- The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-04886, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on business tourism. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons as soon as possible. If you are all sitting comfortably, we will begin. I call on Fergus Ewing to speak to and move the motion. Mr Ewing, you have 14 minutes, when you are ready.
- The Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism (Fergus Ewing):
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.
I am delighted to secure this debate on business tourism and I am pleased to see the cross-party recognition of the importance of the motion. In the spirit of consensus, let me say at the outset that we intend to accept the Labour amendment, but with two points of clarification, the first of which is that Aberdeen City Council has agreed to waive the accumulated £26.2 million that is referred to in the amendment. We believe that provision may have been made for that, but that it is not yet paid for. Secondly, the claim with regard to the number of business tourism delegates who travel to Glasgow should refer to international delegates. However, with those two points, on which I hope that we can agree, clarified, we are delighted to support the Labour amendment.
Business tourism is extremely important to Scotland. The meetings, incentives, conferences and events—MICE—market is hugely important for Scotland. It is on track to be a £1 billion industry each year. I can assure members that the Scottish Government is wholly committed to the success of business tourism. Scotland, for example, is the only country in the United Kingdom to have a team—VisitScotland’s business tourism unit—dedicated to the MICE market.
The purpose of the debate is to allow all parties to discuss business tourism as a key part of one of the priority sectors in the Scottish economy and our economic strategy. It also enables us to say a big thank you to all the stakeholders and partners who are involved in making business tourism such a great success. They include Stephen Leckie of Crieff Hydro, who should be somewhere up in the gallery—hi, Stephen; I hope that I am allowed to say that, Presiding Officer. Stephen heads up the Scottish Tourism Alliance and has put a power of work into making it a great success in bringing together the industry. I recommend that more businesses should join the STA, because the more members it has, the stronger its voice will be and the more effective its lobbying will be on some of the most important issues that affect the industry.
Business tourism has moved from being perceived as a niche part of Scotland’s overall tourism sector to becoming one of the main focuses of interest, and one that is strongly supported by a wide range of Scotland’s agencies and destinations. There are two reasons for that. The first is the direct economic contribution that business tourism makes. Meetings and conventions of only 500 delegates can deliver an economic impact of £1 million, while a gathering of 5,000 delegates can deliver one of more than £10 million. The second reason is that business tourism showcases our assets to the world, boosts our exports, enhances our reputation and helps to attract inward investment.
Business tourism is a key driver of growth and collaboration for Scotland, not least as a kind of bridge between tourism and inward investment. Business tourism is different because it supports a wide range of small, medium and large companies across Scotland that are not necessarily involved in the leisure market. They include conference centres, catering companies, unique venues, charitable status venues, civic venues, academic venues, florists, design agencies, audiovisual companies, and coach and private hire companies; I could go on.
In addition, business tourism is less seasonal than leisure tourism. That is a highly significant point. It brings visitors to the country outside the traditional leisure season. Business tourism visitors spend from one and a half to nearly two times more than leisure visitors in local shops, restaurants, bars, taxis and other places. Business tourism visitors have a high propensity to return—an interesting statistic is that 40 per cent of them return to Scotland. Therefore, if we can attract 10 new people to Scotland as business tourists, it is likely that four of them will come back, and they might bring their families. That is another useful benefit of the expansion and success of business tourism.
Business tourism, especially the conference and meetings sections, currently makes a strong contribution to the economic vitality of Scotland’s key tourism destinations. It has a particular focus on the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen, as well as principal resort destinations such as Gleneagles, St Andrews and Perthshire. However, we do not see business tourism as being solely for the larger venues or the cities, even though our cities have a huge amount to offer in their history and heritage, their unique venues and their luxury hotels. A great number of luxury hotels, particularly in the capital city, have had enormous sums invested in them, as I have had the pleasure to see over the past year or so.
As I said, business tourism is not just about the cities. The whole of Scotland has a wealth of distinctive venues and top-class accommodation. I have had the pleasure of meeting buyers for corporate events and hospitality on several occasions. It does not tax the investigative powers of a Sherlock Holmes to detect that I have been at more than a few business dinners over the past wee while—duty calls. I have done that in the service of the nation. I am departing from my script slightly.
In the course of fulfilling that duty, I have had the great pleasure of meeting visitors from many countries, as well as members of august bodies such as the Professional Convention Management Association, which brings together people who organise the most important and most lucrative conferences and conventions in the world, and Trailblazers. I have met people who arrange the most lucrative incentive holidays for large companies such as Allianz of Austria; I attended one such event in the Signet library. It is clear that they look for something unique—an event or a venue that Scotland can offer that money alone cannot buy. We are committed to spreading the benefits of that across Scotland. It is a key segmentation of the market and one in which an urban location is not necessarily an advantage, or the sole advantage.
The Scottish Government will provide a response to the points that were made in the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s report on the winning years that was published on Monday, but it is timeous that paragraph 29 of that report states that the committee wants to ensure that rural areas benefit from tourism as well as the major cities. I heard the convener of that committee opining to that effect on Radio Scotland a day or so ago, and we endorse that point.
- Margo MacDonald (Lothian) (Ind):
Just before the minister moves on, what did the gentleman whom he met who organised conferences—or who knew all about them—say were the priorities for getting conferences?
- Fergus Ewing:
There are a variety of priorities. Conference managers want to have top-class venues. They want to have splendid hotels and good food and drink. They receive those from Scotland and we have received some outstanding testimonials to that effect. They also want certainty and predictability—like every other person who makes a deal, they want to get what they pay for. They do not want to be taken advantage of; they want to pay a reasonable price and get excellent value for that price.
As a further response to Margo MacDonald’s question, I will read out some of the testimonials about Scotland from some of the global buyers from the very visits that I described earlier. One of the global buyers said about a visit:
“This was the best trip I have been on in 25 years in this business”.
Another one said:
“For me it has not only been a great experience but an holistic one. I enjoyed the country, the facilities, the activities, the food, the ambience, the group—awesome.”
Those testimonials are praise indeed for Scotland.
Turning to the conference bid fund, the Scottish Government listened to the industry and recognised the value that business tourism brings. We heard the industry’s calls about the need to be even more competitive on a global level. That is why we launched the conference bid fund in March 2012. That fund is providing £2 million over three years to match fund bids for major conferences for key sectors.
VisitScotland, to which much praise is due for the work that it has done, including the work done by the business tourism unit that is headed by Neil Brownlee, estimates that 18 conferences have been secured thus far with the conference bid fund. Those 18 conferences are estimated to have an economic impact of £56 million between 2013 and 2020, with a VisitScotland conference bid fund spend of £527,000.
- Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP):
Will the member give way?
- Fergus Ewing:
In a minute.
I cannot think of many uses to which taxpayers’ money have been put that have seen such returns. The total return to the public purse for every £1 spent—and I have £1 here—is £53, so the £1 coin that I am holding in my hand has been joined by 52 others as a result of the overall success of the fund.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
A tour de force of arithmetical explanation. Christine Grahame?
- Christine Grahame:
Am I the tour de force? No. Of those successful bids, were any from other than urban areas? My concern is that rural areas such as the Scottish Borders are losing out on the conference bid fund.
- Fergus Ewing:
Christine Grahame is absolutely right—as I have already alluded to, the successful fund applications to the bid fund have largely been in Glasgow and Edinburgh, although other locations have benefited, including St Andrews and Dundee. I totally agree with her—this is a key message from the debate and I hope to develop it with all members contributing—that we want every part of Scotland to benefit from the bid fund.
We can have conferences, events, associations and meetings in every part of Scotland. They need not involve thousands of delegates; they can involve a small number. The bid fund is for all of Scotland, and one of the key purposes of this debate is to get that message across and to get all members, across all the parties, to take that message across Scotland.
- Margo MacDonald:
Although the bid fund is excellent and good use of it has already been made, an internal programme of explanation and information for the smaller people in rural areas is needed. I do not think that they know about it, so a wee programme is needed.
- Fergus Ewing:
I am happy to agree that we want to do more to spread information about the fund. That is why I travelled recently to Aberdeen, which, as Labour’s amendment says, has had success. I met Barney Crockett there. I will meet colleagues in Edinburgh and engage with colleagues in local government in many parts of Scotland to pursue the matter.
Margo MacDonald is absolutely right: we need to extend information about the fund. After all, it is relatively new: it was launched only in March. Part of the purpose of the debate is to promulgate information about its success. I am not claiming any particular great credit for that; the credit goes to the people who organise, arrange and secure the conferences and put in a power of work. In particular, I pay tribute to Scott Taylor of Glasgow City Marketing Bureau and his team; John Sharkey of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre and his team; Hans Rissmann OBE of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre; Lucy Bird of Marketing Edinburgh; the chambers of commerce, which play a great role; my friend Gordon Matheson of Glasgow City Council, with whom I have worked closely on these matters; Amanda McMillan of Glasgow airport, who will roll out the red carpet for conference leaders; and those in universities who play a key role in bringing many conferences to Scotland. People who work in the royal colleges have influence and can persuade their colleagues in that type of organisation that Edinburgh, Glasgow and other places would be great locations for them to meet, celebrate and discuss.
I have not covered everything that I meant to cover—I have eight to 12 pages that we will leave for another time.
- Fergus Ewing:
I am sorry to disappoint members. I very much look forward to the debate, and have pleasure in moving the motion.
That the Parliament recognises that the Scottish tourism industry delivers over £2.9 billion annually to the Scottish gross value added; welcomes the contribution made to this achievement by the business tourism sector; acknowledges the efforts made by the VisitScotland’s Ambassador Programme to boost Scotland’s profile across the world; notes that, in addition to the direct economic impact from conferences and events, they also enhance Scotland’s credentials as a place to invest, study, live, work and visit again; further notes the successes to date in winning additional events with the Conference Bid Fund, and encourages stakeholders of all sizes to make greater use of the match-funding available from the Conference Bid Fund to win even further business for Scotland.
- Ken Macintosh (Eastwood) (Lab):
I thank the minister for his opening speech. Despite the disappearing coin trick, the shameless playing to the gallery and even the two caveats on Labour’s amendment, I welcome his comments and his support for our amendment.
I think that there is consensus around the chamber, as there has been in our two recent debates on tourism, and around Scotland that we need to do more to recognise the importance of tourism, and business tourism in particular. In a week that has brought rather gloomy and depressing news about business prospects and the Scottish economy generally, it is good to have an opportunity in the Scottish Parliament to talk about an area in which there is clearly great potential for growth and which has managed to at least somewhat buck the downward trend during the recession.
The closure of Comet follows a number of high street retailers going under, and Vion’s decision to close its whole United Kingdom operation merely adds salt to the wound following its decision to halt production at Hall’s of Broxburn, with the loss of 1,700 jobs. It is more important than ever that we respond to such developments effectively, with a renewed focus on employment from the Government and Parliament and an emphasis on diversifying and supporting our manufacturing sector. We should also respond to the difficulties by putting an even greater emphasis on ensuring that we make the most of expanding sectors, such as the business tourism sector.
