- The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-02245, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on the future of tourism in Scotland. I call Fergus Ewing to speak to and move the motion.
- The Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism (Fergus Ewing):
I am delighted to secure this debate on tourism in Scotland. The Scottish Government very much welcomes the decision to locate the headquarters of the green investment bank in Edinburgh. That is a tribute to the campaign that was run by all those involved, including Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce and the financial sector in Edinburgh, as well as to the cross-party, united and informed campaign that was run by Scotland’s elected representatives—from every party. The decision will bring good news for the tourism sector, not least in attracting even more top-level conferences to the city, perhaps on the range of interests in finance and the green economy. Given the terms of Rhoda Grant’s amendment—which we are happy to accept—I am sure that she will comment on that news as well.
I welcome the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s report on issues affecting Scottish tourism, which was published last week. Tourism is one of the priority sectors in the Scottish Government’s economic strategy. It contributes more than £4,000 million every year to the Scottish economy, and the other benefits from tourism are immense. It supports other high-yield sectors including food and drink, transport, agriculture and retail. Over and above its economic contribution, tourism showcases our manifold attractions to the world, boosting our exports, enhancing our reputation and attracting inward investment.
The benefits of tourism are spread widely across the whole of Scotland, from our cities in the central belt to some of the most remote and fragile communities. Everywhere, tourism sustains vital local services such as post offices and petrol stations.
- Rob Gibson (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP):
Does the minister agree that the Highlands and Islands tourism awards, which are the Oscars for our area, are a model for each area to show how our industry is developing to attract more visitors?
- Fergus Ewing:
Yes—I do. I say that with the experience of having attended such events, as have other members. I have discussed the matter with Marina Huggett in the past two days, along with the many other MSPs who partook of the hospitality at the reception in the Scottish Parliament this week.
Tourism in Scotland continues to grow, despite the worldwide recession. The latest statistics show that, in the first nine months of 2011, the number of visitors to Scotland rose by 8 per cent and visitor spend increased by 11 per cent. Those increases are pretty respectable in difficult economic times.
The United Kingdom market is driving growth, with increases of 10 per cent in visitors and 21 per cent in spend in the first three quarters of 2011. Mainly because of challenges in European markets, the number of international visitors in the same nine-month period fell by 4 per cent. However, the North American market is beginning to recover, with an 18 per cent rise in visitors to Scotland.
- Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con):
The minister will have seen the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s concerns about the target of 50 per cent growth in tourism by 2015, which we now seem far from being close to achieving. Is it sensible to adhere strictly to that target, given that meeting it would require very substantial growth? Will the Scottish Government reflect on whether the target needs to be revised?
- Fergus Ewing:
We are considering the committee’s report carefully. I think that the committee did not express a particular view; rather, it drew attention to evidence that had been given to it. For my part, I am an optimist, and there is lots to be optimistic about, which I will come on to.
We are in competition with many other countries that have a great deal to offer, but we are determined to make the most of Scotland’s fantastic assets and to take full advantage of opportunities to drive up visitor numbers and visitor spend.
A number of significant events will take place on our doorstep this year and in the years ahead. In 2012, we have the year of creative Scotland, and I am advised that great success is already being achieved. The new Disney Pixar film “Brave”, which is set in Scotland and which showcases our landscape and heritage, will be released this year, when we will also see the London Olympics and Paralympics, for which we wish all competitors well. The Queen’s diamond jubilee will also occur; a number of events throughout the country will pay tribute to Her Majesty’s 60 years at the helm. In 2013, we will have the year of natural Scotland, when we will invite Scots to discover their own country, as well as the Open championship at Muirfield and the music of black origin—MOBO—awards in Glasgow. In 2014, we will have the Ryder cup, the Commonwealth games and the year of homecoming.
We have provided funding to develop and market top-quality event programmes to maximise visitor spend. Support for the year of creative Scotland includes £400,000 for activities from the Scottish Government; Creative Scotland’s £6.5 million of support from the national lottery fund for events and activities; VisitScotland’s television advert, which is expected to reach 20 million viewers; and £1.14 million for our cultural infrastructure, which was announced in the debate on 1 February on the year of creative Scotland. VisitScotland is maximising benefits from the Olympic games with tactical Scotland promotions to target the getaway market and other markets. It is also investing about £1 million a year in golf events in Scotland as part of the preparations for the Ryder cup.
Business tourism represents a huge opportunity for Scotland. At this moment, the Glasgow meeting of Diabetes UK is taking place, at which 2,750 delegates are expected, bringing more than £3 million in economic benefit to the city. Business tourism already contributes more than £800 million a year to the Scottish economy, but we want more than that. We are responding to requests directly from the industry, and I have today launched a new conference bid fund to make available £2 million over three years to support bids for major conferences that relate to Scotland’s key sectors. The fund will secure Scotland’s future competitiveness in business tourism.
Competitiveness is also the focus of the tourism leadership group, which is refreshing the tourism strategy for Scotland. It will set out where the long-term opportunities for future growth lie and what needs to be done to secure that growth. It is talking to industry representatives in every walk of tourism life, and is looking carefully at the markets of the future and our assets. The revised strategy will be published in the summer. Our agencies are supporting the group in developing the revised strategy, and will work closely with the industry to deliver it.
The Scottish Government will respond to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee report in due course. I particularly welcome the wide range of issues that the committee has touched on in its conclusions and recommendations.
There is no doubt that tourism faces challenges. The worldwide recession has had an impact, and there are reserved matters that constrain the competitiveness of our industry. The 20 per cent VAT for hospitality businesses is the second highest in the European Union—some 26 countries in Europe have a reduced VAT rate for hotels. The air passenger duty that is imposed by the UK Government has taken the UK to fourth lowest in the world competitiveness ranking in terms of ticket taxes and airport charges in the World Economic Forum’s “Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011”.
However, in spite of those challenges—and in spite of cuts in our budget from Westminster—the Scottish Government recognises the contribution and potential of tourism. We therefore continue to support VisitScotland to deliver effective marketing campaigns. VisitScotland’s European touring campaign generated nearly £97 million of additional expenditure in 2010. EventScotland, VisitScotland’s events directorate, invested £3.7 million in Scotland’s events industry last year, generating £57.5 million in additional revenue for Scotland’s economy. A return of that order must be praised and recognised.
The Scottish Government provides extensive support to tourism through a wide range of activity. Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise support businesses, destinations and product areas with high growth potential, such as golf, mountain-biking, sailing and business tourism. Historic Scotland is the largest provider of visitor attractions in Scotland, with 345 properties, of which 78 are paid attractions. The national parks in Loch Lomond and the Cairngorms welcome 3.6 million visitors a year. Scottish Natural Heritage manages and promotes 47 national nature reserves that attract more than 1 million visitors each year. Forestry Commission Scotland manages 650,000 hectares of national forest estate that includes more than 2,500km of way-marked paths and trails—indeed, in my younger, fitter and thinner days, I used to run through some of those forests. I see that I have taken some members entirely by surprise—or perhaps I have woken them up; I do not know.
The Scottish Government is involved in further activity that supports tourism. Skills Development Scotland funded 2,500 modern apprenticeships in the sector last year, and is on course to increase that number this year. Creative Scotland supports and develops the cultural product that our visitors enjoy. Scottish Enterprise has invested £22 million in the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre’s Scottish Hydro arena and £16 million in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre development, both of which will make a significant contribution to increasing business tourism in this country. Scottish Enterprise has also contributed more than £600,000 to support the developments at Abbotsford. Highlands and Islands Enterprise is investing £1.12 million towards the Kintyre resort development and £1.8 million to support the revitalisation of John o’Groats, whence I travel next Monday.
Among Scottish Development International’s contributions are the securing of a new Malmaison in Dundee and an exclusive world-class hotel and golf resort at Taymouth castle
I am keen to facilitate further investment in tourism. I have asked VisitScotland to develop a more strategic and proactive role in the planning process. Initially, VisitScotland will lead joint work with developers, planners and economic development agencies to prepare an evidence-based national investment plan. That will provide a clear steer for developers and planners on what tourism developments are needed and should be supported in different parts of Scotland.
The Scottish Government is determined to build the competitiveness of Scottish tourism. Our agencies are working more closely than ever with the industry. We are creating opportunities for the benefit of businesses throughout Scotland so that tourism contributes to sustainable growth for the people of Scotland.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to work with so many excellent people who work in Scotland’s tourism sector. Many of us met a number of those people, who work with a whole range of attractions, at the reception that was held in the Parliament earlier this week. I pay particular tribute to Mike Cantlay and Malcolm Roughead of VisitScotland, who are here today and who provide the strongest leadership that the organisation has ever enjoyed, and to Stephen Leckie of the Scottish Tourism Alliance—formerly the Scottish Tourism Forum—who is leading the private sector and with whom we are happy to work.
I commend the motion and look forward to the debate.
That the Parliament recognises the important contribution that tourism makes across many sectors and all geographical areas of Scotland and commends the industry on its continuing growth in spite of harsh economic circumstances; recognises the importance of domestic tourism and the important roles played by businesses of all sizes in achieving this; acknowledges the importance of the work currently being undertaken by the industry-led Tourism Leadership Group to develop a refreshed strategy for tourism in Scotland, and commends the core work of agencies in promoting Scotland and its key assets, in particular Scotland’s cultural and natural heritage, to visitors, supporting businesses and destinations and investing in key facilities, skills development and a programme of sporting and cultural events across Scotland to ensure that Scotland maximises the opportunities available from the globally important events of the next three years, including the Olympics 2012, the Year of Creative Scotland 2012, the Year of Natural Scotland 2013, the Ryder Cup 2014, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and Homecoming 2014.
- Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab):
I share the minister’s delight at the announcement that the green investment bank will be headquartered in Edinburgh. It shows that the cross-party campaign in this Parliament was heard loud and clear in the UK Parliament. I put on record my thanks to the UK Parliament for recognising Edinburgh’s potential as a site for the bank. I hope that the development will bring investment and jobs to Edinburgh and to the rest of Scotland.
The debate is timely, because the winning years strategy will provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build Scottish tourism. We need to make a success of such opportunities so that they act as a springboard for the industry in the future. The report on tourism published by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee informs the debate.
Scotland has much of which to boast: scenery, natural and cultural heritage and—I believe—one of the warmest welcomes that one can get anywhere in the world. Scotland’s unique natural heritage led us to lodge our amendment. I believe that we have the ability to grow green and eco-tourism, on which we have not yet fully capitalised. The year of natural Scotland provides an ideal opportunity to do so.
The minister has identified business tourism as a growth area, and I welcome the funding that he announced today. That funding, together with the green investment bank, will help to grow business tourism in Scotland.
Despite Scotland’s reputation as a tourist attraction, people do not see going into the hospitality industry as a particularly good career move. That has led to poor workforce retention, poor motivation and poor skills development. Much of the problem is caused by the seasonality of the industry. Despite improvements, we still have a long way to go to create a year-round industry. We need permanent jobs that allow people to build a career, keeping skills and knowledge within the industry.
