about this country, writes Malcolm Roughead and a new campaign allows them to share it

Stirring the soul. It sounds like it could be the name of a cookery show, not the foundation for a destination marketing initiative, but that is just what is at the heart of The Spirit of Scotland, VisitScotland’s first ever global marketing campaign.

You see, Scotland excels at a good many things – beautiful landscapes, awe-inspiring culture and heritage, warm and friendly people – but what makes it different as a destination to any other in the world? Visitors can experience jaw-dropping scenery in New Zealand, breathtaking heritage in Italy and friendly people the world over – what makes our country different? Why should people choose Scotland over any other destination?

We posed that exact question to hundreds of people across the world and the response was unanimous. Yes, they could see pretty landscapes in other countries, but in Scotland, the dramatic scenery stirred something deep within them. Sure, people are friendly elsewhere, but Scotland has a special character and not only do you want to be touched by this “spirit”– whether its sharing a joke with a Glasgow taxi driver, or enjoying a ceilidh dance with the locals in Inverness – you want to be part of it. Put simply, Scotland evokes a feeling inside, one you can’t put into words, but one you know you’ve been touched by.

Making something intangible like the “spirit” into something tangible like tourism and economic growth is no easy feat! However, once we started talking to residents and visitors of Scotland and asked them to share their own personal “spirit” moment, all suddenly became clear. Everyone we met had a story. Everyone knew that place where they had felt that feeling. It was uncanny. Some stories were emotional, some simply hysterical, but it brought something to life in people’s eyes and for me that was the moment I knew we were on to something pretty special.

We launched to the world on the 10 February and within minutes the #ScotSpirit was trending worldwide. With this new vision, VisitScotland is endeavouring to create something new. This campaign is about a movement, a realisation that to shout loud on a global stage we need to shout together, to believe in our strengths and values and what makes us stand out from the crowd, how others see and admire us, leading to them engaging with us.

The Seven Spirits of Scotland (felt through the people and landscapes)– Guts, Humour, Determination, Fun, Spark, Soul and Warmth – were born to give the campaign a gritty, real edge and the response has been exciting. People from all over the world have written to me to not only tell me how much they love it, but also, perhaps more importantly how they “get it” and want to be part of it.

So what’s my story I hear you ask? What does the spirit mean for me? When have I felt it? As CEO of VisitScotland, as you can imagine, it can happen more than once a day. A feeling of pride washes over me when I hear people rave about the country and how wonderful their experience has been. The unsung heroes who helped those struggling during the floods stirred a feeling of incredible warmth within me for Scotland. I saw the guts and tenacity and felt the strength of our national rugby team (and, of course the loyal Scotland supporters) during the Six Nations and I have such admiration and respect for those who have shown generosity of spirit as a response to our social tourism initiative. Big and small businesses based in Scotland like Abellio ScotRail, National Trust for Scotland, Historic Environment Scotland, the Scottish Youth Hostel Association, Macdonald, Hilton and Accor Hotels came forward to donate free accommodation, travel and activities to help struggling families get a break to Scotland. As the Family Holiday Association pull these packages together, and we announce more in the coming weeks, the spirit that I felt from these businesses is simply incredible.

Scotland is a world-class destination. We have much to do but by being confident and bold, by celebrating our successes when things go well and together addressing the things that don’t in a constructive manner we can fulfil our potential and punch well above our weight. And with #ScotSpirit on our side, we can achieve great things.

• Malcolm Roughead OBE, chief executive of VisitScotland