It is worth reminding ourselves—as the minister did—of the importance of the tourism industry to Scotland already. We have had a number of debates recently about tourism in general. The Scottish Government’s motion highlights the £2.9 billion in value added that tourism is now worth to the Scottish economy. It is particularly notable that business tourism accounts for 20 per cent of total tourism expenditure in Scotland—some £878 million per year. Some 2.6 million business trips were made to Scotland in 2011.
Perhaps as important is the fact that business visitors spend almost twice as much as traditional holiday visitors when they are here and their custom is less prone to seasonal highs and lows, making it important for the hotel sector in enabling it to utilise capacity all year round. There is also the incentive that those business tourists may return as holidaymakers at some point in the future.
I am sure that we are all acutely aware of the importance of competing effectively in the main overseas markets: America, Germany, the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, France and so on. However, it is worth highlighting that the rest of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, accounts for three quarters of the total tourism expenditure. Without straying into our political differences over the constitution, I suggest that the union dividend is an important point to bear in mind.
I welcome the news from the minister that the conference bid fund has already started to attract new business tourism to Scotland. The scheme, which is match funded by Scotland’s cities, is a very good example of collaborative working between our major cities and VisitScotland that is already showing results.
Our cities have been the driving force in attracting business visitors. Yes, business tourism has been somewhat affected by the financial recession but it is recovering and is expected to grow, unlike many other areas. I single out Glasgow as being at the forefront of that growth, as it is the number 1 city for business tourism outside London. That has happened not by accident, but because of strong and committed leadership by the city council. Gordon Matheson, the leader of Glasgow City Council, has estimated that, in the first six months of the current financial year alone, conventions and business tourism have brought £120 million into Glasgow’s economy—the same amount that was achieved in the whole of the previous year. Without wishing to be overly controversial or to spoil the consensus, I note that one of the budgetary proposals made by the combined opposition in Glasgow earlier this year would have reduced funding to Glasgow City Marketing Bureau and ceased the air route development fund, which has brought so many new flights into and out of Glasgow airport.
I am delighted to see the city and the Government working together to make the most of the potential that lies in the hosting of the Commonwealth games in 2014. The hydrodome next to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre is just one of the many new facilities that will undoubtedly add to Glasgow’s attractiveness over the coming years and which will, I hope, be part of a very successful Commonwealth games legacy. Arguably the biggest addition that we could now make as a country to the success of Glasgow as a city and as a business tourism destination would be a rail link to Glasgow airport. Modern business travellers expect such connections as a matter of course, and it reflects poorly not just on Glasgow but on the whole country that neither Edinburgh nor Glasgow has a direct rail connection into the city centre. Investment in transport infrastructure is vital not just to bringing business visitors into our country, but to taking those same visitors to more rural destinations so that our whole country can benefit from any increase in the number of business visitors.
I want to mention Aberdeen, too, as there is no doubt that the incoming administration has given a huge signal of its commitment by signing off the £26.2 million that was the accumulated debt of the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre. That proposal will see that historical debt cleared, allowing the centre to focus on the future and develop new ways in which to bring conferences and events to Aberdeen.
Following yesterday’s debate, it is worth noting that the proposed rises in air passenger duty could act as a real disincentive to business tourism and tourism generally in Scotland. Airports that are located not just in Scotland but in the north of England are clearly at a disadvantage when it comes to APD, and the fact that the tax is higher in Scotland than in other comparable countries will not increase our attractiveness to foreign let alone domestic visitors.
I return to some of the reasons why Scotland and our cities are such attractive destinations. We can talk about their heritage, their physical beauty and their accessibility, but it often comes down to the level of service, the friendliness and the hospitality that we offer. I spoke at length on the issue in our previous debate on tourism, in June. Glasgow’s hospitality is legendary and I hope that we are able to build on that reputation while moving away from the association with alcohol consumption that is often present in some minds.
However, we still need to work on certain areas. On our way back from holiday this year, my wife and I arrived at Glasgow airport first thing in the morning—it was the morning after a fire at the airport and we had been delayed. We stopped off at a 24-hour garage in Paisley to buy breakfast. My wife went to pay for the goods and asked whether the shop had any orange juice. The one-word response from across the counter was, “Dilutin?” I can interpret that as a friendly response, but perhaps some of us need to work on our people skills if we are to make the Scottish welcome everything that it should be. That chap clearly had not been to the Commonwealth games Disney-style charm school that was talked about in a previous debate.
Despite the tourism industry’s huge importance to Scotland and the potential for growth in employment, the idea of a career in tourism is still not attractive to many school and college leavers. Young men, in particular, still talk about training to be a welder rather than a waiter or hotel manager. We need to do more to demonstrate the opportunities that lie outwith the traditional picture of work in Scotland. There are many good examples of college courses and training, but it is unfortunate that the industry can still be associated with low rates of pay and with seasonal unemployment and insecurity. We need to challenge that.
- Margo MacDonald:
I speak as a proud grandmother, whose eldest grandson just this week started as an apprentice in the hotel industry. He is a graduate and he is never going to get a job in teaching, so he is in the next best thing.
- Ken Macintosh:
Hear hear. I echo the member’s remarks. There is a difficulty, in that attitudes in Scotland are perhaps still a couple of decades behind. The industry has changed and tourism is a far more important and substantial industry than it has ever been, but sometimes our stereotypes of what to expect are forged in previous generations.
- Margaret McCulloch (Central Scotland) (Lab):
Does the member agree that hospitality should be regarded as a profession, as is the case in France, and should be treated as such by schools, careers services and further and higher education?
- Ken Macintosh:
Indeed. That is behind the whole idea of boosting the industry’s status. We can do that in a number of ways, including through schools and careers services. I was making the point that the industry has a reputation for offering low pay, and tackling rates of pay would do much to overturn the image that I was talking about.
The Government is still pursuing a target of 50 per cent expansion in the tourism industry, but if we are to have a remote chance of achieving that goal, one of the biggest contributors will be an expansion in the number of business visitors. That can happen if Government and cities work together. Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh have shown the way and I commend the leadership of those cities’ councils and the example that they have set.
I move amendment S4M-04886.2, to insert at end:
“; notes the value of business tourism in terms of promoting growth and dealing with issues of seasonality; recognises the key role of Scotland’s cities in developing business tourism, for example in Glasgow, where the city council has worked hard to achieve the position of largest destination for business tourism in the UK outside London, and in Aberdeen, where the city council has, in 2012, paid off the accumulated £26.2 million debt of the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre in order to continue to grow international conference business in the city; notes the importance of good transport links in helping to sustain and build on this success, and calls on the Scottish Government and local authorities to continue to work together positively to replicate this success across Scotland.”
- Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con):
I welcome the debate and I welcome the conference bid fund. I also thank the minister for his briefing earlier today, which I found helpful. We will support the Government motion and the Labour amendment. Indeed, in the spirit of consensual politics I will say that if Tavish Scott’s amendment had been selected for debate we would have supported that, too.
I commend Fergus Ewing for turning £1 into £53—John Swinney, watch your back. Fergus Ewing can perhaps expect a call from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank or even Mrs Merkel herself. Well done, Fergus. I fully support what he said.
Of the international association conferences that are held in the UK, some 28 per cent are hosted in Scotland, so we are punching well above our weight. We should acknowledge that England is not only our closest neighbour, but is our best market for business tourism and spending in Scotland.
The minister said that 40 per cent of visits are return visits. That must be worth the investment, for the huge multiplier effect.
As is usual in preparing for such a debate, I went to VisitScotland’s website, which says that the business tourism unit works closely with the convention bureaux in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee. The minister said that conferences, conventions, meetings and business tourism are for all parts of Scotland. I remind VisitScotland that there is life beyond the big cities. Aviemore and Inverness are excellent examples of places that can host major conferences; the Scottish open is held at Castle Stuart near Inverness, not only because of the stunning and wonderful golf course there, but because the area can accommodate all the estimated 30,000-plus visitors. I am sure that, as the constituency MSP for Inverness and Nairn, the minister would never dare to tell the Inverness common good fund how to spend its money. However, I am sure that he welcomes—as I do—the fact that funding from that fund has been allocated to attracting conferences to Inverness. A maximum grant of £17,500 is available for any single application. I trust that the fund will work with VisitScotland on the issue.
In evidence to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, Gavin Ellis was right to raise the issue of investment in the transport infrastructure of roads, rail and air routes. I heard what was said about improvements in train journey times from Inverness to Edinburgh, and I would welcome any improvement, but I have been a regular traveller since 1999 and I have not yet seen one minute taken off the journey time. However, I believe that that will happen and, when it happens, I will welcome it.
I trust that the same approach as was taken to business tourism following the Olympics will be taken in relation to the Commonwealth games. We have moved beyond silo thinking into looking at the advantages that can be gained. I trust that, in summing up, the minister will tell us what will happen when we have that wonderful opportunity.
- John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP):
Does Mary Scanlon accept that people thought that they could not go to London during the Olympics because the Olympics were on? We do not want such a message; we want people to come to Glasgow at the same time as the Commonwealth games are on.
- Mary Scanlon:
There are lessons to learn from the Olympics. The lessons are 90 per cent positive, but we must also look at any deterrents.
To maintain and increase our competitiveness in business tourism, we need constantly to improve what is on offer. The market is global and competitive, and we need to respond to business needs. The Deloitte annual business traveller survey shows that complementary high-speed internet in rooms is important, given that two out of three respondents said that they worked in their hotel rooms. The survey said that 61 per cent of respondents
“expect more from hotels with regards to amenities and services”.
I have no doubt that broadband speeds and mobile phone coverage are also major factors in business tourism, although they were not mentioned in the survey.
At a briefing earlier today, my colleague Murdo Fraser raised the issue of extending business tourists’ stays in Scotland. In our debate in June, I mentioned the excellent Sutherland trail and the problems that visitors had experienced in finding information about it on VisitScotland’s website. The minister’s response was:
“I am pleased that VisitScotland has a dedicated walking section on its website as well as ... other initiatives”.—[Official Report, 21 June 2012; c 10464.]
In my naivety, I welcomed that comment, but I was disappointed to see that that section of VisitScotland’s website breaks down Scotland into north, central and south areas—I am holding up a copy of the website’s map—and to see that Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and three quarters of the Highlands are omitted. The website covers 23 walks, from the Annandale way to the Moray coast, and it links to a glossy document to entice visitors, which is entitled “Discover Scotland’s Great Trails ... there’s a surprise around every corner”. That is, every corner except those in the north of Scotland. Will the minister look at that again?
- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith):
You need to start to conclude.
- Mary Scanlon:
Business tourism in Islay, with its distilleries, is first class. I appreciate that business tourism is a vital ingredient in the economy of the Highlands and the whole of Scotland.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
We turn to the open debate. Members have six minutes for speeches, but we are very tight for time so interventions must be contained within those six minutes.