The industry has a low-pay culture, and although the minimum wage has helped, it is not an attractive career choice to aspire only to the minimum wage. The committee heard worrying evidence that staff who worked more than 48 hours a week sometimes opted out of the minimum wage. The minimum wage is not optional: it is a legal requirement. We must strengthen protection for the staff in that situation. The old saying “Pay peanuts, get monkeys” comes to mind. Until the hospitality industry gets its act together, we will not increase standards.
The committee also heard concerns about skills development in the industry.
- Murdo Fraser:
I appreciate that everyone wishes to see better pay and conditions in the hospitality sector. However, that will come about only if the consumers are prepared to pay higher prices for their meals and accommodation. The member needs to reflect on that issue.
- Rhoda Grant:
I take Murdo Fraser’s point that people need to pay more, but they must pay for the service that they receive. The hospitality industry has come a long way in recent years in driving down costs and making hotels less labour intensive so that people who work in them get higher levels of pay. However, huge numbers of people are working long hours for very small amounts of money. If we really are going to make hospitality a career, we must pay properly and focus on career development as one of our priorities.
Skills development goes hand in hand with career development. The system works best when the industry works in collaboration with further education to offer classroom training and job training that complement each other. That best practice needs to be turned into high-quality apprenticeships for the industry, perhaps through traditional job pairings with one employer or with a group of small or more specialised businesses. I was surprised to hear last night that there is a shortage of skilled chefs in the industry. We must address that to move the industry forward.
VisitScotland is the lead marketing authority for tourism, and its campaigns are shown to be highly effective. However, many other area organisations are equally effective. Last summer, I had the pleasure of spending a day with the Cairngorms Business Partnership, which is made up of the Cairngorms Chamber of Commerce, Cairngorms hotels and a destination management organisation.
The Cairngorms Business Partnership works under the banner of the Cairngorms national park but has freedom to develop its own offer. What really impressed me is the wide range of businesses that work together to manage and market their industry. They were highly aware of their interdependence.
For instance, the top-range hotel understood that the bunkhouse also needed to provide excellent quality of service. It recognised that, if a child had a good experience, they would come back to the campsite as a young adult, to the bunkhouse with their family and to the budget hotel with their teenage children. Indeed, when they had money and freedom and were on their own, they could then come back to the top-range hotel.
Those businesses know that they are interdependent, so they work closely together. Their tourism offer covers a range of activities from high-intensity sport, through wildlife tourism to leisurely breaks—indeed, something for all the family.
Some of the operators to whom I spoke were a wee bit concerned that VisitScotland tended to market the Cairngorms as an outdoor, high-activity sporting centre when they felt that they had much more to offer. VisitScotland must try to work more closely with the businesses that it serves so that it can market them as they see fit and in a way that brings back the same return that VisitScotland’s marketing promotions obviously bring back.
The Cairngorms Business Partnership also includes the retail sector. We often forget about retail being part of the visitor offer but, to be frank, it is crucial to tourism.
Another challenge that we face is moving visitors from London, Edinburgh and other big centres to more rural areas. Our ability to do that will determine the success of the winning years strategy. Although our cities have done well in recent years, that has hidden a fall in tourism in our more remote, rural areas. Tourism is often the economic backbone of many of those rural communities, so we must try to redress the balance. I am keen to hear what the minister plans to do to encourage visitors to see more of Scotland.
- Stuart McMillan (West Scotland) (SNP):
Does Rhoda Grant agree that not just rural areas but urban areas outside the cities play an important part in tourism?
- Rhoda Grant:
Yes, I agree with that. The point that I am trying to make is that our cities, such as London and Edinburgh, do well, as do some of the small towns, which have a great deal to offer. Our remote and rural areas also have something to offer, so we need to consider the balance.
Our amendment points to green and eco-tourism and the potential to use that sector to increase visitor numbers in our more remote areas and, indeed, areas outwith our large cities. However, many tourism businesses outside our cities cite infrastructure as a barrier to increasing visitor numbers. Connectivity is a huge issue. The lack of flights to more far-flung areas and the associated high costs are barriers to moving tourists out of our cities. Slow trains and poor roads also play their part.
We need to find ways of encouraging visitors out of the cities. Our rural areas are not only for the more intrepid travellers; they should be an enjoyable experience for all. Other countries do it well—the plane meets the train meets the bus—but we need to go hunting around to find connecting public transport in Scotland.
Edinburgh is our capital city and probably has the best connections to public transport. From the airport, we have a regular bus service to the railway station—although it should go to the bus station. Indeed, there should be better connectivity to the rest of Scotland. We need to achieve that to increase numbers of tourists from outwith Scotland.
I have an awful lot more to say, but I am running out of time. I welcome the debate. As we embark on the winning years, it is time to plan to optimise their impact. We will support the Government in its preparations, but it must put Scotland before party interests if it is to market Scotland and reap the legacy of forthcoming events.
I move amendment S4M-02245.1, to insert at end:
“and further commends tourist industry partners for working together to develop green and eco-tourism.”
- Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con):
I am pleased to speak in this debate on tourism. I support the Government’s motion and the amendment—we are in for a consensual debate.
I am delighted to see Stephen Leckie, from Crieff Hydro, in the public gallery. I had not heard the name or seen the man until this week, but I heard him give a speech on Tuesday night and again last night. Now it is his turn to listen to me. I cannot promise that my speech will be anything like as colourful as his were.
Scottish Conservatives welcome the £2 million that will be available over three years to support bids for major conferences that relate to business tourism in Scotland’s key sectors—I trust that that includes the food and drink sector as well as commerce, science and medicine, given our wonderful, high-quality products in Scotland, including our whisky. Aviemore has built a reputation for excellence as a world-class conference centre, which brings many visitors to the area for the first time. Many of those visitors decide to come back with their families, so I hope that Aviemore and Strathspey will benefit from the investment.
I am a Highlands and Islands MSP, so I acknowledge the investment in John o’Groats, which is well overdue but nonetheless very welcome.
As the co-convener of the Parliament’s cross-party group on Scotch whisky, I want to highlight how much whisky contributes to tourism in Scotland. In 2010, about 1.3 million visitors visited the 52 Scotch whisky visitor centres. Some 87 per cent of those visitors came from outside Scotland. Spend was £27 million, and 91 per cent of the operating expenditure of the visitor centres is spent with Scottish suppliers.
I recently visited the Strathisla distillery in Keith, which I was told is the oldest distillery in the Highlands. I saw round the distillery, the shop and the excellent rooms that can be hired for conferences. As well as offering the traditional distillery tour, many distilleries provide tasting sessions, corporate facilities, wedding venues and high-quality coffee shops and restaurants. Our whisky industry has fully embraced opportunities in tourism and has invested to enhance the tourist experience. Given that China is one of the fastest-growing markets for Scotch whisky, I hope that we can look forward to welcoming many visitors from that country to our distilleries in Scotland.
We give a huge welcome to the United Kingdom Government’s decision to base the corporate headquarters of the UK green investment bank in Edinburgh. As the minister said, that is fitting, given that the Labour amendment
“commends tourist industry partners for working together to develop green and eco-tourism.”
It also proves what can be achieved through good working relationships between the United Kingdom Government and our Scottish ministers.
The tourism sector in Scotland directly employs more than 220,000 people. In the context of private sector employment, that is second only to the retail sector. Tourism accounts for about 9 per cent of jobs, but, most important, in parts of the Highlands it accounts for about 20 per cent of jobs.
In preparation for the debate I read the briefing that the Scottish Parliament information centre produced last year and the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s report on issues affecting Scottish tourism. Both publications highlighted the target for a 50 per cent increase in revenue, which was set out in the 2006 publication “Scottish Tourism: The Next Decade—A Tourism Framework for Change”. I found it difficult to track any increase, although it is worth noting the wide variation in figures when attempts are made to define and measure tourism’s contribution to the Scottish economy.
Figures in the SPICe briefing suggest that spend in monetary and real terms decreased between 2005 and 2009. The spend by visitors from within Scotland was down, as well as the spend by visitors from the rest of the United Kingdom, but there was a small increase in the spend by overseas visitors. All in all, tourism’s contribution to the economy is probably flatlining.
I found it surprising that whereas Malcolm Roughead, the chief executive of VisitScotland, has said that it is realistic to say that the 50 per cent target will not be achieved, John Swinney has said that Governments should not run around changing their targets at the first sign of trouble. In paragraph 47 of its report on issues affecting tourism, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee states:
“We are concerned that the Cabinet Secretary and the Chief Executive of our main tourism agency for Scotland have differing views on the achievability of the 50% growth target.”
Nevertheless, there is much to welcome in Scotland and we should all be tourism ambassadors for our country. I welcome what the minister said about the Disney film promoting our own Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane and many others. The Castle Stuart golf course near Inverness is a prime example of the excellent increase in quality standards and professionalism, with its staff showing sheer determination in continuing a golf tournament despite heavy rain and even landslides on the course.
My time is running out fast. I briefly mention Alan Taylor’s article in The Herald, in which he spoke about being stranded in Ullapool but finding a warm welcome at Jean Urquhart’s Ceilidh Place. I hope that more people who live in Scotland will holiday in Scotland and get to know their own country.
- Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (SNP):
I declare an interest, as someone who has been involved in tourism for 40 years.
During that time, tourism has become an industry. There was a time when to call tourism an industry was tantamount to insulting shipbuilding, mining, manufacturing or the other big industries that were considered to be real industries. Working in the service industry often equated with failure—it was a workplace for the great unskilled. Why would anyone want those unsociable hours, the low pay, the disrespect and the lack of a career path?
What about Scotland itself? The Scottish Tourist Board, as it was then, was restricted to promoting Scotland only in Scotland, and it suffered many of the ills of the industry that it hoped to serve.
However, time changes everything, with the exception of perception, and that is what we must change. These are changed days and no mistake, but there is still work to do and some way to go. We cannot be complacent, as there is much that we can improve. [Interruption.] If members have not heard any of what I have said so far, they have missed the best bit. [Laughter.]
- The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott):
We did hear it. You are doing wonderfully well—do carry on.
- Jean Urquhart:
Employment is the single biggest issue that should exercise everyone’s mind, and in that regard the tourism industry offers significant opportunities. Let us stop talking about unskilled labour, because nothing could be further from the truth, as anyone who has been served badly at an airport, a restaurant, a bar or an information centre will testify. Dealing with the public and with visitors from the UK or across the globe can be challenging and demanding. If it is done well, it requires great skill. We should all agree that these are skilled jobs.
We need help to get that message out, not only to potential employees, but to employers. Earlier this afternoon, Patrick Harvie mentioned his concern about any scheme that abuses young people’s labour. We must take that on board, as well as addressing the black market in labour, which needs to be rooted out. Through a year’s work experience in any aspect of tourism, with good management, people can develop their communication skills, their general knowledge, their physical ability, their sense of respect and other practical skills such as the ability to think and act responsively in any given situation. That is not unskilled labour. Such skills are transferable—they are required of a good employee in any job. Catering can often be a gateway for young people into other areas of work.
