As a former employee of the Scottish Borders Tourist Board and VisitScotland I listened to the report on 2010 Tourism statistics for the Scottish Borders with interest. They did not make for easy listening. According to the new report I heard the Scottish Borders is lagging significantly behind the rest of Scotland. Tourism visits are down and the there is a fall in the number of nights to the area.
I have yet to see the statistics in detail and compare them to my knowledge of where there were previously or with the 2009 figures. But the bottom line is this is not good news for the borders tourism industry and the wider borders economy. For as long as I have lived and worked in the area tourism has been seen as the growth industry so if it is in decline what does that mean for the future economy of the borders? This is one question that needs to be considered and answered.
Other questions include why is it in decline? The report seemed to suggest that this decline was not in line with other Scottish statistics and that occupancy in the area was way below the Scottish average. 2010 was heralded as the year of the staycation. The Scottish Borders along with Dumfries and Galloway is the first area you come to in Scotland it should have benefitted from this market but it obviously didn’t.
To me the product here is great. I am biased very biased I admit. I love this small part of the world much of my working life has been spent promoting it as a great place to live, visit and work. Both in my previous life as tourism marketer but also in my current life with Bright Light Marketing as rural marketing expert working with rural businesses and in my work with social media. I make sure I regularly promote the Scottish Borders. And I think the product is good in the main.
Yes there could be improvements to the product but as Catherine Maxwell Stuart of Traquair said on the radio today all businesses need to make ongoing improvements. This is across the UK and of course the Borders is no exception.
So what is the issue? Well we can blame the age-old issue that I have heard since I started working in the Scottish Borders. People don’t know about us and they just drive through the area. My answer then is what it is now. People will not know about you unless you tell them and you need to do this often and loudly and get yourself heard and noticed. It’s easy to come up with excuses it’s less easy to come up with solutions. So the drive through excuse doesn’t wash with me we need to give them a reason to stop.
The don’t know about us excuse also doesn’t work with me. Lets give people a reason to visit by communicating with them.
And the lets blame the public sector excuse? Well that is a difficult one as again I show a bias. Do I think the Scottish Borders was better promoted when there was a Scottish Borders Tourist Board? Well if I am honest yes I do and with European funding and targeted marketing we were able to make our mark. But the simple reality is there isn’t a Scottish Borders Tourist Board any more, no European Funding and the public sector cuts will mean limited support from that sector. That boat has sailed and left port we need a new solution. Though I must admit I do commend Scottish Borders Council on the great work they did on the Tour of Britain which I think gave the area great publicity. This is the kind of events and promotion of the area that we need.
And events such as the Tour of Britain, the Borders Book Festival and regular events such as those held at Traquair do put the area on the map and bring visitors. But we need more of this and much more promotion of the area in general. Joined up thinking is business jargon so to put it another way we need to all sing from the same hymn sheet or plan.
So what are we going to do those of use who live here and want to let others know about this wonderful area?
We can make differences in isolation as a passionate local resident I can Tweet, Facebook and blog about how wonderful area it is. And I do this and I am not alone Sue Beck of Hendersyde, Jailhouse Rock as he is known on Twitter, Mainstreet Trading, the Buccleuch Hotel and many others are out there spreading the word about the Scottish Borders. We need more to join us. But social media though a powerful tool is not enough in itself.
Individual tourism businesses can make a difference by communicating with their customers, promoting themselves and ensuring great customer service so that people return to the area. However many are doing that already and it’s clearly not enough.
Many locals sing the praises of the area within and out with which is great we need ambassadors for the area. But again in isolation it is not enough.
So what can we do? Well I would agree with Catherine Maxwell Stuart it requires team work we all need to work together. But for that to work well we need a vision of where we want to be and a strategy how to get there. And this needs to be discussed with all interested parties and communicated to the wider Borders public on an on going basis.
I am afraid I haven’t got all the answers I am only one voice. I am willing though to play my part in working for a successful tourism industry in the Scottish Borders.
I am keen though to know the thoughts of others and what the issues, solutions and vision could be for the future. So that the Scottish Borders is not lagging behind the rest of Scotland, bemoaning its lot in life but leading the way.