- Mike MacKenzie (Highlands and Islands) (SNP):
In beginning a speech in a debate about tourism, it is only proper that I first pay tribute to the man who is credited with single-handedly starting the Scottish tourism industry: Walter Scott. I am sure that he would be more than surprised to know that he founded an industry that now supports about 10 per cent of employment in Scotland and which, even in these dark days of recession, grew last year at a rate of 9 per cent. When much of the rest of the economy is flatlining, that is a very healthy rate of growth. Tourism is yet another industry in which Scotland bucks the economic trends and outperforms the rest of the UK, and it takes more than 20 per cent of the overall UK tourism spend.
In one way or another, every person in Scotland benefits from this dynamic industry. That is why all members of this Parliament should support it and consider themselves as tourism ambassadors for Scotland and talk up Scotland’s many virtues.
If there is a segment of the tourism industry that deserves special consideration, it is business tourism. Business tourism leads to many other benefits, such as business contacts and business contracts, repeat visits, and export and investment opportunities for Scotland. It is worth contemplating why Scotland is so successful in that sector. It seems to me that something about Scotland inspires creativity. It was not an accident that the industrial revolution started here with James Watt’s steam engine. It was not an accident that the enlightenment started in Edinburgh and that Adam Smith founded modern economics here in Scotland, which was a precursor to the modern business landscape that stretches across the globe. Those things were not accidents. There is something about Scotland, something about our landscapes and something about our people and our manner of discourse and dialogue—although not always in this chamber. There is something about Scotland that inspires thought, and which inspires creativity. Business, if it is to be successful, must be all about creativity, because creativity leads to innovation and innovation is the key to success in business, as it is the key to our economic success as a nation.
What better place to refresh tired minds and to rediscover a passion for success than Scotland? That is why business tourism is growing in Scotland. So let us start talking Scotland up, and let us tell the world that we want to do more business.
Scotland’s business is no longer centred exclusively in our cities. I am thinking of the biomara project at Dunstaffnage in Oban, where we lead the world in marine research with a project that aims to capture the vast productive powers of our oceans in producing biofuel. Think of the business spin-off that will be engendered by that project.
I am thinking of the European Marine Energy Centre on Orkney, where we lead the world in marine renewables research and development. That has led to inquiries from Korea, Japan and the US to teach them about marine renewables. As people from other countries learn from us, we will learn from them. Learning from each other and doing business with each other go hand in hand, for business is about mutual benefit and the best of business is often centred on friendships.
As Mary Scanlon said, we must always strive to improve our competitiveness and we must address the impediments to this successful sector. Dr Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, appeared before the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee only a couple of weeks ago. He said that inbound air passenger duty
“is not about austerity; it is lunacy.”
He also said that the UK is
“one of only 14 countries that apply the full rate of VAT on restaurant meals; the average for the rest of the EU is 8.8 per cent, not 20 per cent.”—[Official Report, Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, 12 September 2012; c 1897, 1896.]
We have the second-highest rate of VAT on accommodation in Europe; the average for the rest of Europe is 10.3 per cent, as opposed to 20 per cent. I agree with Mary Scanlon that we need to increase our competitiveness; reducing VAT would be a good way of doing so. I am forced to wonder why, in the face of all economic wisdom, the UK Government persists in overtaxing this area of industry and, indeed, any area of industry in which Scotland does well or enjoys an advantage. The answer to that question is self-evident. Fortunately a solution is almost at hand.
- Margaret McCulloch (Central Scotland) (Lab):
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this topic and to discuss how we can make Scotland the world-class destination that we all know it can be.
This is not the first debate on tourism in which I have participated. However, it is the first that I can remember that has focused specifically on business tourism, which is a potential source of growth in the economy, a key component of any successful events strategy and another way in which we can showcase the very best of Scotland to the world.
Exhibitions, trade fairs, meetings and conferences, product launches, corporate functions and even corporate hospitality at big events, from pop concerts to cup finals, all bring people together. Those gatherings not only generate income for local economies, but bring a wider benefit, because the deals and transactions that are done and the contacts that are made can contribute to the growth and success of businesses further down the line.
Many of the critical factors behind the success of business tourism are not any different to the factors behind the success of the tourism industry as a whole, even in these difficult times for the economy. We all want to give all visitors to our country a good Scottish welcome because we want them to come back, and we want everyone in the service sector who deals with the public—from taxi drivers to hotel porters—to do their bit to make people comfortable and to project a positive image of the country.
We have to get the marketing strategy right, not just at national level but at local level. As I have said before, VisitLanarkshire.com is the product of a strong collaboration between the visitor accommodation sector and visitor attractions, and it is a model of partnership working from which other parts of Scotland could learn.
We must ensure that our workforce has the right mix of skills not just in customer service and hospitality, but in events management, advertising and modern languages. The Confederation of British Industry and Scottish Enterprise have both warned that, because Scotland is falling behind in language education, we are losing out on income and investment, which could be costing the Scottish economy as much as £500 million per year. We must raise our game on modern languages. I welcome the suggestion that foreign languages should be introduced to children at an early age in education, and that an additional language should be introduced as they progress through school. We must be conscious that, if we are to shift the focus of our exporters towards the BRIC—Brazil, Russia, India and China—nations and other emerging economies, our language courses and wider understanding of foreign cultures must become more diverse. We will always teach the major European languages such as French and Spanish, but the case for teaching other languages such as Portuguese and Russian is stronger than ever.
A world-class destination needs world-class infrastructure; connectivity in Scotland and between Scotland and other key destinations is central to our future prosperity. There must be joined-up thinking in our approach to tourism and to transport, as there is in many other countries.
High speed 2 will reduce journey times between Scotland and London, and a high-speed connection between Glasgow and Edinburgh will be a great boost to one of our most valuable transport corridors. However, I remain unconvinced that the reductions in the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvement programme amount to savings; they are, in fact, cuts that total £350 million, which will mean that electrification will be put on hold and critical enhancements to the capacity of the rail line will be scrapped. If we are serious—
- John Mason:
Will the member give way?
- Margaret McCulloch:
Let me continue.
If we are serious about developing this high-value sector and realising all its potential, we need transport links that sit at the top of the league and are up there with the best in the world.
There are real legacy benefits to having a strong and competitive business tourism industry. Venues that are central to the success of business tourism have helped to regenerate city centres across the United Kingdom, breathing new life into spaces that were neglected after the decline of traditional industries. Big national events can produce substantial gains that last longer than the events themselves. I worked on the Glasgow garden festival in the 1980s. It was a great event and it marked a real turning point for the city, but for a number of reasons—not least the economic problems of the late 1980s—much of the land remained derelict until relatively recently. As we develop the venues and the infrastructure that we need to grow the business tourism end of the industry, we must be prepared to invest and to innovate to secure lasting benefits for our economy.
As the Government does, I recognise the growing contribution that business tourism is making to the Scottish economy. Business tourism can add value in all seasons and in all kinds of ways, and it can leave a legacy of regeneration, growth and new opportunities. The challenge for the Government is to support the sector through these tough times and to plan for better times by helping Scotland to secure the skills, the infrastructure and the investment that we need if we are truly to be one of the best destinations in the world.
- Dennis Robertson (Aberdeenshire West) (SNP):
It will come as no surprise to the minister that I will focus most of my attention on the north-east of Scotland—in particular Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.
- John Mason:
- Dennis Robertson:
First, however, I say that I would love to invest £1 with the minister; I hope that I would get a good return at the end of the week.
The north-east of Scotland, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have a fantastic story to tell. When we are looking at business tourism, there is probably no better place in Scotland. We have infrastructure, with Aberdeen airport actually seeing growth in its business over the past year or so, and it continues to grow. The plans to develop the airport into an airport city are taking shape. We will have new hotel accommodation and office accommodation, and perhaps some shops. The aim is to attract the business community. We have a business hub in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, and the energy sector is at the centre of that hub. It brings people from all parts of the world including North America and the middle east, and recently we have had interest from China.
The city has a lot to offer, but in the periphery—the shire—we have just as much, if not more to offer, with the scenery, the beauty and so on. When companies bring in people who are considering future investment in Scotland, and particularly in the north-east, we need to encourage those companies to ensure that people get a feel for the country and its culture, as well. It is extremely important that people understand that Scotland is not about bagpipes, kilts and shortbread—although if they visit Huntly, they can visit the Dean’s factory and get probably the best shortbread in Scotland.
- Mary Scanlon:
Given the enormous demand for hotel beds in the north-east, particularly in Aberdeen, does the member welcome Mr Trump’s development and the extension of accommodation facilities in the north-east?
- Dennis Robertson:
I want to stay positive. Let me say that any future development is also a welcome development.
We have some fantastic hotel accommodation. In royal Deeside, that accommodation probably sells itself, but we also have fantastic facilities in areas such as Strathdon. There is an area called Lost; it is a place to be found. I assure members that it is a place where those who enjoy walking in the Cairngorms will have a fantastic time.
This debate is about encouraging business back into our communities and about the offer of business tourism. In September, the minister stated to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee—I ask him to forgive me for rounding up the figures—that investment of about £322,000 was estimated to have a return of £37 million. My maths is probably not as good as the minister’s and I stand to be corrected, but I think that that is a 56:1 return.
We have fantastic facilities and a wonderful culture—and, in truth, we have an open door for business. That business will bring growth, which in turn will engender more opportunities for the people of Scotland. However, when we take our message across the world, whether it be to China, India, Brazil, Africa or the middle east, we must ensure that the people who come to Scotland get the hospitality that they deserve.
The minister mentioned Stephen Leckie, who for many years now has been at the forefront of demands for a reduction in VAT for the hotel sector. The issue must be looked at urgently. Indeed, I sincerely hope that in the forthcoming budget the Chancellor of the Exchequer will consider reducing VAT for the hotel and restaurant sector.
APD, which was the subject of yesterday’s debate in the chamber and has been mentioned this afternoon, should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Of course, if we wait until 2014, all powers will be devolved and we will be able to address the problem ourselves.
Remaining, I hope, on a consensual note—
Members: Ha! [Laughter.]
- Dennis Robertson:
I hope that by opening the door to Scotland we can encourage business communities to walk through it and enjoy what we have to offer.
- Colin Beattie (Midlothian North and Musselburgh) (SNP):
As a business tourist for 30 years, I can say that I have considerable experience of business tourism. In fact, given the amount of business travel that I undertook in the past, I could easily have qualified as a secret shopper.
As for how pleasurable my experience as a business tourist was, I have to say that things were very mixed. Perhaps I can share with the chamber some of the key factors that I and my then colleagues valued on a visit. Given that no one wanted to waste any spare time, which was always precious and at a premium, we first of all preferred a hotel in the centre of town but not too far from the airport for better access to facilities. Secondly, we liked to have quality restaurants and pubs nearby. Thirdly, we liked tourist attractions to be available. It was really good if they were close by, so that we could take a few photographs to prove to our spouses that we had actually been there. Fourthly, we looked for availability of tourist shops or shops with local content, because we needed to bring back some tourist tat for spouses and family. As that was often done somewhat hurriedly, a good choice was important.