Tourism is not something set apart, but is integral to every aspect of life in Scotland. How we regard ourselves is how we will be regarded by others.
As an employer, I have long been aware of the status of the waiter, chef or visitor centre employee in other nations. Students from around the world who come to Scotland for a gap year and, more recently, economic migrants, often working in hospitality at some point, have high expectations. They work hard and accept that they do important work. That is a culture that we somehow have to instil in our industry.
We have an opportunity to use tourism to best advantage. I suggest that we involve the unions, Skills Development Scotland, VisitScotland, the Scottish Tourism Alliance and agencies and business organisations in the challenge of not only taking on young people, but ensuring that their experience is positive, with skills that are transferable to any position and in any country. We have tended to pay lip service to the importance of the industry without recognising the importance of the workforce.
Scotland is still growing its tourism industry, although perhaps not at the rate predicted in 2005. We should keep that target, however, because there have been seismic shifts since 2005 and there may be more. Take VisitScotland, for example—changed days there, too. It is now a smarter, more outward-looking organisation, with the core activity of marketing our country everywhere. It is working better than it has for a long time and earning deserved respect within the industry.
Growth of 5 per cent a year could happen in the industry. The 20 per cent rate of VAT was a knock-back. We should accept that that is a disincentive that has restricted growth.
For years, it has been our ambition to extend the season. This could be our chance. Scotland, if not open all night, is open all year.
The fact that tourism is labour intensive should be welcomed. We fight against the hotel that becomes mechanically intensive and does not employ people. Tourism is a people industry. That is what we should be proud of and it is what we can support. It could be an even bigger and better employer. It can act as a springboard to other work, and build confidence, knowledge and life experience—all attributes of the skilled workforce that Scotland needs.
I support the motion. We really need to make the part of it about skills investment work. We can offer young people a real opportunity. Let us do that.
- Siobhan McMahon (Central Scotland) (Lab):
We all know that Scotland is blessed with some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. From the southern uplands to the Ochils, the Trossachs and the Cairngorms, it has landscapes both inspiring and dramatic.
We are also a country with a rich artistic, historical and cultural heritage. Everyone has heard of Burns, Bruce, and Robert Louis Stevenson, while the character of Sherlock Holmes continues to invite imaginative reinterpretation in television and film. If all that fails to draw the crowds, there is always the whisky.
Although all those things are rightly celebrated, Scotland’s tourism scene is far more diverse and disparate than is generally recognised. We must be careful to avoid becoming known, as my colleague Elaine Smith once memorably put it, as the country of “haggis, heather and highland flings”. Scotland has a lot more to offer tourists from home and abroad. I will draw attention to some of the tourist attractions in my region, Central Scotland.
Some years ago, before Margaret Thatcher, North Lanarkshire was a hotbed of industry, home to an abundance of mines and iron and steelworks. For almost three centuries, heavy industry shaped the contours of our economic and social landscape, not only bringing jobs and prosperity, but providing a genuine sense of community and cohesion. Without wishing to romanticise what could be a brutal business, the loss of that sense of community and cohesion was perhaps the greatest tragedy of deindustrialisation.
Although those times are gone, those who wish to explore North Lanarkshire’s industrial heritage can do so at the Summerlee museum in Coatbridge, a town once known as the industrial heartland of Scotland. The museum, which opened in 1987, is set in 22 acres and is based around the site of the 19th century Summerlee ironworks. It is undoubtedly the noisiest museum in Scotland: it features working machinery and a recreated draft mine. Visitors can take a guided tour of the mine and the miners’ cottages, which have renovated interiors that date from the 1840s to the 1960s. The tour gives visitors a flavour of industrial life at work and at home. The museum also boasts Scotland’s only operational tramway—it looks as though it will retain that claim indefinitely. It is sustained by continued investment from North Lanarkshire Council and Friends of Summerlee Heritage Trust, and admission to the site is free.
To allow people to take maximum advantage of that, we should look at extending the opening hours. It is essential that Scotland’s tourism scene adapts to suit the changing needs of the modern working family. Parents who wish to take their children to museums and tourist attractions on weekday evenings should have the opportunity to do so. We already have a designated evening for late-night shopping. Why should the tourism industry not have something similar?
Coatbridge’s annual St Patrick’s day festival, which began on 2 March, features an array of musical, sporting, artistic and cultural events. Some of those events are held during the day, some are held in the evening, and some are held at weekends. Such flexibility and choice give everybody the opportunity to sample the world’s eighth-largest St Patrick’s day festival. As an additional enticement, this year’s festival lecture affords a
“rare opportunity to listen to celebrated politician, author, journalist and broadcaster, George Galloway present his view and experiences of Irishness in Scotland”.
I am sure that all members would relish the opportunity to hear gorgeous George hold sway on Irishness. The tickets are only £3.
It is important to remember that Scotland’s scenic attractions are not reserved to the Highlands and Islands. Drumpellier country park in North Lanarkshire is set in 500 acres of beautiful countryside and encompasses two lochs and an abundance of wildlife, and the artificial loch in Strathclyde country park, which spans the border of North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire, is a major centre for water sports. Strathclyde country park was a venue for last year’s international children’s games and is an official venue for the 2014 Commonwealth games. The park is also home to M&Ds, which is Scotland’s biggest and best theme park.
Lanarkshire also has many historical attractions. Chatelherault country park in Hamilton, which was designed in 1732 and was once the summer residence of the Duke of Hamilton, has been rated by VisitScotland as a five-star tourist attraction. Visitors to the park can revel in the elaborate splendours of the banquet hall or get lost in the expansive gardens. Low Parks museum, which is also rated as a five-star attraction, offers a fascinating insight into the many towns and villages in that part of the Clyde valley. It has entertaining and informative displays on the history of South Lanarkshire.
Hamilton mausoleum, which was once the resting place of the dukes of Hamilton, offers tours of its ornate interiors for as little as £1.15 for adults and 70p for children. Bothwell castle, which dates from the 13th century, has been described by Dr Douglas Simpson, formerly of the University of Aberdeen, as
“the grandest piece of secular architecture that the Middle Ages has bequeathed to us in Scotland”.
No inventory of Central Scotland’s tourist attractions would be complete without mentioning the Falkirk wheel, which is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. It was completed in 2002 as part of the millennium link project to restore Scotland’s historic waterways, and it is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. As well as being one of Scotland’s most popular tourism sites, it is listed as one of the top 10 works of engineering genius by Lonely Planet.
I finish by stressing that, although there is no doubt that Scotland has much to offer in respect of tourism, we must strive to ensure that all those sites—whether scenic, historic, recreational or cultural—are as accessible as possible. We must ensure that our public transport infrastructure can support those who do not own cars—that could be enveloped with a wider drive to make Scotland more accessible and competitive. The more we do to help to publicise the many attractions across Scotland, to make them more visible and more accessible, the more people will visit.
It is essential that we remove barriers wherever possible and do not block legitimate attempts to enhance commercial opportunities. For example, I recently wrote to Transport Scotland on behalf of the Dakota hotel to request brown signage to make that hotel more visible to motorists. Unfortunately, Transport Scotland turned down that request. Increasing visibility will increase demand, which in turn will create additional jobs and greater prosperity, and lead to more money being spent and invested in local and national economies. The Scottish Government’s policy should be focused on increasing investment, enhancing infrastructure, and improving accessibility to give our tourism industry the best possible chance of success.
- Joan McAlpine (South Scotland) (SNP):
I am delighted to speak in this debate on the future of tourism in Scotland.
I say to Siobhan McMahon that I have family in Coatbridge. She reminded me that I used to visit Summerlee regularly when my children were younger. Having listened to her speech, I will definitely pay it another visit. It is a fine visitor attraction. Industrial heritage has huge tourism potential.
The tourism sector is critical to the future of our country and it is imperative that we give it all the support that we can. According to the Scottish Tourism Alliance, the sector is worth more than £4.2 billion to our economy, which is equivalent to £850 for every person living in Scotland. There have been a variety of estimates today of the number of people who are employed in the industry. Those have ranged from 215,000 to 220,000, although Deloitte estimates the figure as being even higher at 270,000. The figure of between 215,000 and 220,000 represents about 8 per cent of the total number of people in work and it is more than twice as many people as work in our financial services industry.
As members will be aware, long-term tourism trends in Scotland are encouraging and we are working towards global growth targets of achieving a 50 per cent real-terms increase by 2015. That target was set in 2006 and since then we, like other countries, have been caught in a severe worldwide depression. There is concern that, because of that, the target may no longer be achievable, although there are plenty of encouraging signs in terms of numbers and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth believes that we should strive to meet the challenge that the target presents.
I agree with the cabinet secretary. There is cause to be optimistic. Although there is still room for improvement on matters such as staffing, wages and getting the right transport and communications infrastructure in place, in other areas we are playing to pronounced strengths. We are blessed with unsurpassed natural tourism resources: the beauty and diversity of our landscapes, our unique historical and cultural heritage and the warmth and hospitality of our people.
Beyond those strengths, there are improved relationships between the public and private sectors and some imaginative industry training programmes. We can capitalise on some tremendous event-driven opportunities: our year of creative Scotland this year; natural Scotland next year; the Commonwealth games; the Ryder cup; and homecoming Scotland. We must continue to be innovative and to seek out and exploit every opportunity for developing our tourism base.
I am lucky enough to represent South Scotland, which is one of the most diverse, attractive and welcoming parts of our country. I like to describe it as the beautiful south. The rich heritage and gentle landscapes of Dumfriesshire, the rolling hills and seascapes of East Lothian, the great abbeys and houses of the Borders and the hills and coastal villages of Galloway all have their distinct magic.
Beyond those natural assets, there is huge potential for themed tourism. I am delighted that so many talented people in the region have seen its potential and are working extremely hard to develop compelling propositions, which will further increase the tourist footprint.
In January, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs launched the year of creative Scotland in Dumfries. At the same time a new festival, Dumfries’s big Burns supper, took place. More than 2,000 performers—many of them local young people—celebrated our national bard’s life and heritage. I am confident that the festival will continue to grow in the years ahead and become a major event for tourists, particularly those travelling up from England, for whom Dumfries will be the first port of call on a Burns heritage tourism trail.
Other arts-based initiatives in the area will help to boost tourism spending. For example, the Stove, newly opened on Dumfries High Street, is set to become an exciting and imaginative cultural venue. Spring fling, which I was privileged to open last week, is the biggest open studio event for artists in Scotland. It celebrates its 10th birthday this year and there is a taster event at the Gracefield arts centre in Dumfries, where people can pick up original artwork at a bargain price. Such examples highlight how important cultural tourism is throughout Scotland and it is fantastic that that premier cultural tourism event takes place in South Scotland.
Elsewhere, a new world rugby centre will open in Hawick and astronomers can enjoy Galloway forest park’s benefits as the first dark sky park in the United Kingdom.
