Brian Ferguson: Music tourism could be a huge boon

Linking tourism and music is a winning combination, writes Brian Ferguson
The Music Tourist Convention will look at the impact of Glasgow venues like the SSE Hydro. Picture: John DevlinThe Music Tourist Convention will look at the impact of Glasgow venues like the SSE Hydro. Picture: John Devlin
The Music Tourist Convention will look at the impact of Glasgow venues like the SSE Hydro. Picture: John Devlin

You know someone has come up with a winning idea when your immediate reaction is: “Now why has no-one thought of that before?”

That was my exact thought when The Scotsman’s pop and rock critic Fiona Shepherd told me last year about her then-new business venture, Glasgow Music City Tours.

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After all, Glasgow has been bursting at the seams with venues, bands, gigs and events for decades. But Shepherd and fellow directors Alison Stroak and Jonathan Trew launched Glasgow Music City Tours last July with the aim of raising the profile of Glasgow’s rich musical heritage and celebrating the acts to emerge from the city.

It was the first time I had come across a fully-fledged “music tourism” business, although the phrase had crossed my radar some time before.

The Edinburgh-based journalist, promoter and convention organiser Olaf Furniss, whose Born To Be Wide seminars have done much to put Edinburgh’s music scene on the map, has had something of an obsession about the two sectors connecting up properly.

I bumped into him in the summer at the Hebridean Celtic Festival on the Isle of Lewis, during a marathon road trip to explore some of the country’s far-flung musical hotspots.

A subsequent newspaper article offered a fascinating insight into the multitude of scenes bubbling under well away from the centre of the Scottish music universe in Glasgow.

But Furniss’s odyssey from Edinburgh to the Outer Hebrides also took him on the trail of Johnny Cash, ACDC’s Bon Scott, Big Country, Barbara Dickson, Dougie MacLean, Jimmy Shand and The Skids.

It looks as if that time on the road, and indeed the high seas, has been time well spent as Furniss has just unveiled plans to stage the world’s first international music tourism summit next month.

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Nicking in just ahead of a planned event in Liverpool in February, The Music Tourist Convention will not only be held in Glasgow, but will see the expert guides from that new music tour company take delegates around key locations.

Furniss has ambitions for the two-day event to provide a focal point for the “limitless” opportunities for linking up music and tourism – two vast and booming industries which inexplicably rarely cross over.

As far as he sees it, anyone interested in developing partnerships or exploring opportunities simply does not know where to turn at the moment. But if his fledgling event takes off, then musicians, venues, festivals, promoters and record stores will be brought together with transport companies, travel agents, visitor attractions, business groups and accommodation providers for the first time.

Anyone in the Scottish hospitality trade wondering why they should care about the music industry need only glance at new research showing that 928,000 people went to gigs and festivals north of the border last year, generating £295 million for the nation’s economy and supporting some 3,230 jobs.

Smarter minds than mine will no doubt be generating plenty of ideas for collaborations to bring to the event. But among the suggestions I would throw into the mix would be getting tourism organisations and transport operators to support taking bands to far-flung locations, staging more live music events in the grounds of historic attractions and castles, and developing new festivals and events which combine cutting-edge bands with thrilling experiences.