Scotland would have been a popular choice for a visit, as it ticks all the basic boxes. It is really unfortunate that only once in all those years did I attend an event in Edinburgh—and, alas, as I was already living here, it was not the same.
Business tourists tend to spend more money than leisure tourists. Because they are on expenses for accommodation, transport and food, they feel less inhibited by costs. They also tend to be less discriminating because they have less time to look around and to decide on purchases or which local destinations to visit. As a result, it is not surprising that the spend by business tourists is more than one and a half times that of leisure tourists.
Scotland benefits from business tourism by £878 million per annum, which is up an impressive 8 per cent on 2010, and such tourism itself amounts to 20 per cent of the total tourism spend in Scotland. Given that, it is important to understand the drivers behind business tourism, if Scotland is to continue to grow and benefit from the sector. After all, sustainable tourism is a key growth sector for the Scottish Government.
To my mind, business tourism has, broadly, two key elements, the first of which relates to conferences and conventions. We need to sell Scotland as a great place to have a conference on the basis of price—given the constraints on company budgets during this period of financial austerity—and on the basis of the personal preferences of those organising and attending. The second element relates to business travellers, who typically extend their visits by a day or two to look around or, at the very least, squeeze out time during the working day to view very local sights. We must invest in both elements, particularly in the main cities—Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen—where business tourists end up. In both key elements, we need to invest in our tourist infrastructure, and I am pleased that the Scottish Government is doing so.
I will give some examples. Historic Scotland offers its historic facilities for hire as event centres. That has been happening for many years, and business tourism has been targeted since 1998. Historic Scotland has consistently invested in those facilities.
VisitScotland promotes Scotland as a venue for conferences and conventions and, in 2010-11, generated business to the value of £121 million. It has also benefited from the new conference bid fund that Fergus Ewing announced in March 2012. The fund offers £2 million over the next three years and aims to make Scotland more competitive in the international conference market. EventScotland promotes sporting and cultural events and invested £3.7 million in the events industry in 2010-11. That generated some £57.5 million in additional revenue for our economy. Scottish Enterprise gives advice and support to more than 100 key tourism businesses.
I welcome the investment and effort that are being focused on what is an important sector. I have already touched on the fact that we are in the midst of a period of financial austerity. Despite that, it is encouraging to see some indications of continuing recovery in the business tourism market—even if it is slow and a little uneven.
There is little doubt that the recovery may remain fragile until such time as the general economic situation shows more solid signs of improvement. Cost may remain a key factor and margins may suffer as a result. Therefore, it is important that the Scottish market’s stakeholders continue to provide good value for money and to invest in the sector. We have many competitors in the market—the rest of the UK, the USA, Germany and Spain are the main ones. However, Scotland can and will compete successfully. Our track record in the tourism industry is second to none.
When times are hard, there are challenges, but there are also opportunities. If we continue to keep a strong focus on the important business tourism sector, Scotland will continue to prosper and expand as a destination for conferences, conventions and business travellers in general.
Scotland has a great deal to offer delegates and business visitors. It has world-class venues, spectacular scenery, food and drink that is of fantastic quality, historic sites, golf and much more. I commend the work that has been done and is being done, and look forward to seeing the success that those efforts deserve.
- Duncan McNeil (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab):
I ask myself why I am speaking in a debate about business tourism. I asked some people earlier, “I am from Inverclyde—why am I in the debate at all?” but I put my mind to it.
I am here to recognise the potential of tourism in the widest sense for a community that was based on traditional industries. As we know—actually, we cannot believe it—Greenock has turned into a gateway to Scotland for more than 60,000 passengers every year. We are constrained only by the physical resources. We have had positive discussions with Scottish Government ministers about a bid to extend the quay and the quayside. This week, I had an update from Scottish Enterprise and the urban regeneration company on that project, which should increase the number of passengers.
The passengers flow out of the area, because they come to visit Glasgow and Edinburgh, but there are significant benefits for us locally. We look for a bit in return. We are the gateway. The visitors flow into Glasgow and other places and we will never be able to compete with the bigger venues for conferences, but we ask Glasgow in particular to recognise the wider offer.
The experience that people have in Scotland should not be bound to the cities. We should make connections out into places such as Inverclyde where, 20 minutes away, people can sail on the Firth of Clyde in conditions that Chay Blyth considers some of the best sailing in the world. It is less than an hour from the SECC.
People could come down and have lunch on one of those massive cruise liners that come and visit. They could also visit the film set of “Waterloo Road”, which is one of the most popular dramas in the UK, with 5 million viewers every week. The important point is that we recognise that getting people into the area transforms their mindset that this is an old shipyard town and allows them to see the area’s potential for the future. Of course, there is also the effect on the sense of pride of local people, who will welcome visitors to the area.
Finally, we are also giving notice that we want to break into the small conference business market. The new Beacon arts centre, which has been supported by successive Governments here in the Scottish Parliament and by the lottery, will open shortly. With that 500-seat theatre, we will have an opportunity to work in that market and to make a claim for small conferences. Maybe a new hotel will spring up to support that initiative and will work alongside the existing budget hotels as well as Gleddoch House, which has all the leisure facilities—golf and everything else—with spectacular views over the Clyde. That is all only 20 minutes from Glasgow airport.
Although I recognise that we will never compete with the big boys, it is important that people recognise the wider offer and the facilities that are on their doorstep that will enhance the experience of those who attend conferences. Although my comments today might be ambitious or speculative, I think that I can say with certainty that all those who have had the experience of visiting Inverclyde will recognise that there is nothing uncertain about the warm welcome that visitors will get when they arrive in Inverclyde.
- Chic Brodie (South Scotland) (SNP):
While I am delighted to speak in today’s debate, I regret having missed yesterday’s debate on air passenger duty—
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Mr Brodie, sorry, could you turn your microphone round? It is not picking you up very well.
- Chic Brodie:
Along with other members of the Public Petitions Committee, yesterday I visited the National Assembly for Wales, which was also, coincidentally, debating the effect of APD on tourism. There is no doubt that APD—along with VAT, the lack of direct flights and the visa shambles—militates against success in tourism generally and business tourism particularly and defies some of the good work that our tourism agencies do.
Talking with some Chinese businessmen recently, I was appalled to be told that, when seven of them applied to come to Scotland on business, the embassy restricted their quota to five. Of course, none of them then came. Notwithstanding the consensual nature of the debate, I have to admit that I smiled yesterday when reading the story about Areva coming to Scotland, on which the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, said:
“I am determined that Britain competes and thrives in the global race”.
Well, he could help our business tourism by asking his Chancellor of the Exchequer to reduce APD and VAT drastically, by asking his Foreign Secretary to sort out the visa shambles and by asking his Secretary of State for Transport to insist that the transport review considers direct flights to Scotland.
Having worked for several multinationals and run eight companies across Europe, I know that it is critical to business tourism that we increase the global corporate footprint in Scotland. We need more corporate headquarters. On that, I can only praise the great work of Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International and the efforts that they have made so far to attract such companies. I have no doubt that, under the umbrella of the strategic economic forum, there will be even greater co-ordination and cohesion among Scottish Enterprise, SDI and VisitScotland in attracting more businesses—and, by default, more business tourists—to Scotland.
In my careers with NCR, IBM, Digital, Wang UK and Tandem UK, I well remember the influx of colleagues from the US, Japan and Europe, many of whom brought their spouses and extended their stays, and even continued to come back after they had left the companies. I well remember Tandem taking over a third of Gleneagles hotel. I do not remember quite as well the night at the Tullibardine distillery, although I am sure I enjoyed it. The attraction of corporates and their subsidiary units and manufacturing entities must be an overarching objective for business and business tourism. As it was in silicon glen, let it be in renewables, food and drink, and life sciences.
We must build on the estimated £900 million of expenditure from business tourism in 2011, which was 19 per cent of total tourism expenditure. Aside from the volume, the business tourism sector is important because it is estimated that business tourists spend one and a half times what leisure tourists spend. It is important that we have in place the processes and information and communication technology systems that crystallise the numbers, so that we know exactly how we are growing.
As the minister said, our success is contingent on the joint work of VisitScotland’s business tourism unit, our universities, local authorities, regional tourism forums and the private sector to stimulate activity and build infrastructure to meet our national objective. Although I applaud the current 53 applications to the conference bid fund and I recognise the efforts of Glasgow City Council and Scott Taylor and his marketing team in securing outstanding conferences for Glasgow, particularly in the life sciences and medicine, I suggest that our business tourism cannot be city-centric only and nor can it be product-centric. According to the business tourism unit, outside the main cities, only 31 places in Scotland can seat more than 500 people in theatre style.
We will be successful in our pursuit of making Scotland a global business tourism centre for the corporates that I mentioned, for conferences, conventions, sales achievement programmes, exhibitions and trade fairs—I could go on—only if we are ready to beat the global competition. That means spreading our reach to show our service worth, natural resources and assets, including outwith the cities. It means increasing connectivity and business tourism attractions in the Borders and the Highlands and Islands. The phrase that comes to mind is, “Shovel ready, service ready.” We have good and, in some cases, excellent tourism and business tourism agencies. I am delighted to support the Government’s motion and the amendment.
- Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD):
I agree entirely with Mr Brodie’s final point about the importance of business tourism being spread rather more widely than just Glasgow, Edinburgh and Gleneagles, good as they are. I will give the minister a concrete example of an action that his Government could take that would help not just Shetland, but Orkney, the Western Isles, the Argyll islands and Wick and the far north—all areas with which he is familiar. That is to reintroduce the business component of the air discount scheme. That was a good scheme that was introduced some years ago by a previous Government and continued by Stewart Stevenson, the first Scottish National Party transport minister in 2007. It is to Mr Stevenson’s great credit that he ensured that the scheme continued. It was approved by the European Commission and provided a 40 per cent discount on what I am sure the minister will recognise are pretty high fares across the Highlands and Islands.
I was grateful to Mr Stevenson for continuing the scheme. His decision was eminently sensible. However, since then, the Government has changed its position on the business component of the scheme. Had the Government cited finance as the main reason for that, I would have had some sympathy. Although I might not have agreed and might have argued for a different set of priorities, I certainly would accept any minister’s right to make that judgment call.
However, what I found somewhat difficult to take was the use of the European Commission as a convenient way of saying that the scheme had to change. That is not the case now and it was not the case then. Perhaps I could gently ask Fergus Ewing to bring his considerable talents to bear on his colleagues in another part of Government to see whether that scheme could be reintroduced, as it would make a considerable difference to the areas of Scotland that I have mentioned and would be in line with the point that Mr Brodie and other members have made about ensuring that the conference and business tourism market can develop not only in our great cities and resorts such as Gleneagles and St Andrews but in other parts of the country.
I commend Mr Robertson’s remarks about what the oil and gas industry means for business tourism. I share his perspective, not only about Aberdeen—although it is close to my heart, as I have spent years going through it in order to catch a boat or a plane—but about other places that are involved in the industry. Certainly, it brings a huge amount of business tourism to Shetland. Mr Robertson might agree with those who note that getting a taxi or, more to the point, a hotel bed in Aberdeen during a normal working week is nigh on impossible. Occasionally, when I have been trying to get home and not managed it because the flight has been cancelled, I have been put up in all parts of Scotland instead of close to Dyce, in order to catch that hellishly—excuse me, Presiding Officer, that ghastly—early flight home on a Friday or Saturday morning.