We face strong global competition in tourism and hospitality. We must ensure that our offering is as strong and inviting as it can be. That means building on our strengths, being as innovative as we can be and ensuring that at every level we provide value for money. I hope that the enthusiasm and innovation seen in South Scotland and elsewhere help to inspire others across the country and that we can build and grow a national tourism industry that encourages millions to enjoy our unique assets and history. I am sure that we will succeed.
- Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP):
Whatever the future direction of Scottish tourism—and I am sure that under this Government it will be positive—one thing is certain: it must involve utilising every tool at our disposal to entice visitors to our country, as the minister said. That opportunity, in my constituency, at least, has still to be fully grasped.
I make no apology for taking a parochial approach to today’s debate and getting in ahead of my colleague George Adam—although not, I have to say, Siobhan McMahon and Joan McAlpine—in extolling the virtues of the part of the country that I am privileged to represent. The case for putting Angus at the heart of our tourism marketing, at least in relation to the United States marketplace, is surely beyond challenge.
It is reckoned that last year our present marketing campaigns generated a little over £20 million from American visitors, whose numbers, as the minister pointed out, went up 18 per cent in the first nine months of 2011. Although that upward trend in visitors is clearly encouraging, one can imagine the numbers that we could be posting if we employed more fully every resource at our disposal. I suggest that Arbroath abbey is one such underemployed resource.
We have heard how the arrival of the V&A in Dundee will draw visitors in their thousands from the UK and beyond, and that Angus will enjoy spin-off benefits from that, which it will. However, Angus already has much to offer and right across the county we can and must play our part in realising the full potential of the V&A project for Tayside as a whole.
- Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP):
I recognise that the member for Angus South is concerned about his part of the world. However, as the member representing the bit just north of that, I wonder whether he accepts that we are not so good at joined-up tourism. Visitors who can be persuaded to go from Dundee to Arbroath can easily be persuaded to go to the north of Angus and beyond. The fact is that we tend to market things within boundaries when in fact the boundaries are largely artificial. They might as well come up to Dunnottar castle, which is just about to appear on the Royal Bank of Scotland’s ultimate rewards current account card.
- Graeme Dey:
The member makes a reasonable point. Of course, this is all about enticing visitors to the country and being confident in the belief that, once in Scotland, they will find their way around and sample the many great things that we have to offer. The on-going enhancement of hotel provision in Dundee can be only good news for both our constituencies, as it will provide tourists with a much-needed east Tayside base.
Returning to specifically parochial issues in Angus South, I note that great efforts are being made to enhance the attractiveness of Glamis castle to visitors. The area also boasts among its attractions Barrie’s birthplace, the camera obscura, the RSPB reserve, the open championship venue that is Carnoustie and a small part of the Cairngorms national park.
In the midst of all that lies a largely underexploited means of luring tourists to the area in the shape of Arbroath abbey. It is great that sizeable numbers of Scots and English visitors are vacationing and staycationing in Scotland, but the fact that foreign visitors represent 16 per cent of total tourism numbers surely indicates that we should be looking to do better in this area. Unless we become more efficient and effective in telling our story to that particular audience we will not get that improvement.
What is so special about Arbroath abbey and why should we give it much greater prominence in the promotion of Scotland as a tourism destination? I am not for a moment suggesting that we should base our entire efforts in this regard around Arbroath. However, most of us in the chamber will be aware of the incredibly strong links between Arbroath abbey and the USA. The signing of the declaration of Arbroath at the abbey and the American declaration of independence might be separated by more than 450 years, but the connection between those documents and therefore our two nations is beyond challenge. It is accepted that through the influence of William Small on its principal author, Thomas Jefferson, the US version was heavily based on the document that set Scotland on the road to freedom in 1320.
William Small was born in Carmyllie, just outside Arbroath, and, after moving to the US, was in 1758 appointed professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Among his pupils was Thomas Jefferson who, 18 years later, chaired the committee commissioned to draft a declaration of independence. After being tweaked by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, that document was signed on 4 July 1776. Jefferson, who went on to become the third president of the USA—and who it is claimed was a descendant of one of the signatories of the declaration of Arbroath, Thomas Randolph—never hid his admiration for Small, admitting that meeting the Angus-born academic had
“probably fixed the destinies of my life.”
Many years later, in 1998, the US Senate moved to mark the links between the declaration of Arbroath and America’s own declaration by unanimously backing Senator Trent Lott’s resolution to fix 6 April as the day on which Americans would acknowledge the contribution of Scots to the development of their country. In the preamble to the resolution, Lott stated:
“April 6 has a special significance for all Americans and especially ... Americans of Scottish descent”
“on April 6, 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish Declaration of Independence, was signed; and ... the American Declaration of Independence was modeled on this inspirational document”.
Why do we not make more of that connection in marketing Scotland to America as a tourism destination, or indeed the fact that nine Scots and two Americans of Scots descent, including Jefferson, are believed to have signed the document that freed the USA from British control?
- George Adam (Paisley) (SNP):
The member talked about some of the people who signed the declaration of independence. Does he agree that one of them was the Rev Witherspoon, who was a preacher from Paisley? As members know, Paisley is the centre of the universe.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Twenty seconds, please, Mr Dey.
- Graeme Dey:
In common with other members, I am sure, I knew what was coming there.
We are told that half of all visitors to Scotland visit historic sights and 63 per cent of non-domestic visitors have links to this country. It is reckoned that 6 million people in North America claim Scottish ancestry. What greater historic sight do we have, in terms of influence beyond these shores, than the abbey? We need to make it all that it can be, but also to ensure that our promotion of it to a surely ready overseas market is all that it should be.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I would be grateful if you would draw to a close, please.
- Graeme Dey:
I ask the minister to encourage those who are responsible for promoting our country to turn their gaze to Angus. Let us see VisitScotland and Event Scotland specifically target visitors and attempt to entice them to Arbroath.
In summing up, I believe that it is imperative for the good of both Angus and Scottish tourism that we put the abbey at the heart of our efforts to attract US visitors to our shores, and that we do so quickly. After all—
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
You really must stop.
- Graeme Dey:
There is every possibility that, come the latter part of 2014, Arbroath and its abbey will no longer be able to claim exclusivity when it comes to Scottish declarations of independence.
- David Stewart (Highlands and Islands) (Lab):
On Tuesday evening, l attended the tourism reception that was held in the garden lobby. I was struck by the enthusiasm and passion that all the speakers had for the industry and that was echoed by guest after guest during the evening, not forgetting in the strong contribution from Murdo Fraser, who is perhaps one of the best known ex-members of the IRA, by which I mean, of course, Inverness Royal academy.
Not for the first or last time, I will concentrate my remarks on the Highlands and Islands. Members need no lectures from me on the fact that the Highlands and Islands have a world-class product with outstanding natural beauty from the Cuillins to the Cairngorms national park; lochs, hills and castles; eco-tourism; the stunning Eden Court theatre in Inverness; film tourism; the Royal National Mòd; and the world mountain bike championships in Fort William.
The area can produce iconic wildlife images. Visitors can watch the flight of the graceful osprey and the whooper swans wintering at the RSPB’s Insh marshes reserve. Those natural assets provide a fantastic base for the most important industry in the Highlands and Islands.
Vital jobs are provided throughout the Highlands and Islands in bed and breakfasts, guest houses, hotels and visitor attractions such as the Landmark visitor centre in Carrbridge and the outstanding Culloden battlefield visitor centre.
However, as any fresh-faced MBA student would tell us, business has to address the five Ps of product, price, place, promotion and position. They are vital for the tourism industry. I agree with the comment that Peter Lederer, the previous chief executive of VisitScotland, made when he said that, to fulfil our potential,
“we must always look at ourselves from the visitor’s perspective.”
I endorse his view.
- John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (SNP):
Does the member agree that, if we look at ourselves as others look at us, we will realise that they value the Gaelic language in the Highlands? Does he agree that that should be actively promoted?
- David Stewart:
I strongly agree with the member’s comment.
We must develop the five drivers for the industry. We must extend attraction hours, increase the length of the season, accelerate marketing, promote high-value quality goods and persuade businesses to promote others’ goods.
One fascinating statistic is that, if 10 per cent of visitors spent the same amount as the average visitor to Switzerland, that would be worth half a billion pounds to the Scottish tourism industry.
New investment is vital, and I welcome the extra £30 million that VisitScotland will spend over the next three years to capitalise on the winning years, which many members have mentioned. From the Olympics to the Commonwealth games, there is a rich potential harvest for the Scottish tourism industry.
I take members back in time to last year’s Scottish open, which was held at the superb, state-of-the-art Castle Stuart golf course near Inverness, which is a long par five from my home. There was so much demand from tourists for accommodation that a party of Americans stayed in Perth and travelled to Castle Stuart every day—a round trip of more than 200 miles.
We must have the right balance between inward investment and support for indigenous industry.
Most businesses have hard choices to make. They have to differentiate their product by price or quality, but not usually by both. From the humblest one-room bed and breakfast in Corpach to Culloden House Hotel, where Bonnie Prince Charlie allegedly once stayed—although I suspect that that was not an online booking—quality must be the watchword and there should be no more, “You’ll have had your tea.”
Tourists have to get to the area. From the industry and this week’s conference, we know that we need road and rail improvements, and stronger incentives in the form of a new air route development fund to get tourists from the superhubs of Amsterdam, Paris and Heathrow to Scotland.
We need to build on our strengths in the creative industries. I welcome the £7 million campaign to help tourism to capitalise on the Disney Pixar film “Brave”, which is set in the Highlands. I saw a brief clip on Tuesday, although I was a bit concerned that one of the lead characters is called King Fergus. I do not know whether there is any connection with the minister, although I know that Fergus Ewing is always a king, at least in his own eyes. Does the minister have any plans to develop film studios, particularly in Lochaber and Inverness? That would allow film crews that are doing location shots for films like the Harry Potter films, “Braveheart” and “Highlander” to not just film and go, but extend their stay and use the backup technology that is available.
The BBC series “Monarch of the Glen” was filmed in Badenoch and Strathspey. At its height, it had 9 million UK viewers and 50 million viewers around the world. I must declare an interest because once upon a time, I was an extra in that show, so I must have the most famous right foot of any member. The Badenoch and Strathspey area was very successful in promoting itself as “Monarch of the Glen” country and I strongly support that. Location tourism is vital.
We must also fight the curse of seasonality. Last year, I met the chairman of Nevis Range Mountain Resort and we talked about the great development in mountain bike course racing, which is absolutely excellent.
I see that my time is coming to an end. Tourism is a crucial driver of Scotland’s economic success in general, and of the Highlands and Islands in particular. The pathways to success are quality, skills and training, marketing, infrastructure improvement, and big bang events, such as the Olympics. We know the route to the next stage in the development of tourism but, to paraphrase Sir Walter Scott, what we need now is the will to do and the soul to dare.
