Market Manager – Canada & Golf, VisitScotland
The New Year is here. What’s giving you hope for the future?
While travel to Scotland is still not possible we’re seeing lots of research showing that it continues to be one of the top destinations travellers want to visit when travel returns which gives me great hope for the future. After almost a year in and out of different lockdowns people want to experience wide open spaces, connect with nature and see family and friends, this is certainly something that Scotland can offer.
How have you been coping during the pandemic and how have you been keeping busy?
I’ve been lucky enough to be working throughout the pandemic, albeit from a very different set up at home – the last day in our office was nearly a year ago and who knew that we would still be working from home today. Like everyone else, I’m done with video calls and just yearn for the day when we can meet our family and friends, other than when we are doing the weekly essential shop.
In work terms, I’ve been keeping up-to-date with the ever changing news landscape and how this impacts travel to Scotland, which has certainly kept me busy in these months, and continuing to engage with key contacts throughout the year, not just to promote Scotland, but also to ensure they are staying well during this time.
I live in a beautiful part of Scotland, The Scottish Borders, so am very fortunate to have been able to get out into the countryside and enjoy a lot of good walks. In fact, if you’ve spoken to me on a Microsoft Teams call this year, you’ll have seen a view from one of my favourite walks as it’s my background – The Eildon Hills, which tower above the town of Melrose.
“We’re hoping to see tourism return in a responsible way, with a greater appreciation not just for the scenery and landscapes but for our communities that welcome visitors from all over the world. People understand the impact tourism can have and we hope our visitors will return in a way that will help the industry flourish whilst protecting and nurturing our communities and the natural environment too.”
What have been some of your strategies to keep the trade engaged over the last year? How are you staying connected with travel advisors during this time?
In spring 2020, VisitScotland created a video called Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder which we shared with our contacts in Canada as a way to send a virtual hug to fans of Scotland to encourage them to dream about visiting and travelling later. The video was made by our marketing team all working from their own homes and featured stunning visuals from across Scotland which was a great way to reach our contacts to let them know that Scotland will still be here waiting to give everyone a warm welcome when the time is right. As the pandemic continued, as a team we made sure we kept a light touch with our contacts as we understood the challenges each of them were faced with when travel stopped overnight in March. We also joined some fun zoom calls where we reminisced about previous group trips to Scotland. We created regular inspirational Scotland updates which included videos, blogs and links to online events, giving us the opportunity to keep Scotland top of mind and allow our partners to enjoy Scotland from their own home then, in November 2020, we hosted a brand-new virtual event, Scotland Reconnect 2020. It was the first time we’d delivered an event of this kind and it was a great way for travel agents and tour operators from Canada to connect and do business with Scottish suppliers online.
Do you have anything you want to share with travel agents?
Despite everything, businesses in Scotland continue to evolve, innovate and develop meaning that product offering is more exciting than ever. We can’t wait to welcome our Canadian visitors back to Scotland and have so much to share with them. We want people to keep dreaming of Scotland and planning for when the time is right to return.
If I can shamelessly plug our Travel Trade website www.visitscotlandtraveltrade.
What’s something people shouldn’t leave Scotland without seeing, doing or eating?
Eat: Scotland’s larder is so diverse it’s hard to choose! If I had to pick something, it would be our seafood. We’re so lucky to have such an expansive coastline, lochs and rivers, which means there is a huge variety of Scottish fish and seafood available throughout the year. From salmon and langoustines, to oysters and lobster! Whether tucking into fish and chips at the beach, enjoying freshly caught lobster from a pop-up seafood shack, or enjoying oysters in a fine dining restaurant you’re sure to enjoy it!
See: We know our Canadian visitors love coming to Scotland for our history & heritage, scenery & landscapes and more often than not they head to the Highlands where they can experience this in droves. While I am a proud Highlander, I now live in the Scottish Borders and here in the south of Scotland you can experience all of these things and all just a short drive south of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. While it may not have the high peaks of the Highlands, it does have miles and miles of rolling green hills, that even warmed the heart of the famous author Sir Walter Scott. – his home, Abbotsford is a fabulous visitor attraction which should be explored.
Do: There are many things that you can’t leave Scotland without doing, whether it’s immersing yourself in our diverse and lively city culture, wandering through the glorious countryside, exploring one of the many castles, sampling a dram of our very fine Malt Whisky, taking part in one of many outdoor activities on offer or meeting one of our friendly locals, our Highland Cows, but for me, it will always come back to Loch Lomond – I would urge everyone to take some time to explore the small villages around the loch, but more importantly ensure you find one of the many viewpoints and allow yourself to get lost in the breathtaking scenery of the loch and towering mountains. And if you don’t believe me, have a listen to the band Runrig – who wrote a very famous song about it.
Is there something that you think people may not know about Scotland?
People will know Scotland for the beautiful landscape and scenery it offers and we’re so lucky to be able to showcase that to our Canadian friends but what they might not appreciate is that Scotland is home to the UK’s first Dark Sky Park in Dumfries & Galloway. Galloway Forest Park offers some of the least light polluted skies anywhere which makes it ideal to explore the night sky. On a clear evening, over 7,000 stars and planets are visible to the naked eye, and the bright band of the Milky Way is usually easy to see arching across the sky. What’s more, the town of Moffat is a designated Dark Sky Community, awarded by the International Dark Sky Association and the first outside of North America.
There’s been a lot of talk about the travel industry coming out better on the other side of COVID-19. What are your hopes?
We’re hoping to see tourism return in a responsible way, with a greater appreciation not just for the scenery and landscapes but for our communities that welcome visitors from all over the world. People understand the impact tourism can have and we hope our visitors will return in a way that will help the industry flourish whilst protecting and nurturing our communities and the natural environment too.
How has travel impacted your life?
From a young age I just loved to travel, whether that was exploring my own doorstep here in Scotland or further afield, it is always something that helps me to relax while taking in new cultures and experiences with lasting memories. Even when travel stopped last March, my bag was half packed as we were getting ready to welcome our Canadian tour operators and agents to Scotland for our business tourism B2B event and fam trip. When that was cancelled and future travel arrangements were being removed from the diary, it was incredible the feeling you get when you can’t do something that you love doing. When it is safe to do so, rest assured, the bags are ready and whether that is to get to Canada to meet with our friends or welcoming them here to Scotland, it will not be a day too soon. I can’t wait for the day to be in their company, with a dram of whisky in my hand and raising a toast while proclaiming Sláinte Math – Good Health.