I bring to the minister’s attention the advertising industry’s increasing use of locations in Scotland. I confess that I was pretty ignorant of that until Friday night, when I found out that a major mobile phone company had been filming an advert in Shetland for the past week. Some 45 members of the production crew had been staying in three hotels in the north of Shetland, bringing six trucks of kit with them from London. I can only guess at the spend that that represents—not only in the pub in which I met them on Friday night but in hotels and restaurants and with local people who provided everything from quad bikes to trailers to take the kit around the west of Shetland. Apparently, all that is to produce something that will last less than 30 seconds and involves ponies breakdancing. That is not a concept with which I am familiar, and I can only recommend that members check YouTube when the advertisement appears. However, believe me, if it brings money into my community, I am allowed to endorse ponies breakdancing.
More seriously, I commend the minister’s use of statistics, particularly the point that he made about 40 per cent of business tourists returning. The other numbers that jumped out at me—they were either in the report that the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee published on Monday or in a report that I had something to do with five or six years ago, when the previous Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee conducted its inquiry into tourism—were that 28 per cent of all international association conferences that are held in the UK are hosted by Scotland and that Edinburgh and Glasgow are second only to London in the UK in terms of the number of international association conferences. As the minister said, that suggests that there is a huge potential for growth for Scotland.
Of course, that relates to transport. I was taken with Ken Macintosh’s observations about the air route development fund, which has been used by Glasgow City Council and which Mr Ewing will remember from a previous iteration of his career. I appreciate that there were European challenges to the use of the fund but, in fairness to Glasgow City Council, if it has found a way around that, I can only commend it, because the argument that has been used for years by business lobby organisations—indeed, by the kind of companies that Mr Brodie mentioned—is that direct air links into Scotland, avoiding the hubs of London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, would be enormously beneficial for the development of business tourism.
Finally, I ask Mr Ewing to ensure that, the next time he comes through passport control at Edinburgh airport, he thinks about working hard on the point that Mr Macintosh made about a nice welcome to Scotland.
- Stuart McMillan (West Scotland) (SNP):
It has been a consensual debate so far, which has sometimes been quite humorous. I recommend that Tavish Scott have a wee chat later with my colleague Chic Brodie as, when Tavish Scott mentioned breakdancing ponies, Chic Brodie said that he had one.
We know that Scotland has a tremendous amount to offer between its people, the golf, the whisky, the food and drink, the cultural events, the bagpipes and the tartan—Dennis Robertson take note—and the sporting events, including the world-class sailing off the west coast. In that regard, we cannot forget the current constitutional debate, which is certainly putting Scotland under the gaze of the wider world and is, I think, making Scotland a more interesting and fascinating place for people to come and visit.
We have already heard a number of the facts and statistics, so I will not go over all the ground again. However, it is important to highlight a couple of the points that we heard earlier. VisitScotland estimates that the MICE market brings in around £870 million, which is 19 per cent of our overall business tourism figure, and that 28 per cent of all international association conferences that are held in the UK are held in Scotland.
Neil Brownlee, head of VisitScotland’s business tourism unit, said:
“Scotland has so much to offer delegates in terms of our world class venues, our spectacular scenes, our fantastic food and drink, our history, our golf and so much more.”
I could not have put it better myself. We have the product. We have some world-class establishments and have improving service provision at all levels. We also have the people with the drive and passion to continue to improve the tourism product, particularly the business tourism product, and certainly none more so than Stephen Leckie, who is the chair of the Scottish tourism leadership group and of the Scottish Tourism Alliance. His infectious desire is to make Scottish tourism the best—not just the best for a small country. His foreword to the refreshed Scottish tourism strategy—“Tourism Scotland 2020”—highlights the focus on the sector, stating that the strategy is
“for the industry, by the industry.”
Those comments are apt and highlight that it is a bottom-up strategy rather than a top-down one.
The tourism leadership group, which produced the refreshed strategy, and the Scottish Tourism Alliance, which will monitor the delivery of the strategy, are pivotal in driving Scotland’s offering forward. I am convinced that they will succeed and that, as a consequence, so will Scotland. They will have challenges and some ups and downs, but the challenge for politicians in this Parliament and elsewhere is to help them when it is required, not give them a public mauling.
The next two years are important for Scotland. The continuation of the winning years strategy will see two of the world’s top-class events coming to the country, which are huge opportunities. The Ryder cup will put Scotland in the driving seat—sorry for the pun—from a golfing perspective, and the Commonwealth games will put Glasgow on the front foot from a wider sporting perspective. Given that hundreds of millions of pounds are being invested in Glasgow by the Scottish Government in sporting infrastructure, accommodation, staffing and transport links to make the games a success, I am sure that, in their heart of hearts, those who claimed that Glasgow was being ripped off know that be to an inaccurate claim.
I warmly welcome the conference bid fund, which has had a tremendous amount of success so far. Glasgow has done well, and the thousands of additional people who have come to Scotland or who will come to Scotland in coming years are a huge boost to the Glasgow economy. The Scottish Government’s collaborative work with Glasgow City Council and the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau is an example that should be emulated.
- Duncan McNeil:
The member will agree that the Commonwealth games are a great opportunity for places such as Inverclyde, not just in sporting links but in cultural links. Many of the grandparents or ancestors of participants in the games from Australia, New Zealand and Canada left these shores from Greenock, and more could be done to ensure that they walk the streets that their forefathers walked.
- Stuart McMillan:
Absolutely. Inverclyde has a tremendous opportunity to make much more of tourism. I will come on to Inverclyde in a moment.
Business tourism comes in all shapes and sizes, whether large conferences coming to the cities or smaller events. Earlier this year, Celestica, an organisation that is based in Gourock, held a small conference of vice-presidents from around the world, who stayed at the Inverkip hotel. That decision was based on the stunning location. It would have been too small to have qualified for any assistance through the bid fund—it involved only about eight people—but it was important to the economy that it served.
As far as the future is concerned, the Beacon arts centre, as one of the 31 locations outside the cities that can seat 500 people, represents a wonderful opportunity to bring conferences into Inverclyde. I highlighted its importance to Malcolm Roughhead some months ago, and I am pleased that he took up the point and passed it on to his colleagues in VisitScotland.
The bigger cities have plenty of bed space, but smaller locations have a shortage of it. That is the case across the west of Scotland.
The west of Scotland has wonderful opportunities. Inverclyde, in particular, has wonderful opportunities in the shape of the Beacon arts centre and the number of people who left the area many years ago for the new world. A great deal more can be done in Inverclyde. I am biased, but anyone who goes there will get a tremendous welcome and nowhere can compete with its stunning location.
- Anne McTaggart (Glasgow) (Lab):
I am delighted to contribute to this important debate on business tourism, and I thank Fergus Ewing for securing time for us to raise some of the key issues to do with visitor numbers and the economic benefits that business tourists can bring to Scotland.
I begin by highlighting the excellent record of Glasgow City Council in attracting corporate and commercial visitors to our city. Glasgow regularly hosts national and international conferences and has gained a strong reputation as a city that means business. As I am sure that all members will be aware, Glasgow has secured the position of number 1 destination for business tourism in the UK outside London. That is due in no small part to the council’s support for the tourism sector in Glasgow and the vision and foresight of the Labour administration in attracting and sustaining investment.
In particular, our hospitality sector has enjoyed expansion as a result of a high level of support from the council. New hotels and guest houses have been well supported in attracting business and leisure tourists to Scotland’s largest city. Those new businesses have been instrumental in delivering new jobs for Glasgow’s young people and have proved to be resilient in an otherwise struggling economic reality.
Glasgow benefits hugely from the business tourism sector in Scotland, but we know that other major cities such as Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen can attribute a significant proportion of inward investment to the facilitation of conferences, international meetings, conventions and exhibitions. Part of the reason for that is the broad range of facilities that our major Scottish cities can offer business tourists, in the form of conference centres, well-equipped meeting spaces, theatres and galleries.
Equally, international visitors require a well-developed transport network that links city centres, train stations, business centres and airports efficiently and without unnecessary delays, and which does not result in them incurring unnecessary costs. That is why l believe that investment in transport infrastructure is the key factor in achieving further growth in the important business tourism sector and must be a central focus of efforts to sustain the current benefit to Scotland of more than £809 million annually. Scotland must position itself as a leading player globally and a destination that can compete with other UK and international cities that may also be well placed to deliver for the business tourist and their needs.
- Dennis Robertson:
Does the member acknowledge that the north-east of Scotland is a global player in the energy sector? Next year, with the subsea conference in February and the Offshore Europe conference in September, we will probably attract people from more than 90 different countries to the north-east.
- Anne McTaggart:
I sure do acknowledge that and congratulate Mr Robertson on it.
It is clear that, to realise our ambition, we must build transport links for our visitors that are faster, cheaper and more efficient.
We must focus on connecting travel hubs with our city centres and on building a comprehensive network and onward connections so that many of our towns and cities can benefit from high visitor numbers to Scotland. It is incredibly frustrating that the process has been so significantly inhibited by the Scottish National Party’s decision to cancel the Glasgow airport rail link and it is disappointing that there are no plans to re-establish the proposals for that scheme. Now is the time for the Scottish Government to boost the tourism sector in Scotland by looking again at the transport networks that service our visitors and for it to start planning for the future in terms of how we will deliver a first-class service for all of Scotland’s business and leisure tourists.
The Scottish tourism sector employs more than 200,000 people across the country and indirectly supports many more of our businesses through increased spending and visitor numbers in our towns and cities. In a highly competitive marketplace, Scotland must now do all that it can to support tourism and sustain the businesses and families that rely on the strength of the industry. In particular, business tourism can offer unique opportunities for the Scottish economy in bringing high numbers of individuals to Scotland to enjoy our unique facilities and resources and to promote Scotland as a first-class business destination worldwide.
- Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP):
We have had ponies breakdancing and Chic Brodie claiming that he is training one—you can tell that we are all desperately trying to zizz up the debate. We have had MICE—at least that is an acronym to toy with. It stands for meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions and events—we learn something every day, whether we want to or not. Then we had Dennis “Am I from the north-east?” Robertson. Yes, I too am impressed with returns from the bank of Fergus. Crumbs, I am bored with my speech already. Members’ speeches were littered with a lot of local press releases, so it is not all bad.
In anticipating the debate, I did a rough survey of hotels across my constituency—I can be as parochial as other members—against the background of the concerns of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee about the winning years project, which seeks to maximise opportunities from all that happens from now until 2014 as regards major events in Scotland.
The committee’s report noted—and we have all seen this—that the winning years project appears to be
“focused more on urban areas”
“rural areas might not benefit equally”
A few of us have now got into a fight about that. I will give members a prime example. The Commonwealth games are to be held in Glasgow. Where are the rugby sevens being held? They are not being held in Melrose, home of the rugby sevens—so much for rural places getting their fair share.