- Chic Brodie (South Scotland) (SNP):
Today’s debate is important and I welcome the minister’s announcement of the conference fund; I am sure that it will add to everyone’s support for the tourism industry.
The debate is important not just because it is taking place during Scottish tourism week but because it highlights how seriously we take this major income sector in the Scottish economy. The debate is also part of a process that allows us to challenge structures and focus, and eschew any perception of complacency about this valuable industry. People should make no mistake: we are very serious about the tourism sector.
By any standards, Scottish tourism is a huge business, making a total contribution of £11.1 billion and employing 270,000 people. In 2006, the Scottish Government launched its tourism framework for change, which outlined the ambition to grow Scotland’s tourism by 50 per cent by 2015. That ambition was predicated on the World Tourism Organization’s expectation of global tourism growth of 4 per cent to 5 per cent per year.
Since then, we have seen a major economic downturn that could have set aspiration against realism. I say to Ms Scanlon that those are not contradictory. Personally, I would settle for aspiration and set about meeting the challenge. Like the minister, I am an optimist. The portents are good and the opportunities are there; the numbers that have been mentioned in today’s debate show that. The numbers are up.
The most important aspect of the debate is not the statistics, to which I will return in a minute, but the change of attitude and the can-do leadership of VisitScotland and in other pockets of the tourism industry. That attitude was exemplified by Scott Taylor of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, who said in evidence to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee:
“A 50 per cent increase is still our ambition. We should not shy away from that target”.—[Official Report, Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, 23 November 2011; c 575.]
Scott Taylor indicated that there was a challenge in understanding the volume and value of tourism in Scotland. However, I believe that VisitScotland will embark on not just a study but the practical establishment of a widely accessible quality-based data collection and centralised database system, which will detect trends and movements and so validate the security of that targeted growth.
- Mary Scanlon:
I do not understand why Chic Brodie criticised my speech because, as he is a member of the Economy, Energy and Tourism committee, he obviously signed up to its report, which states:
“We are concerned that the Cabinet Secretary and the Chief Executive of our main tourism agency ... have differing views”.
- Chic Brodie:
I am not sure that that is a valid intervention. If the member had listened, she would know that I said that I believe that they are not contradictory. I had the benefit of being there.
Further growth will be secured by ensuring that we improve quality of service and continue to develop a culture in which tourism, hospitality and event management are not repositories for low pay, long hours and a job rather than a career. Our ambitions and aspirations should and will be much higher. I applaud the relationships that some in the industry have already developed with their local colleges and universities. I particularly welcome the proposal that is being discussed in East Lothian to develop an effective serial programme and curriculum on hospitality and tourism. The programme will take 15 and 16-year-olds through school, college and university to become hospitality and tourism experts. The ultimate desire and objective is for the industry to thrive on the back of a trained and relevantly skilled workforce that deploys high-quality customer service.
We must develop partnerships at local and Scotland level. In the past two weeks, I have attended meetings and conferences with ABBA—not the Swedish group, but the Ayrshire Bed and Breakfast Association—and the Ayrshire business forum, and in Dumfries and Galloway. Those areas have, in their own ways, developed organisations that focus on local expertise and products. However, I suggest that, under the umbrella of VisitScotland, they must start to talk to one another. Whether that means Dumfries and Galloway talking with Ayrshire or South Lanarkshire, the bodies must start talking to one another under the marketing umbrella and strategy of VisitScotland.
I believe that our tourism industry is on the up and that it is in good hands. However, continued development can be guaranteed only on the back of superior quality and connectivity of the transport infrastructure. We have had welcome announcements on the A9 upgrade and the pursuit of a high-speed rail link with the south-east of England. However, on air and airports, to support VisitScotland’s strategy and our tourism hopes, the devolution of air passenger duty, as has happened in Northern Ireland, is essential, as are direct flights and more appropriately located visa centres and processes.
VisitScotland should approach the winning years with relish, as should we all. At the Dumfries and Galloway conference last week, a marketing guru said:
“Brands that have stories have meaning, brands that have meaning have impact and resonance”.
Scotland the brand has a unique and authentic story to tell. Let us support the tourism industry and give it a global impact and resonance.
- Margaret McCulloch (Central Scotland) (Lab):
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the future of tourism in Scotland, given the importance of the sector to the Scottish economy. The future of large and small businesses and of a range of attractions and services in other sectors depends on the resilience and success of Scottish tourism.
As a member who represents communities in North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire and Falkirk, I am only too happy to remind Parliament of what is on offer in my region. As I have said before, according to VisitScotland, four out of the top five tourist destinations in the Glasgow and Clyde valley area are based in Lanarkshire: Strathclyde, Drumpellier, Calderglen and Chatelherault country parks. The national museum of rural life, which is the home of one of Scotland’s oldest farms, is based in my home town of East Kilbride. Of course, visitors to Central Scotland can see that iconic symbol of modern Scotland, the Falkirk wheel, and experience our woodlands and canals. We have a lot to offer, not just to visitors from abroad but to people from elsewhere in the United Kingdom and Scotland.
One consequence of the world’s recent economic turmoil has been the rise of the staycation, which is a lifeline for the tourism industry. However, although that is a welcome development in the short term, our ambition in the long run must be to market Scotland as a world-class international destination. We all have a duty to do that and to go that extra mile. Whether we be flight attendants, bus conductors, taxi drivers or shop workers, we all shape the tourist’s impression of our nation.
Every one of our enterprise agencies should be geared towards promoting Scotland. Every one of our local authorities should have a duty to promote economic growth, including tourism and eco-tourism. Every one of us should realise that we have a responsibility to talk up our country to visitors from all over the world.
We held a constructive debate recently on the year of creative Scotland. Many members spoke about the importance of skills to the success of tourism, culture and hospitality. We must give visitors the best welcome to Scotland that we can, if we are to project a strong image of the country and secure repeat tourism. That means ensuring that those who deal with tourists have good soft skills and that we develop customer service skills in our visitor attractions and the hospitality industry.
There is a responsibility to customer care throughout the service sector, but many of our international competitors have a much more professional approach to services aimed at tourists. We must give those who work in that field in Scotland the status and recognition that they deserve.
In our previous debate on this issue, I spoke about the work of VisitLanarkshire in bringing together the accommodation sector and visitor attractions as part of a collaborative effort to promote Lanarkshire as a tourist destination. The British Hospitality Association has helpfully provided members with a wealth of information, which clearly shows that hospitality enhances growth in tourism and the wider economy. Indeed, the hospitality industry contributes almost £4 billion a year to the Scottish economy in wages and profits, and it directly employs 220,000 workers, large numbers of whom are employed in both North and South Lanarkshire.
VisitLanarkshire has been a great success because of the partnerships that it has forged across sectors, which have led to a better, all-round experience for tourists in the area. The Lanarkshire model could be used elsewhere to help attract visitors and retain income derived from tourism in different parts of Scotland.
As a key growth industry, tourism is given a great deal of weight in the Scottish Government’s economic strategy, and Scottish Enterprise is one of the agencies tasked with supporting the sector. Scottish Enterprise is committed to ensuring regional equity in economic development, because differences in growth, family incomes and participation between the different regions of Scotland can lead to a drag in economic performance. Periods of low growth and economic instability, such as that being experienced by the country at present, can aggravate those differences. Rural communities tend to experience low levels of productivity and lower wages than those in Scotland as a whole, while Glasgow and the west experience higher unemployment and fewer business start-ups.
We can rise to the familiar challenges that we face in each part of the country by promoting innovation and investment, and by using Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to secure growth that is better dispersed, more balanced and, ultimately, sustainable. The growth of tourism in every part of Scotland would reduce inequalities among regions by adding value to the economy in rural communities and Scotland’s cities, and by opening up new possibilities in places such as Lanarkshire and the Forth valley.
Finally, I know that members of all parties share a genuine ambition to promote Scotland as a world-class tourist destination. It is in that spirit of consensus and co-operation that I hope the minister will respond to the points raised during this debate.
- George Adam (Paisley) (SNP):
I, like the minister, am an optimist. We have so much to offer the world and there is so much that we can do in our communities to bring people in. We need to shout from the rooftops about how important Scotland is in the world.
I welcome the £2 million conference fund. Back in Paisley and Renfrewshire, the town centre managers will probably look at the minister’s offer and have ideas of some events and conferences that could be held in Paisley and Renfrewshire. It is the sort of thing that can make a difference and regenerate our town centres.
In Paisley, our town centre manager, Amanda Moulson, working for Renfrewshire Council, has secured more and more events in the town, which has encouraged more footfall in Paisley town centre. We have had a couple of conferences along the way, as well, and her work is much appreciated. Through Paisley vision board, she is currently running a poll in which 87 per cent of respondents are saying that they want more events in the town of Paisley. That shows the kind of things that can make a difference in the area.
Two thousand and twelve is the year of creative Scotland, whose four main objectives are promotion, celebration, participation and collaboration. Those are the things that we must all ensure when we talk about events. In our earlier discussion, we talked about the fact that we tend to stick to specific areas and do not promote Scotland in its entirety. That is something that we must do. What is the point of bringing someone to Glasgow if they do not see the great history of Paisley or my colleague Stuart McMillan’s beloved Greenock? What is the point of not making sure that people go there as well? We must look into that.
In Paisley, next year, we will have the Gaelic Mod for the first time. This year, from 25 to 28 October, we will have a Spiegeltent in County Square for the Paisley fringe festival, which is one of only four new festivals that Creative Scotland has allowed for this year. Renfrewshire Council received a £10,000 grant for that event. That will give us a chance to get on with some of the ideas that we have talked about for the Mod next year, which should be exciting and different. I have often heard it called the whisky Olympics. I have never been to the Mod, but when it is in Paisley, people will drink to help the town’s economy—but always responsibly.
Mary Scanlon mentioned the film “Brave” from Pixar/Disney, which has a nearly fully Scots cast, although a number of the actors—Julie Walters, John Ratzenberger and Emma Thompson—are not Scots. I will forgive Julie Walters because she is, as my father said, a feisty woman like my granny; John Ratzenberger is seemingly a lucky mascot for Pixar, as he has been in every Pixar movie; and who can forget Emma Thompson’s very good Scottish accent in “Tutti Frutti”, in 1987? That series was written by Paisley’s own John Byrne, of course, and it shows the difference that film and television can make to a community that we are still talking about the programme all these years later. Glasgow recently experienced that with the filming of the Brad Pitt movie “World War Z”. The movie brought £2 million for Glasgow, and it will be interesting when tourists come to Glasgow to see where the scenes that are set in Philadelphia were filmed. Incidentally, Philadelphia was where the declaration of independence was signed—I mention that in passing.
There is so much that we can do as things move on. I recently asked the minister a parliamentary question about the Olympic games. I asked what we were doing to promote Scotland and to move people away from the hustle and bustle of London. Everybody assumed that I was talking about Paisley but, if members look at the Official Report, they will see that I never mentioned Paisley although the minister mentioned Paisley in his answer. That just shows that people expect me to talk about Paisley all the time.
The national stadium at Hampden Park will benefit from the Olympic games, as we will have football games there. Over the coming years, we will also have the Commonwealth games in Glasgow. In Renfrewshire, we are investing £8.5 million in the Lagoon sport and leisure centre as a hub, to ensure that Renfrewshire is the gateway to the games. As everyone knows, Glasgow airport is, in fact, in Paisley.
When we talk about promotion, celebration and participation, we must—as Siobhan McMahon said—look to our own towns. Glasgow may be the dear green place, but Paisley is, to me, the centre of the universe. Currently, we are running a campaign entitled “Paisley is”, to which we add a tagline at the end. “Proud past. Promising future” is an important tagline, as we have to think of our past and move towards the future. “Paisley is happening” when we have major events. I just like to say, “Paisley is my kinda town.” Richard Lyle will remember when I sang that song at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities one evening, late on.
We must look at all the events that various towns hold. Locally, we have done an awful lot with the town centre manager, Amanda Moulson, and her team. We have the Paisley fringe festival, which I have mentioned; the Xmas lights ceremony, which 35,000 people attend; and sma shot day, which involves a bit of Paisley history and is one of the oldest events. The weavers fell out with the manufacturers over the sma shot—it was the one bit of cotton that kept the whole shawl together, but the manufacturers would not pay the weavers for it. Ever since that dispute, the first Saturday in July has been a holiday in Paisley.
I could talk about more. Once again, I have had to leave out most of my speech. In the future, I will have to have an edit button in my head.
We can take such ideas and make a big difference. We have had a fantastic debate. Everyone is proud of their area and of everything that we can do. We must get together, make the project more joined up and move on from there.
- Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab):
I start by echoing George Adam—we need a joined-up approach. I will not talk exclusively about my region, but it will certainly come into my speech.
I speak enthusiastically in the debate about the future of tourism in Scotland to support Rhoda Grant’s amendment, which would add that the Parliament
“further commends tourist industry partners for working together to develop green and eco-tourism.”
I was delighted to hear that the minister will support the amendment.
Tourism worldwide is predicted to be the world’s largest industry by 2030 and to account for 14 per cent of world gross domestic product. In the shift to a low-carbon economy, all sectors must be seen in the context of our climate change targets.
The International Ecotourism Society defines eco-tourism as
“responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”.
A poll of 60,000 visitors ranked Scotland top in Europe and ninth in the world as an eco-destination. More broadly, many tourists from home and abroad look for a green experience. According to the UK Energy Saving Trust,
“green tourism is about being an environmentally friendly tourist or providing environmentally friendly tourist services.”
Ensuring sustainable travel options to destinations is essential to that for all regions of Scotland. Rail is a brilliant option. There are beautiful journeys such as the one to Mallaig—not in my region—which link with ferry services. We must also be certain to retain the Caledonian sleeper service.
The Campaign for Borders Rail should be commended for its unstinting work along with others to bring the Borders railway back into use for green-minded tourists who go to the Borders. Just this week, the CBR secured the backing of four rail heritage companies to operate charter trains to key Scottish destinations such as Edinburgh and the Highlands. That would mean lengthening the platform at Tweedbank station, and I hope that the Scottish Government will consider the plea to do that.
Links with buses in rural areas are also essential for connectivity. Once people are at their destinations, cycling options are already available in towns such as Innerleithen and many others.
At last night’s meeting of the cross-party group on rural policy, the focus was on the low-carbon chance, and we heard that Northumberland national park has electric car points and that hire cars are available in the park. I hope that the minister will comment on the possibility of such measures in Scotland.
Green tourism must avoid tokenism at all costs. The green tourism business scheme—GTBS—is the largest green accreditation scheme in the UK and was founded in partnership with VisitScotland in 1997. Xavier Font of the International Centre for Responsible Tourism endorses it. He says that it
“provides excellent value for money to a ... range of tourism firms with first class environmental advice and auditing.”
The minister highlighted business tourism, and many types of tourism have been mentioned. I am not sure whether we could call it political tourism, but a lot of us in the Parliament have been to or will head off to party conferences this spring, and I wonder whether the hotels in which we stay—they are larger hotels that are often members of chains—have clauses in their corporate social responsibility policies that cover matters such as sourcing food locally and the other environmental issues that they should address.
The 84 businesses in South Scotland that have bronze, silver or gold awards in the GTBS are testimony to the range and scale that are involved. They include the St Abb’s Head national nature reserve, Dawyck botanic gardens, a youth hostel in Newton Stewart, the Pear cottage self-catering apartment in Melrose and the VisitScotland Borders network office in Selkirk. Just this week, the Whitleys of the Lamancha business, Bread Matters, received a gold award, and the assessor was
“impressed by the commitment to renewable energy collaboration with local enterprises”
and with the partnerships that had been built up in relation to green tourism. Along with tourism offices, an extraordinary range of visitor attractions and accommodation, including farms that have diversified to provide bed-and-breakfast accommodation, make up the list in South Scotland and beyond.
Jean Urquhart spoke of the wages of people in the industry. The manager of the Buccleuch Arms hotel, Dave Smith, stresses the importance of that factor. Of the green tourism scheme, he said that the essential elements are that it has to be easy for staff to do and that it has to save money. He said that, at that point,
“it becomes possible to use the green issue in marketing.”
Members of the cross-party group on whisky, which Mary Scanlon has mentioned, will visit distilleries this summer. As far away as the University of Waterloo in Ontario, there is an academic study that stresses that
“visitor centres at malt whisky distilleries are a type of industrial tourism attraction”—
Siobhan McMahon mentioned industrial tourism earlier—
“that can claim environmental credibility and thus has a chance to capitalise on the sentiments of a ‘greening’ tourism market.”
The International Ecotourism Society says that eco-tourism is about
“uniting conservation, communities and sustainable travel”.
There is a new initiative in the Borders, action for the Innerleithen mechanical uplift—AIMUp—that is doing work that is essential in this context. How does the Scottish Government aim to support such environmentally friendly projects, which will bring new year-round tourism and spin-off business opportunities to fragile rural communities across Scotland? More generally, how will Scottish tourism benefit from becoming more sustainable?
In the final analysis, in urban, rural, island and mainland areas, the greening of the tourism experience is as essential as the greening of our whole economy. As the Scottish Government motion highlights, 2013 will be the year of natural Scotland. What a great opportunity to prioritise green tourism. Let us go for it.
- Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD):
Last night, at the Scottish Tourism Forum dinner, the minister made a good speech, none of which I could disagree with. It was witty, urbane and very Fergus Ewing. He highlighted two or three issues that have been raised today, particularly his point about growth being fuelled not only by optimism, of which the minister recognises that he has plenty—that view would be shared across the chamber—but by other factors that will drive forward the industry, which is so important to the future of Scotland.
Mr Ewing’s speech was second only—and only slightly—to that of Stephen Leckie, who made an excellent speech, which, as the minister will recall, was mostly an attack on those of us who wore dark suits. He had no criticism of the other gender—the fairer sex—but he was harsh on those of us who do not wear tweed. I encourage the minister, at his next outing to the dispatch box, to sport a little Leckie tweed. We shall see.
Last night, I had an entertaining discussion with Shirley Spear, who runs the fantastic Three Chimneys business in Skye. Those who have never been there should go. Not only is the food wonderful, but everything else about it is wonderful as well. It reminded me of the inquiry that was conducted by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee—not under Mr Fraser’s convenership, but in the previous session of Parliament—to which Shirley Spear and other able and articulate contributors from the world of industry gave evidence about the particular challenges that they face. Her main point then was to do with the importance of the college sector and how it responded to the needs of the industry. Last night, Shirley Spear said to me that one heck of a lot of progress has been made, but that the minister and his colleagues might want to take further action to ensure that the college network in the Highlands and Islands and across the country recognises the industry’s importance to Scotland’s ability to grow its way out of the current economic situation.
The minister and others have mentioned international sporting and cultural events and spoken about the range of those events that we will enjoy in Scotland and the UK over the coming decade. As a passionate golfer, I believe that the fact that we have not only the open at Muirfield but the Ryder cup is a great challenge for Scotland and a great opportunity to sell ourselves as a country and as a destination.
At the table that I was fortunate enough to join for the forum dinner last night, we discussed the idea of marketing golf in Scotland and Ireland jointly. Many of the Irish golf courses have exactly the same characteristics as the links golf courses for which Scotland is undoubtedly famous. The idea that VisitScotland and VisitIreland could look at that jointly in future is a reasonable one to put to the minister and to VisitScotland. No one would be better for that job than someone such as Tom Watson. He has been five times open champion, is an honorary Scot if ever there was one, and exemplifies all that is good about sport. He also exemplifies why people would wish to come to play golf in Ireland or Scotland.
Such positive approaches can be taken in the Chinese and Indian markets, where many people in the aspiring middle class have more money than was the case previously and can use it to travel worldwide. We must ensure that they come to Scotland.
With regard to VisitScotland, I believe that the current chairman and chief executive deserve considerable credit for some of the work that they have done, particularly around destination marketing organisations. At one time those organisations were not too popular with VisitScotland, but there are now 80 or more of them throughout the country. They are important local initiatives that provide drive, strength and energy in their local tourism markets, and I strongly support VisitScotland’s work in enabling their continuing success.
Murdo Fraser’s committee has in its report concentrated on one of the strongest and most important areas of the industry: our connections both within and outwith the UK. The takeover of BMI by British Airways is not good news for the important links to Heathrow. We all wish for more direct business links and other links from Scottish airports to points around the globe, but Heathrow remains an important hub. We need competition on that route, and the takeover does not help in that regard.
I encourage the minister to work closely with the Government on credit card charges, about which he made a good point in his speech. We all pay those charges when we leave Scotland and people pay them when they visit Scotland. Airlines frankly rip off most people through their charges, and I hope that the minister will support the Government in London when it introduces legislation to deal with that and make such charging utterly transparent.
I will finish with my constituency of Shetland. We always have three things in our punchlines—I suppose for Shetland it would be Vikings and voes; I could not think of a third one. The King of Norway will open the Scalloway museum in May. That illustrates the deep Scandinavian links that are common to many parts of Scotland, and to Orkney and Shetland in particular. It also indicates the importance for VisitScotland of marketing our country to Scandinavia as well as to America and other parts of Europe.
The point about cruise ships is perhaps not so relevant to some of us—it is certainly relevant to Greenock, but possibly not to Paisley. This year, 59 cruise ships will call at Lerwick, and 36,000 people will disembark to tour the islands. That is a huge market for Scotland, and it is relevant to Mr Ewing’s part of the world. It is an important and growing worldwide market to build on, and I encourage the Government to follow that up.
- Stuart McMillan (West Scotland) (SNP):
I think that members will all be surprised that it took George Adam 20 seconds to mention Paisley. We have heard some excellent contributions from members on all sides of the chamber, and the debate has highlighted that we can unite as one from time to time. That does not preclude members from highlighting particular issues in their own area, which is the reason that we are here. As we all know, this is Scottish tourism week, and it is an ideal opportunity to highlight what we have in the areas that we represent.