- John Mason:
Will the member take an intervention?
- Christine Grahame:
Please. I am glad that the member is still awake—that is a compliment.
- John Mason:
Does the member agree that if we could get businesspeople to come to Glasgow or Edinburgh, for example, and 40 per cent of those businesspeople came back again, they would be likely to go to the Borders, the Highlands and elsewhere?
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I ask members not to sit with their backs to the chair. Thank you.
- Christine Grahame:
No, that would not happen—it is not likely.
I welcome the £2 million for the conference bid fund but we know that none of the rural places is getting it. Rural areas are not applying—frankly, they did not know about it. As regards business tourism, we are really looking at the major cities, which are in the central belt and the north-east.
I did my survey as part of my usual business surgeries. I went round several areas in the Borders to hotels that are quite useful as conference venues. The MacDonald Cardrona hotel near Peebles recently hosted the Prison Officers Association of Scotland conference—it can hold conferences. Peebles Hydro frequently has the Scottish Police Federation conferences. Use of Traquair house extends to book festivals and smaller conferences. The Tweed Horizons centre has a wide range of facilities. I use the Tontine hotel, which is in Peebles, for meetings. Some of the ladies present, and perhaps some of the gentlemen, will recognise Stobo Castle for its spa facilities, but it also holds business conferences. There is also Abbotsford house, which is being brought back to its prime. As I understand it, it was the home of the founder of tourism, Sir Walter Scott. It has a wonderful visitor centre that is just open and it is available for conferences.
However, there are problems. Transport links, particularly to the Peebles and Traquair side of the Borders, are a huge issue that many people have raised, and the lack of national exposure of the Borders by VisitScotland has been brought to my attention. VisitScotland tends to focus on the Highlands and Islands, and possibly the north-east. There is a link to the high cost of business advertising—
- Mary Scanlon:
I have to say something about the comparison of the Highlands with the Borders. At least the Borders are on the south of Scotland walking map for VisitScotland; the Highlands and Islands do not even exist.
- Christine Grahame:
I did not think that the Highlands and Islands would be on the south of Scotland walking map, but maybe my geography is wrong.
Aside from his training of horses, Chic Brodie is right about connectivity. Broadband speed and mobile reception are big issues for people who are holding a business conference.
I have not finished my negatives. I have already mentioned the other negative, which is that many people are unaware of the conference bid fund. We need to do more than have this debate about that fund; information about it has to be taken out proactively to small to medium-sized businesses.
On the plus side, many who have met the minister and heard him speak thought that he was a decent chap, and they liked the cut of his jib—that is it.
- Dennis Robertson:
I am from the north-east of Scotland. [Laughter.]
If Christine Grahame looks at the positives, she will see that places such as Peebles Hydro have the facilities to hold conferences. I have been to Crieff Hydro, Peebles Hydro and Dunblane Hydro for various conferences, such as ophthalmic and optometry conferences. She should promote those venues to the royal associations and colleges.
- Christine Grahame:
I am doing that. Members are looking at a Borders business tourism ambassador in the making.
The jury was out on VisitScotland, which talks a good talk, but people were not convinced that it walks the walk.
There are issues to do with the dispersal of business tourism to areas such as the Scottish Borders. I know that the rail link will help the central Borders, but it will not do very much for the west. Therefore, I ask the minister to liaise—I am sure that he does so regularly—with the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities, as infrastructure is more than incidental to dispersing business tourism.
- Roderick Campbell (North East Fife) (SNP):
Tourism is without a doubt an enormous plus for Scotland. Scotland’s natural beauty, history, heritage and leisure facilities and our internationally renowned reputation as a friendly host all play their part. We should look at business tourism in that context, and we should try wherever we possibly can to link those assets with the needs of business. We should continue to encourage visitors to plan extra time in order to experience Scotland outside the conference hall.
As Mike MacKenzie mentioned, tourism has continued to grow, despite the economic climate—it grew by 9 per cent last year. Although tourism faces many challenges, business tourism contributes £878 million to the economy, as has been said. I certainly believe that improving the business tourism take as a proportion of the total tourism take to 25 per cent is very achievable.
Tourism supports approximately 270,000 jobs, and a high proportion of jobs in rural areas are based on it. My North East Fife constituency is one such rural area. I would like to say a little bit about that area as opposed to north-east Scotland, which Dennis Robertson talked about.
North East Fife has an outstanding amount to offer visitors, from the beautiful coastal villages of the east neuk to the numerous golf courses and St Andrews, which some folk say is the jewel in the crown. North East Fife is certainly a destination for leisure visitors, but a great deal is also being done to promote the area—St Andrews in particular—as a business tourism destination. St Andrews, of course, features in the ambassador programme, which is fundamentally designed to spread the word. The University of St Andrews is a key partner in the central ambassador programme, which covers the key areas of aquaculture, sport, medicine and science.
On the conference bid fund, it is not only Glasgow that has been successful, of course: St Andrews has been successful in attracting a conference in October 2013. The interactive tabletops and surfaces conference, which operates in the field of new and emerging table-top and interactive surface technologies, is co-hosting an event with the user interface software and technology—UIST—forum. It is hoped that that event will attract 435 delegates and that just under £1 million will be spent between 6 October and 9 October next year. If St Andrews can do it, I hope that other places can, too. We should do our best to promote that fund.
The Fife tourism partnership is another organisation that acts as a forum for events and the sharing of resources, principally through a directory, which can be helpful for business in promoting facilities. In addition, the St Andrews Partnership held two-day workshops on 23 and 30 October this year, promoting business tourism in the area. We should also bear in mind VisitScotland’s central Scotland business tourism unit, which exists to provide impartial advice on venues and local services to those who are planning a conference or another event.
There is no shortage of premium meeting and conference facilities in and around St Andrews. It is, after all, the home of golf and the hotels around the town—the Old Course hotel and the Fairmont, to name but two—have substantial conference facilities and a wide range of products to suit a business clientele. However, it is fair to say that because a great number of Fife’s business tourism facilities are located in St Andrews, opportunities elsewhere in the kingdom of Fife are relatively limited.
The concentration of business tourism facilities in major centres of population is a pattern that is repeated in all parts of Scotland. For the organisers of an exhibition, it is clearly more practical in a logistical sense to gravitate towards centres of population where there are more convenient transport links and services, and the problem is not unique to Scotland. That is why it is important that all the stakeholders involved in the tourism sector take the necessary steps to ensure that the benefits of business tourism are shared as widely as possible.
As I said, tourism supports a relatively high proportion of the total number of jobs in rural areas. When efforts are made to draw tourists to a particular town or city, be it St Andrews or Dundee, there needs to be an effective strategy in place to draw conference visitors out of those places into the wider area and to get them to invest their time and enjoyment in the region as a whole. VisitScotland has a role to play in that strategy. It operates a frequent outreach service whereby knowledgeable staff from visitor information centres, where they normally interact with leisure tourists, attend conferences and events around the country to link business tourists with the wider leisure facilities that are available—facilities that they might not otherwise have considered. It is also in the interests of the tourism industry as a whole if we can showcase the diversity of Scotland and encourage visitors to come back again and again, with conference delegates bringing their families along for a second visit, as Fergus Ewing suggested.
We already know that Scotland is doing well on business tourism. As a whole, we are an attractive place in which to do business and hold conferences. We have a proven track record of success, testament to which is the fact that nearly a third of international association conferences held in the UK are hosted in Scotland. In terms of strengthening the link between business visitors and leisure, we have a perfect opportunity next year to attract visitors to more rural areas as the year of natural Scotland in 2013 unfolds. As members have suggested, we can be optimistic and build on our success to date.
I would be grateful if, in his closing remarks, the minister would address the comments that were made in the recent Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee report in relation to the possible disadvantages for rural areas.
- Mark Griffin (Central Scotland) (Lab):
I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate on business tourism. Tourism in general has been targeted as a growth industry in Scotland, particularly in the run-up to the 2014 Commonwealth games, the Ryder cup and beyond. Within that sector, business tourism has a massive part to play and is already contributing more than £800 million a year to the Scottish economy.
Figures also show that business tourism visitors contribute 50 to 100 per cent more to the local economy in spending than leisure tourists, as has been said, and they are likely to visit again on holiday if they have a positive experience. That highlights how important it is that the Government and local authorities work to attract business tourism here, to bring money into the economy immediately and to increase the possibility of return visits by making people welcome and their stay as comfortable as possible.
Glasgow has been tremendously successful in attracting business tourism and has secured its position as the UK’s largest destination for business tourism outside London. That did not happen by chance; it happened because the administration at Glasgow City Council recognised business tourism’s importance to the city’s economy. Council leader Gordon Matheson chairs the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, which underlines the significance of the bureau’s activities. When we consider the figures, it is easy to see why the council’s administration places such emphasis on business tourism. Conference delegates account for one in five hotel beds in Glasgow.
- John Mason:
I take the member’s point about the good things that Glasgow has done, but does he accept that a success of the SECC is that despite its being publicly owned it is kept at a distance from Glasgow City Council and there has not been political interference?
- Mark Griffin:
The SECC is run by members of the council, so there is involvement by the council. Glasgow City Marketing Bureau markets all Glasgow’s venues, so naturally there is involvement, particularly given that such a high-profile council leader is at the forefront of activity.
Glasgow has been successful in bidding for funding from the conference bid fund that the Government unveiled this year. The £2 million fund was set up with the aim of making Scotland more competitive in the international conference market and is open for bids to attract conferences that relate to one of the Government’s 12 target sectors.
Glasgow has been able to secure seven major domestic and international conferences, which will bring into the city almost 17,000 visitors from around the world, account for about 80,000 hotel room nights and contribute a massive £27 million to the city’s economy. The conferences were won in an extremely competitive international market. Glasgow had to beat off competition from venues across the world, including Paris, San Francisco and Tokyo—the city is in illustrious company.
The initial investment of £2 million in the conference bid fund has proven to be valuable. The minister illustrated with his coin trick just how valuable business tourism is. I am sure that other authorities will benefit from the funding and expertise that are on offer. As members have said, some authorities have already benefited. Aberdeen City Council is making great strides in attracting business tourism. As the Labour amendment says, the council has committed to paying off
“the accumulated £26.2 million debt of the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre”,
which shows the council’s commitment to business tourism and to growing international conference business in Aberdeen.
It is important that the Government and local authorities work to increase business tourism, which brings an immediate boost to the local economy. It is perhaps more important that the experience of visiting delegates is positive, so that global organisations, trade groups and businesses feel confident about returning to Scotland to hold conferences or do business and delegates choose to come back here on holiday.
That means that when, at a conference or convention, we have a captive audience of people who would not ordinarily visit Scotland, we must realise all possible promotional opportunities. That includes the friendly welcome at the hotel or venue, promotional material at the conference, good Scottish cuisine and easy access to recreational activities outside the conference. I hope that all conference delegates in Glasgow this month are made aware of the excellent shopping facilities in the city centre, as Christmas approaches.
The Government also needs to ensure that journeys are convenient and comfortable and that transport connections are as seamless as possible. Our airports need to be directly connected to our cities. Since the cancellation of the Glasgow airport rail link, the Government has not come up with an effective alternative solution for linking the airport with the city centre.
I do not want to end on a negative note, so I finish by praising the Government for its commitment to the business tourism sector and the £2 million bid fund. However, there is more to do to improve transport and ensure that delegates come back to Scotland again and again.
- John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP):
We have heard a lot of good news at the national level—for example, 23 per cent of all international association conferences in the UK are hosted in Scotland. We have some great venues, scenery, food and drink, history and golf—all the things that attract people. However, members will perhaps not be surprised if I concentrate on Glasgow.
Glasgow attracts 2.3 million visitors per year, who contribute £595 million to the local economy. The age profile of people who come to Glasgow is younger than the national average—45 per cent of them are under 35, in comparison with a national average of 32 per cent. Some 30,000 people are employed in tourism-related activities in Glasgow. We have more than 6,500 hotel rooms within 5 miles of the SECC, 9,000 rooms within 10 miles of it and 18,000 rooms in metropolitan Glasgow, if guest houses, bed and breakfasts and university accommodation are included.
The SECC has been mentioned. I should perhaps declare that I was a non-executive director of it for about a year, when I was a councillor from 2007 to 2008. It is majority owned by Glasgow City Council and has given the city a huge boost through conferences and many other events. It is a success in the public sector that is owned by the public sector, but it is without interference, and the majority of the directors are not councillors. If we are mentioning individuals, a lot of the SECC’s success and growth took place under Charlie Gordon and Steven Purcell, as well as taking place under the present leadership. In 2012, the SECC was again voted the best UK conference centre.
People who have visited the SECC site recently will have seen the Scottish Hydro arena being built. The Hydro, which will have a capacity of 12,000 and is due to open in September 2013, will be suitable for music and sport events and for conferences. It is needed because the SECC does not have halls that are big enough for some events and does not have permanent seating.
The Hydro could host 140 events each year, which could inject £131 million into Glasgow’s economy. It is expected to be one of the top five busiest indoor arenas in the world, along with Madison Square Garden and the O2 in London. I understand from the SECC that one of its aims after the new venue is open will be to establish more of a trade exhibition portfolio, which could initiate growth in the local economy, through international buyers coming to Glasgow.
Glasgow City Marketing Bureau has been mentioned. It brings together venues, hotels, support services and creative industries to present a really joined-up approach to conference organisers from around the world. Some of the figures are impressive. Since the bureau was set up in 2005, it has brought £958 million to the city’s economy and 3 million conference delegate hotel room nights, which represents one in five of the hotel beds that are sold in Glasgow. In 2012, the organisation was voted the UK’s best convention bureau for the sixth year in a row. If we look forward to 2017, 278 conventions are confirmed, with a value of £120 million. That equates to 410,000 delegate hotel room nights.
As has been said, Glasgow has benefited from VisitScotland’s £2 million national conference bid fund. The minister said that £527,000 had been put in and that we got £56 million out, which is about £106 for every £1 that was invested, if I did my figures correctly. I think that that return is even better than was suggested.
- Fergus Ewing:
John Mason is a mathematician, so I should have realised that he would pick up what others failed to spot. The 53:1 return takes account of match funding from other partners, including Glasgow City Council.
- John Mason:
I thank the minister for that clarification.
I will give another clarification. Although a lot of conferences and conventions come to the cities, they have a huge spin-off. People visit other parts of Scotland on an extended break, and we can encourage them to do that in the future. We need to continue to work on that.
Mark Griffin mentioned the seven initial conventions that were won for Glasgow through the national bid fund—I believe that that figure is now up to 15 and that 30,000 delegates are due to come. The conventions include the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health conference in 2013 and the world biomaterials congress in 2020.
The Diabetes UK conference is an example of a very successful conference that took place in Glasgow. The conference, which took place in March, was attended by some 2,800 scientists and healthcare professionals. Only four places in Britain were big enough to hold it—the others were London, Manchester and Liverpool. One of the strengths of that conference was the relationship between the SECC, Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, Kelvingrove art gallery—which held a dinner that Glasgow Life was involved in—and the lord provost from the council. The national health service linked into the conference, with general practitioners being encouraged to attend. Publicity and roadshows around the city raised the profile of diabetes and encouraged referrals to GPs.
We need to play to our strengths. Clearly, our weather is not always attractive to us but it can be attractive to other people. The fact that we speak English can also be a real positive for us. One reason why I like to go to Ireland is that I leave the UK but can still speak English.
Scotland loses out by being in the union, and once we are independent our higher international profile will help us attract many more conferences.
- The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick):
We now move to winding-up speeches. A number of members who took part in the debate are not here for the winding-up speeches: Mike MacKenzie, Duncan McNeil, Tavish Scott and Christine Grahame. I find that behaviour unacceptable and I am confident that the whips will do something about it—and do something about it quickly.
- Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con):
This welcome debate has been largely consensual. All members have recognised the value of business tourism, which, as the Government motion says, contributes £2.9 billion to the Scottish economy. That is vital, particularly in these difficult times. Indeed, although business tourism is by no means recession proof, aspects of it—in particular, conference organisers that deal with public sector organisations and various associations—have perhaps ridden out the recession better than some other areas of commercial activity.
As we heard in the debate, the main market for Scottish business tourism is the rest of the UK. There is a key issue that we need to address, which I raised in the briefing that we had at lunch time. We need to encourage those who are perhaps coming to take part in a conference to extend their stay to participate in other activities or visit other parts of the country. Of course, we can do that only if we get to them before they make their bookings and commit to their flights. There is a question of co-ordination there, which I know that the minister and his officials are working on.
I welcome the conference bid fund that the minister referred to and the success that it is having in attracting visitors from elsewhere. On the subject of finance, I was interested that a number of SNP members called for a reduction in VAT for the sector. Of course, that call is made by many in the tourism and hospitality industry, which is not surprising. It is a certainty in life that if you ask someone in business whether they would rather pay lower taxes, the answer is invariably yes. Although I am not surprised that people make that call, it is curious that the SNP would rather focus its attention on a tax that is controlled elsewhere, than a business tax that is controlled by this Government—business rates.
- Dennis Robertson:
Will the member give way?
- Murdo Fraser:
I will make this point before giving way to Mr Robertson.
I am sure that if people in the tourism sector were asked whether they would welcome a cut in business rates, they would endorse it enthusiastically. I am surprised that SNP members did not call for that, but I give Mr Robertson the opportunity to do so.
- Dennis Robertson:
It is not the SNP as such that is calling for a VAT reduction, but the British Hospitality Association, which has been looking for a VAT reduction for years. It says that for every pound that came off VAT, it would get several back—although I cannot remember the figures. The industry says that there would be greater investment if VAT was reduced.
- Murdo Fraser:
I am sure that that would apply equally to business rates, but of course SNP members would rather concentrate their fire on a Government and a Parliament on which they have little influence, as opposed to one over which they have, I suspect, a great deal of influence.
That is my only discordant note in this debate.
- Christine Grahame:
- Murdo Fraser:
So as not to disappoint Christine Grahame, I will make some references to my local area, and in particular Perth and Kinross, where we have some great assets. Gleneagles hotel is a conference venue where the G7 was held and, with Stephen Leckie in the gallery, I cannot fail to mention Crieff Hydro. I would be surprised if there was a single member in the chamber who had not at some point been to a conference at that wonderful establishment. Elsewhere, we have Pitlochry Festival Theatre, which is an excellent conference venue that is well served by local hotels.
In the city of Perth—Scotland’s newest city—we have the marvellous facility that is the concert hall, which opened in 2005. In the 2010-11 year, 19,000 conference delegates attended events at the concert hall over 54 days. Conferences have been held there by the Conservatives, the SNP, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Educational Institute of Scotland and many others. In 2008, which is the last year for which we have figures, the economic benefit was worth £1.3 million annually, and I am sure that it is much greater today. The feedback from those who have attended conferences there is extremely positive.
There are, however, challenges for the city. First, although we have some very good-quality hotels in Perth, there is a need for a high-quality—perhaps four star—large hotel close to the city centre to serve the conference market. I know that Perth and Kinross officials are working on trying to attract such an operator.
Secondly, good conference destinations need to be underpinned by an academic and research community. In Perth, we have Perth College, which is part of the University of the Highlands and Islands that contains the excellent centre for mountain studies, which helped to attract the global change and the world’s mountains conference in 2010. It would be good for that centre to be expanded if possible, so that we can attract yet more conferences.
There is a challenge around connectivity. For example, we need better transport links. I am always banging on about the rail link between Perth and Edinburgh and how it can be improved. Stephen Leckie would not forgive me if I did not mention broadband, because people who attend conferences at the Crieff Hydro expect to have high-quality access to fast broadband, and the connection is not good enough at present. That should also mean access to 3G and 4G, as it is being rolled out, so that we do not leave rural areas behind.
We need high-quality skills in hospitality, which is an issue that members of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee have touched on a great many times in the past year. Perhaps business tourism throughout the year can help to tackle the seasonality issue, which is key to driving up standards in hospitality and to upskilling the workforce.
The debate has been very positive, and I commend the work that the Government is doing. Equally, I commend the work that the private sector is doing in attracting business tourism. I am happy to support the Government’s motion and the Labour amendment.
- Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab):
When I saw that this debate was coming up, I thought that we might be in for quite a boring afternoon as, while it is on a good cause, there might not be an awful lot to say. I am delighted that I was not right in that regard. Christine Grahame is right to say that a lot of members have used the debate to highlight what is best in their own constituencies, but in doing so they have highlighted what is best in Scotland. That augurs well for us all in a positive debate that is about telling the world what we are good at.
The debate has been excellent for highlighting the importance of business tourism to the Scottish economy; I will not rehash the various statistics that we have heard. One thing that business tourism does is to create all-year-round tourism, which has always been an issue. The seasonality of the tourism industry has meant that it has been low-skilled and low-paid, and there has been no career path. Many members have spoken about the career path and the skills that are required. Having a year-round career will help that to happen, which can only benefit us and the wider tourism industry.
Many members talked about the level of spend by the tourist visitor, which it is right to highlight. Members such as Mark Griffin mentioned the impact of retail, and highlighted the good retail experience in Glasgow, which has a knock-on benefit for restaurants and hotels. Margaret McCulloch talked about the benefit for our local businesses, even though they may not be directly involved in the conferences, in the form of networking opportunities and the ability to learn from the visitors. Business tourism is an opportunity for us all to showcase Scotland in the hope that people will come back with their families for other trips.