I will put in a plug for the area that I stay in: Inverclyde. Most—if not all—members in the chamber will have visited Inverclyde last June, and will have seen how beautiful an area it is. The location is perfect: it is a gateway to Argyll, the airport is just 15 minutes up the road, the largest city in the country is just half an hour up the road and Ayrshire is just down the coast. Inverclyde is truly blessed.
About three years ago, a group called Discover Inverclyde was established to start to market Inverclyde, because so little had been done in the past. The economic situation has helped no one in the country, but if members, people who are in the public gallery or any readers of today’s Official Report are interested or want to find out more about Inverclyde, they can go online at discoverinverclyde.com.
I will also mention water-based activities. I chair the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on recreational boating and marine tourism and was delighted that the minister mentioned sailing in his opening speech. I urge members to contact me and I will send them a report that the cross-party group in the previous session of the Parliament published 12 months ago when it was being closed prior to the election.
The report highlights many things, but one that members may not be fully aware of is the economic value of marine-based activities to Scotland. In 2008, Sail Scotland published a document that estimated that recreational boating and marine tourism provided an economic benefit in excess of £250 million per annum, supported more than 1,800 full-time equivalent jobs and indirectly supported another 7,900 jobs. Much of that activity will be small businesses in urban and rural settings. That means that the sector is rich, diverse and assists our communities, particularly small communities.
In the previous session of the Parliament, three Government reports were published that provided an indication of how important our coastline is from a tourism and employment perspective.
In July 2009, the Scottish Government published a report entitled “Technical Report: Economic Impact of Recreational Sea Angling in Scotland”—the Scottish Sea Angling Conservation Network is a member of the cross-party group. The report indicated that sea angling contributes some £140.8 million to the economy and provides 3,148 full-time equivalent jobs, which is estimated to represent some £70 million in wages. Sea angling can, and does, take place across the country. Those who are involved in it travel, sometimes stay overnight and even drink in bars and restaurants. That is not to mention the cost of getting there and of the equipment that they use. Not having sea angling would hamper many smaller communities in the country.
The second report was “The Economic Impact of Wildlife Tourism in Scotland”. It was published by the Government in May 2010 and gives us a flavour of the economic impact. I will give members a few of the key points from it. The net economic impact of wildlife tourism is around £65 million and it supports around 2,760 full-time equivalent jobs. It is estimated that £276 million is spent on the 1.12 million trips that are made each year to, or within, Scotland to view wildlife, with 75 per cent of that money being from tourists from within the UK.
The third and final report is “Sailing Tourism in Scotland”, which was published by Scottish Enterprise and HIE in February 2010. The sector greatly appreciated that report, as it was the first time that official statistics on it had been collated or produced. Some key information from the report is that sailing tourism accounts for £101 million and supports 2,700 full-time equivalent jobs throughout the country. Non-Scottish boat owners contribute a total of £27 million. The sector has grown over the past 15 years, and new marinas are opening. For example, the James Watt dock marina opened last year in Greenock and hosted the Greenock leg of the tall ships race. There is also investment from the MalinWaters programme.
Those reports highlight only part of the massive economic impact that the sector has in Scotland.
The marine-based activities that I have mentioned are not the only ones. There are also subsea activities, canal boating, windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking and waterskiing to name only a few. That is not to mention the huge influx of cruise ships, which Tavish Scott spoke about a few moments ago. He mentioned the 36,500 passengers who dock at Lerwick. That represents £1.3 million to that economy. This year, Greenock expects a 13 per cent increase on last year’s cruise ship passenger numbers. So far, 41 ships are booked, with a staggering 65,500 passengers coming to Inverclyde. It is estimated that one third of them will stay in the area; that has a massive impact on that economy
I will lavish a wee bit of praise on a voluntary group called the Inverclyde tourist group. It has been in existence for 10 years and not one person from the group takes a penny. I organised a round-table event earlier this year with the Scottish Government, VisitScotland, Scottish Enterprise, Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage. If it was not for the Inverclyde tourist group, the folk who come off the cruise liners in Inverclyde would not see the benefits of the area. That group—and others like it throughout the country—deserves massive praise.
- Annabel Goldie (West Scotland) (Con):
I am pleased to speak in the debate and I thank Fergus Ewing for lodging the motion. Tourism is a good news story. The debate has, by general assent, been positive, with a predictable element of unanimity.
As members have said, our diverse Scottish tourism industry makes an important contribution to the Scottish economy. With an estimated total contribution of £11 billion, tourism encompasses numerous sectors and supports more than 240,000 jobs. Visitor spend in Scotland supports sectors such as transport and food and drink, as the minister acknowledged.
VisitScotland has set out its objectives and priorities for the next few years, including tackling the challenge of seasonality, which is important, improving the quality of tourism jobs and making holidays in Scotland available for all. Those are welcome aspirations.
A new phenomenon is emerging, which some members touched on: the staycation. Like so many modern terms, that is a bit jargony for my taste, but staycations are nonetheless important to our Scottish economy. Margaret McCulloch made that point. I hope that VisitScotland is engaging with all relevant Scottish agencies, travel operators, local authorities and accommodation providers to maximise the opportunities in that regard, because Scotland has much to offer the staycationer, be that the day visitor, the long-weekender or the residential holidaymaker.
In my area, the west of Scotland, tourism is not only at the forefront of existing economic activity but offers untapped potential for more economic activity. Six out of the 10 Scottish Parliament constituencies in the west of Scotland are either bounded by the Clyde or include islands, such as Arran and Cumbrae. I wisely left Paisley to be dealt with comprehensively by George Adam.
To see Arran, as I did on Monday, when I was holding a surgery and visiting the local secondary school on a glorious sunny day, is to witness something breathtaking. Arran is understandably called “Scotland in miniature”, but I never cease to be astonished at the number of people, many of them resident in Scotland, who have never visited the island. There is beautiful scenery, abundant wildlife, a wide range of accommodation, walking and climbing—all 874m of Goatfell, although I cannot vouch for that personally—and there are welcoming businesses and friendly locals.
Even so, Arran’s economy is fragile. Tourism plays a vital role, and the island is accessible, with inclusive rail and ferry tickets to Brodick, but I ask the minister whether the ferry services are as flexible as they need to be if access to the island is to be maximised. The extension of the road equivalent tariff to the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry service will be important, but if that leads to more visitors, as we hope that it will do, a re-examination of ferry times could be required. Within the constraints of weather, the ferry service must suit the needs of the public and local businesses. I hope that the minister will confirm his willingness to consider the issues with CalMac ferries.
Another Firth of Clyde gem is the combination of Largs and Cumbrae. Largs has undergone significant town centre regeneration, which is a positive development, and taking the short ferry trip to Cumbrae offers a marvellous day out. Again, both places are readily accessible by car and public transport and have a great deal to offer the day visitor and the residential tourist.
Also crying out to be visited are attractive coastal locations such as Helensburgh and Kilcreggan, the latter being just a short ferry trip from Gourock, which is well worth a visit in its own right. Gourock has the unique heated seawater swimming pool, which is currently undergoing refurbishment but will reopen in summer. Who needs the balmy climes of the Med? That could be a delightful day out for the Ewing family.
If one’s interest is culture and industrial heritage, which Stuart McMillan talked about so eloquently, Port Glasgow and Greenock have a lot to offer. Greenock has a beautiful esplanade and there is great ice cream at the cafe. If one’s taste runs to sandy beaches, West Kilbride, Seamill, Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston offer great choice and variety and are all accessible by public transport. Why would anyone want to go anywhere else?
Those are all ideal staycation destinations, but we need a clearer strategy to recognise and promote the distinctive nature of staycations. I proudly trumpet the attractions of the Firth of Clyde as a tourist destination; other MSPs are equally proud to promote the beauty and attractions of their areas, as Siobhan McMahon and David Stewart did. They, too, will recognise the emerging opportunities of staycations, as Graeme Dey did.
The future of our tourism industry is very important to us all. I think that, as well as focusing on the traditional and natural attraction of our country, it should look at the less obvious opportunities. Stuart McMillan’s speech was helpful in that regard. We have cultural tourism, to which the minister referred, wildlife tourism and archive tourism. Scotland is brimming with opportunity on all those fronts.
As we look at the big events from which we will benefit—the Olympics, the Commonwealth games and the Ryder cup in 2014—it is important that we derive maximum benefit from the opportunities that they present. However, there is still more that we can do, and we must not lose sight of the less glamorous but still vital opportunities of staycations. I hope that the minister will comment specifically on that issue in his winding-up speech.
I acknowledge and congratulate those who work so hard to make the sector vibrant and attractive to tourists. We look forward to Scotland enhancing its existing reputation as a world-class destination. I support the motion and the amendment.
- Ken Macintosh (Eastwood) (Lab):
It has been a very consensual and—dare I say it—enjoyable debate. We started with the announcement about the decision to locate the headquarters of the green investment bank in Edinburgh, which all sides welcomed. That will benefit the whole UK, but it will particularly benefit Edinburgh and Scotland. The minister’s announcement of the £2 million conference bid fund was also welcomed.
Tavish Scott suggested that in the future the minister should wear a tweed suit. Metaphorically, many of us have been dressed in tartan suits during the debate, as we have walked backwards through our constituencies, highlighting various attractions on our left and right. There have been plugs for Coatbridge, Falkirk, Dumfries, Hawick, Arbroath, Glamis castle, Castle Stuart, Inverclyde, West Kilbride, Seamill and Saltcoats. We heard about the attractions of ABBA in Ayrshire. Another place was mentioned by George Adam, but its name has slipped my mind—the minister might be able to jog my memory later.
It is clear that all parties in the Parliament now recognise the importance of the tourism industry to Scotland. Many speakers mentioned the livelihoods that it supports, its importance to rural and other fragile economies and, most of all, the huge contribution that it makes to our GDP. Estimates vary. It is thought that the industry supports more than 200,000 jobs, although according to some estimates, it supports more than 300,000 jobs.
Despite that, and the fact that the industry could be worth between £4 billion and £11 billion annually, some tourism leaders are concerned that it is still not treated with the seriousness that it deserves. Jean Urquhart mentioned that, in the past, we were not allowed to describe tourism as an industry. Although attitudes have changed, it is still not treated with the same seriousness as other key contributors to Scotland’s economy. Therefore, it is important that we in Parliament talk up Scottish tourism. I congratulate the members of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee on their recent report, which I thought made an important contribution in that regard.
To summarise some of the figures that have been mentioned, it looks as if businesses expect to see growth of 8 per cent this year, which—if we consider the state of the economy—just goes to emphasise the sector’s importance. In breaking down the figures further, VisitScotland tells us that there was a 16 per cent increase in the value of tourism visits from UK travellers last year, which went some way towards offsetting the 6 per cent drop in international visitors over the year. The so-called staycation—the term that Annabel Goldie half-heartedly embraced—counterbalanced the effect of the euro zone situation on overall numbers. We still had 12 million visitors to Scotland.