Many members talked about the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s report on the winning years and the challenges of getting more people out into our more rural areas. In the report, the committee noted that although urban areas are doing well, rural areas are not doing so well. Some members mentioned the Glasgow Commonwealth games and said that there is a concentration on Glasgow and not areas further out. When the committee took evidence on that subject, it was reassured to hear that the organising committee is looking at ways in which to encourage people to extend their stay and go out to other areas. It is important to put that on the record, and I hope that those efforts will be successful. However, we will need things such as through ticketing, ticketing to the rest of Scotland and better transport and connectivity to make that happen.
Colin Beattie’s observations about being a business tourist were eye opening. He talked about the importance of convenient facilities and even things such as tartan gift shops near conference venues. However, we probably need to look at extending business tourism visits rather than just ensuring that visitors go to places close by. Earlier today, we discussed the professional conference management organisations’ roles in that and the need for people to go out and speak to them beforehand so that they know what is on offer in other parts of Scotland and can encourage people to book beyond the event that they are attending. That will enable business tourists to go out into other parts of Scotland. Duncan McNeil made a good bid for Inverclyde in that respect. People who go to Glasgow for business tourism events could be sailing down in Inverclyde soon afterwards if we had the proper transport links.
That brings me to transport, which was one of the big issues in the debate. It is clear that we need better transport links. Many members talked about air passenger duty and the double whammy for passengers who use a hub and connecting flights. I am sure that Tavish Scott, who talked about the air discount scheme, would agree with me that people from the islands often face a triple whammy from air passenger duty because, as well as travelling from the island to a centre, they have to catch a connecting flight to the hub, and they then have to pay again, so in all they have to pay the duty three times. We need to consider how we can deal with that problem. I agree with Tavish Scott that we need to reinstate the air discount scheme for businesses. Doing so would make a big difference by creating a level playing field for businesses in our islands, and it would help to grow their economies.
Many members talked about rail links between our airports and the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh and further afield. It is important that the minister takes that back and considers the issue. We need to improve those transport links so that we can get people from the airports to other transport hubs and, indeed, out to the rest of Scotland. I think that it was Roderick Campbell who talked about the logistics of transport and the way in which it pulls people into urban areas rather than pushing them out into our more rural areas.
Members talked about the air route development scheme, which was run so well by Glasgow, and said that we could try to replicate it in other places. Perhaps we need to consider direct flights for conferences. When people are setting up conferences in our cities, we perhaps need to provide better transport links and, if we work with our airports, we could do that.
At the beginning of the debate, Fergus Ewing said unashamedly that he hoped that the debate would be a chance to highlight the conference bid fund, which is perhaps not well recognised throughout Scotland. It is clear that the fund is not just for the larger urban areas, but I suppose that it is only natural that cities that are involved in business tourism are aware of the fund and are making the most of it. All of us who took the opportunity to talk about the facilities in our areas and their ability to attract business tourism need to take back to those areas information about the bid fund and the opportunity to pull in help for business tourism.
Mary Scanlon and Murdo Fraser touched on an area that is close to my heart, namely broadband and mobile connectivity. If we are to attract business tourism, we need proper broadband and mobile facilities. If we do not have that, people will not come because they will not be able to continue with their work.
I am aware of the time, but I wanted to touch on a lot of other matters, particularly the issue of cities as highlighted in our amendment. Many Glasgow MSPs took the opportunity to highlight what Glasgow has done and the council’s contribution; other members have mentioned Aberdeen, Perth and Dundee. I will take this opportunity to mention Inverness—after all, Eden Court is a favourite for party conferences—and Oban, both of which are in my region.
At the beginning of the debate, Ken Macintosh rightly highlighted the challenges to our economy. However, this particular sector is growing and we need to make the most of it. We are known for heather, bagpipes and the film “Brave”, and I am not sure that that is such a bad thing. We need to build on such stereotypes and make it clear that there is more to Scotland than that and that we are a good destination for all forms of business tourism. As we are all ambassadors, we must all ensure that we sell Scotland for that purpose.
- Fergus Ewing:
I have thoroughly enjoyed this excellent and useful debate, which will help to promote a better understanding around the country of business tourism and the bid fund, and I am extremely grateful to every member who has taken part. I will try to do justice to members and address specific points but, as is my wont, I undertake to write to those who have made specific calls for information. If I fail to do so, they should chivvy me, raise a few points of order or whatever to ensure that I do not neglect their utterances and demands.
Ken Macintosh rightly suggested that we need to instil in young people the idea that they can have an excellent career in tourism. Indeed, Margaret McCulloch pointed out that it should, as in France, be regarded as a profession. I endorse both sentiments and cite the excellent example of the good work of the East Lothian Hospitality and Tourism Academy, which held a reception in the Parliament and whose achievements I have since had the chance to learn more about at an event attended by many college representatives. We certainly appreciate that work, which is helping to achieve the aims that have been described.
Mary Scanlon quite rightly highlighted the success that has been achieved in Inverness. A few weeks ago, I attended a flagship buyer event called Scotland means business, at which buyers have a speed-dating session with many of our visitor attractions. That event will be held in Inverness next year, and I hope that Mary Scanlon and I can have a little private date then. That said, I should not use mere flattery to neglect or ignore the member’s ever-persistent pursuit of our website’s apparent defects in identifying walks in the Highlands and Islands. I am determined to get to the very bottom of this—believe me, I am going to sort this one oot, particularly as I am off to Orkney tomorrow.
I was very pleased to hear Margaret McCulloch’s praise for VisitLanarkshire. I met Stephen Balfour at the recent Scotland means business event and the member is right to say that VisitLanarkshire itself represents a fine example of partnership. Duncan McNeil highlighted the use of the quayside in Greenock and Inverclyde, and the extraordinary success that his constituents, partners, local authorities and others have achieved with the cruise industry and the 60,000 people who pass through there every year. I recently sent a letter of support to Richard Alexander, chair of CruiseScotland, in which I asked what we could do to help it secure further business in the north American market. This is truly a Scottish success story. All around Scotland from Orkney to Greenock to Leith, our ports and harbours are being used for the cruise industry in ways that we would never have expected, even a decade ago, and it is great that they are also being used for other purposes such as renewables.
Tavish Scott raised the issue of the air discount scheme, on which he and Liam McArthur have campaigned valiantly. I hope that members will bear with me, because I am not absolutely sure of the details of this. Nevertheless, because Mr Scott has raised the matter in a very straightforward and appropriate way, I undertake to look into the matter.
My understanding from a note that I have been given is that it was not the intention for the scheme to extend to business-related travel—it was a scheme for individuals—but if I am wrong I will put that right. In any event, I will look into the issue further and write to Mr Scott about it.
As always, Christine Grahame made an interesting speech. No one can accuse Christine Grahame of being anyone’s patsy; she is most certainly a woman of independent mind. As she said, I have visited her part of Scotland—the Borders—on a few occasions recently, and I recognise that the people there face a number of difficulties. We are on the case, and VisitScotland is aware of the situation.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Traquair house. At 9.30 in the morning, I had the pleasure of sampling the newly brewed Jacobite ale—thereby no doubt transgressing some Scottish Government health advice—and I must say that it was very good. I know that Traquair house also holds the Shakespeare festival. We hear a lot from Christine Grahame about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune aimed towards her constituency and constituents, so it is absolutely right that she raises the points that she does.
Murdo Fraser made a number of good points about the importance of the conference market and business tourism to places furth of the central belt and to the fine city of Perth in particular. He mentioned the success of the city’s halls and, as he pointed out, we recently had a conference in Perth concert hall that was pleasant, enjoyable and successful from everyone’s perspective.
I also recall that Murdo Fraser mentioned the Pitlochry Festival Theatre. I had the pleasure of attending an event there on Sunday, when I had the opportunity of meeting people from Scotland’s finest bed and breakfasts and listening to their concerns, which we take very seriously. There is a sense in Scotland that the difficulties in the tourism sector are faced perhaps more in rural and island areas than in the cities. We are very much aware of that issue, and we are keen to work with all members to address it.
There were perhaps three recurring issues that pervaded the debate, and I will touch on them before concluding. First, there was the issue of the divide between cities and rural areas in relation to business tourism. I think that we have all agreed that there is more potential for growing business tourism all over Scotland, both urban and rural.
Although I cannot reveal the details now as the bids are subject to commercial confidentiality, I can advise members that there are a number of bids to the bid fund from rural areas, and I would be surprised if none of them was successful. I believe that we can all do much more to promote to our local authorities the success of the fund. I am certainly keen to do that. When I meet councillors from around Scotland, I often have no idea which party they are from, if any, and frankly I am not especially interested, because what we want to do is to make things happen, to promote the economy and to see every part of Scotland benefiting from business tourism.
- Christine Grahame:
The bid fund is worth £2 million over three years. How will that be allocated? Would it all go in one year if enough people applied, or will you stagger the fund over the three years?
- Fergus Ewing:
The fund is available for three years. It will be committed to various conferences that are won between now and the end of the decade—and, in one case, beyond. The money will not have to be paid until much nearer or at the time of the conference in question.
We shall have to see how the fund performs. Currently, about £500,000 or £600,000 has been committed after a relatively short period, and we will keep the situation closely under review. Thus far, the success of the fund is at a notional return to the public sector of 53:1, as I pointed out gently—or perhaps not gently—to members earlier. As many members, not just from the Scottish National Party, have been kind enough to point out during the debate, that is a terrific success for Scotland. I am grateful to all the members who recognise that that is the case. It is something that we should build on, as there can be far greater things yet to come. We are looking closely at how we can build on the success.
The other themes raised included transport links. I do not think that I have time to go into all of them, but suffice it to say that almost all the points raised are of a serious nature and we are either pursuing them now or will pursue them in due course.
The M74 extension has transformed connectivity in Glasgow. The Aberdeen western peripheral route will now go ahead and thereby solve a long-standing and very serious problem in Aberdeen.
The third theme related to the costs imposed by VAT, APD and fuel duty. Many members highlighted that these are extremely challenging times for both Governments and businesses, and they were right to highlight those issues.
Presiding Officer, do I have much time left?
- The Presiding Officer:
You have about one minute.
- Fergus Ewing:
Bringing my remarks to a conclusion, I thank all members who took part for a very consensual debate. However, as Murdo Fraser pointed out, the real thanks and praise should go to all those who run conference facilities, who organise conferences, who bring business tourists to this country and who participate in the success of this venture. They are now working in partnership together more successfully, I think, than at any time in Scotland’s history—I have to say that Glasgow is ahead of the rest of the country in that regard—and that close partnership working is delivering enormous business tourism success for Scotland.
Perhaps even more important than the monetary return is that those efforts are creating a hugely positive image of Scotland for all those visitors who come here—a worldwide image. Given that 40 per cent of those who come here will come back, the more conferences that we can win at home and from abroad, and the more we see business tourism take off—not only in our cities, but in rural Scotland and in our islands—the more success we will see in not only our tourism business, but our industry, our inward investment and our country as a whole.
I am extremely indebted to the leadership shown by Mike Cantlay and Malcolm Roughead at VisitScotland and to all their staff. On behalf of the Scottish Government—and, I believe, the Scottish Parliament—I thank them for all their efforts. The best, I think, is yet to come.