As the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee pointed out, and as Mary Scanlon and Chic Brodie said, there is still a large question about the Government’s target of boosting the industry by 50 per cent by 2016. Malcolm Roughead, the chief executive of VisitScotland has said that he thought that 50 per cent growth is an ambition rather than a target, and that it is realistic to say that it will not be achieved. I will be honest—it is difficult to know what to make of a Government target when the major players say that it is not their key driver. It would be helpful to know how ministers intend to help the tourism industry to meet the 50 per cent target or what their alternative strategy is to be. To that end, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s conclusion was helpful in calling for annual updates on progress towards the 50 per cent target, as well as a plan to deal with any shortfall.
I would welcome further information from the minister on how he intends to monitor how well Scottish tourism is doing. The committee highlighted the difficulty of measuring progress. The hugely varying estimates of the size of the industry that I mentioned are another example. The committee urged the Government to consider setting up a new system for gathering statistics and other performance-related information.
It is clear that there are obstacles to be overcome. The numbers may be up this year, but the profits are being squeezed. As well as being affected by a lack of consumer confidence, tourism is particularly badly affected by the soaring cost of fuel and by hikes in VAT, which makes tourism businesses and services here among the highest VAT rated in Europe—a point that was made by the minister in his opening remarks.
The industry is looking to the UK Government and the Scottish Government to assist. One area in which we can assist is standards and quality; it is difficult to know where we stand on the spectrum of quality compared to others. Some in the industry still complain that the country has been let down by poor quality services, by rather run-down accommodation and by too many owners who are in the industry because of a lifestyle choice rather than to run a business. It is certainly the case that only a fraction of the 15,000 tourism businesses are signed up to an official trade body. On the other hand, quality has improved dramatically over the years, and it is not the issue that it used to be.
I will put my tartan suit on now, although not to talk about East Renfrewshire. My family is from Skye. Tourism has been the mainstay of the village of Elgol since Sir Walter Scott encouraged all the southerners to take the boat to Coruisk. When my cousins and I were growing up we used to sell painted shells and gouged-out sea urchins to the tourists. I am not too sure about the quality of the experience for visitors—and I do not mean the shells I was selling. At B and Bs, people had to be in their bedrooms by 10 o’clock at night and out by 9 am the next day. It was also a Sabbath-observing community—that is a good thing. However, the food is what I most remember because everything was boiled. Fish, cabbage, root vegetables and ham were all boiled and everything was rather grey. Nowadays, although Elgol is a tiny village—of fewer than 200 people—it has two restaurants or cafes, where I can get a caffè latte that is the equivalent of anything in the west end of Glasgow or Edinburgh.
I am not going to talk him down, but my Uncle Lachie used to run one of the boats. He certainly looked the part—he had the beard. He was a Gaelic speaker, and even when he spoke English most people thought that he was speaking Gaelic, although the visitors would not know, because he never spoke to them. Like most people, he viewed tourists with suspicion. These days, however, one can get tea and shortbread on the boat and a running commentary about the flora and fauna, the wildlife, the scenery, the geography and the geology. It is a fantastic experience. Expectations have changed, but standards have risen to match them. The hospitality and the welcome are better than ever.
We need to keep travelling in that direction and driving up standards. VisitScotland is considering its own voluntary quality assurance scheme. I hope that the minister and Parliament intend to keep an eye on that.
Accessibility is a big issue in Scotland, as Siobhan McMahon in particular pointed out. I was intrigued by Siobhan’s description of Lanarkshire—I hope that she gets an award for her devotion to the area. She had me won over to visit Summerlee until she said that the local tourist board asks us to pay £3 to listen to George Galloway. Most of us would pay £3 not to listen to George Galloway in Lanarkshire.
An important point was made about the difficulties accessing sites outside our major cities because of opening hours and transport infrastructure. There is the issue of connectivity: Rhoda Grant and Tavish Scott talked about the lack of flights, the missing BMI connection to Heathrow—which is still an issue—and slow trains and poor roads.
I do not have enough time to talk about the contribution of eco-tourism, about which Claudia Beamish spoke eloquently. Another important issue is skills, which Margaret McCulloch and Jean Urquhart talked about.
With the winning years coming up, we have lots of opportunity and potential. Today it is clear that the Parliament gives its support to the tourism industry.
- Fergus Ewing:
I have thoroughly enjoyed the debate, which has been extremely informative and entertaining. There has been a series of surprising and unexpected revelations, most recently about Ken Macintosh’s family. Such revelations are always entertaining. Until the debate, I did not realise that George Galloway is a recognised Scottish tourism attraction or that he works shoulder to shoulder, as one might say, alongside the Duke of Hamilton. The most unlikely alliances are being formed in contemporary Scotland.
Members have rightly contributed information about, and passionate views on, attractions in their own parts of Scotland. That started with Siobhan McMahon, whose speech was so fulsome, informative and passionate that I was tempted to intervene to ask whether she is a tourist guide as well as an MSP. Her speech set the tone for a large number of speeches, and led me to the view that I should go to see the Summerlee museum. I certainly hope to do that some time and to visit Siobhan McMahon’s part of Scotland.
I will make an effort to reply to some of the wide-ranging points that have been made. A number of members, starting with Rhoda Grant, mentioned issues relating to skills and tourism. Such issues are plainly important. We want to ensure that we are making it absolutely clear that there are great careers to be had in tourism and that we are increasing the appeal of tourism. Perhaps that has not been done in the past; I think Jean Urquhart alluded to that. We want to ensure that skills are developed and that, above all, there is helpful and friendly service without servility.
I am pleased to say that a great deal of work is being done in, for example, Jewel and Esk College, Queen Margaret University and Preston Lodge high school in Prestonpans that Skills Development Scotland is supporting. In Gleneagles a couple of weeks ago, I heard about Springboard’s work in going into schools to promote opportunities in the industry. I heard about its events in places such as Govan and the Vale of Leven, and in schools. It has shown young people how to cook meals and it gets them to cook their own food, including chocolates. Apparently, in one location, some schoolboys who normally do not spend their afternoons at school were so rapt and persuaded that they did spend the afternoon at school, such was the enthusiasm that the ambassador engendered.
Perhaps there is more that we can do. That came across in a number of speeches, such as those by Margaret McCulloch, Siobhan McMahon and Jean Urquhart. Jean Urquhart almost whispered how many years of her life she has spent serving in the tourism sector. I heard what she said but, to spare her blushes, I will not repeat it. She made the interesting point that there have been seismic changes in the tourism sector, which is perceived differently now as an industry; it is perceived as a success story that we are proud of. As Ken Macintosh said, the standard of fare—the food and drink—that we now expect has improved immeasurably. He reminded us of what things could have been like in the old days—30 or 40 years ago, say. Things have certainly improved on that front, and that is to be welcomed.
Tavish Scott made an excellent speech. I will pursue a number of specific points that he was right to raise but which I will not have time to cover today. We are working with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in a number of ways, and I will give him details about that. He and Stuart McMillan pointed to the contribution that cruise liners make to Scottish tourism. Tens of thousands of people visit Shetland, Greenock, Inverness and other parts of Scotland, but a constraining factor is the availability of tourist guides with appropriate language skills. That is an important factor for cruise liners and those who organise holidays. More work is being done to focus on those matters, and I am keen to work with individual members thereanent.
There are also questions about quality. VisitScotland’s experience survey showed that 72 per cent of those who were surveyed were very satisfied with a holiday experience in Scotland, 98 per cent would recommend the experience to their family and friends and 84 per cent would return, which means that 14 per cent would recommend Scotland to their family and friends but would not return. However, leaving that slightly wry reflection aside, it is nonetheless a vote of confidence in Scotland and one that tends to suggest that we are right to be optimistic.
Claudia Beamish referred to the importance of eco-tourism or green tourism in her considered contribution. It is clear that Scotland is succeeding in that area. For example, on Monday I visited Whitelee wind farm—the biggest wind farm in Europe—and found that wind farms are also a massive attraction for schoolchildren, who can actually see in the visitor centre there how a wind turbine works. They do a little experiment in which they construct a wind turbine with plastic blades using a fan heater, which lights a light bulb when it is turned on. Since its opening, the centre has had nearly 200,000 visitors.
On the business tourism contribution from conferences on renewable energy, there have been at least 14 events, which have brought more than 13,000 delegates, in the past two years. Now that we will have the green investment bank, we can expect a new round of business conferences on the theme of the green economy and the opportunities therein.
Chic Brodie was right to raise the importance of air passenger duty. Our APD is now the most expensive aviation duty in Europe, unfortunately. Standard rates vary from £12 for short-haul flights to £85 for long haul. Sadly, I am afraid that that does not help us to bring people to Scotland. David Stewart rightly raised the air route development issue. We expect to meet European Commission officials before May to discuss the progress of their review. We have consistently argued that there is a need for a state-aid-rules compliant mechanism, which would be effective in supporting our aspirations to improve Scotland’s international air links.
Broadband has not been mentioned today, nor has the internet. [Interruption.]
- The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick):
Excuse me, minister. There is just far too much chatting by members.
- Fergus Ewing:
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
The internet is increasingly important. I understand from speaking to people in the industry that people who are aged under 40, and who are therefore perhaps younger than the average MSP, book not only their holidays but their entertainment online. For example, they will sit in conferences—perhaps some are doing so even today—with an app in their hand deciding where they will get the evening’s entertainment. It is critical that we cater for the under-40s, if I may put it thus.
Jean Urquhart and others referred to the importance of VAT to tourism. Sadly, Britain is not one of the 24 of the 27 European Union countries and four non-EU countries that currently offer some form of reduced VAT to the hospitality and tourism sectors. For example, VAT on hotel accommodation, food and admission to amusement parks is 3 per cent in Luxembourg, 5.5 per cent in France and 9 per cent in Ireland, but it is 20 per cent in the UK. As members know, I am not someone who focuses or dwells on the negative in any way, but I have raised the point about VAT with John Penrose, and my colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth has also raised it. I think that we all recognise that VAT is a serious matter on which we would like to see action, with the VAT rate going in the direction that it has gone in other European countries.
I am proud to be the minister for tourism, which is a fantastic job. As I envisage it, it is rather like what being First Minister must be like, but without the stress and responsibility that go with it. It gives me the opportunity to visit various parts of Scotland and to see all the marvellous attractions. It also lets me work with people such as Stephen Leckie, who is in the public gallery and who heads up the Scottish Tourism Alliance. I invite all tourism businesses in Scotland to get involved with the Tourism Alliance to support its activity in what is the most disparate and diverse industry in Scotland. It is extremely important that businesses back that new organisation and that in the work that we do as we go ahead, we have a close relationship with the industry to ensure that we always do the right thing in the right way.
Finally, I thank VisitScotland for the excellent job that it does in marketing our country, which every member who spoke in the debate has recognised. That, surely, is a marvellous and somewhat unusual accolade.