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Chamber and committees

Economy and Fair Work Committee


Response from Visit Scotland

Pre-Budget 2022-23 Scrutiny: Covid-19 Financial Support - 11 August 2021

1. How has the pandemic impacted the activities Visit Scotland deliver?

The pandemic has impacted many of VisitScotland’s activities; almost nothing was business as usual during this period.

Business Support and Engagement

Funds: 230 staff were redeployed between January and July 2021 to assist in the administration and management of business recovery funds (numbers varied slightly throughout the period). Staff were redeployed from every department across the whole business.

The delivery of these 14 funds was a significant shift in VisitScotland’s activities, as we pivoted from our role as primarily a marketing organisation to focus on funding delivery.

Notably our iCentre (visitor information centre) staff were involved at a time when the centres were unable to open to the public as well as our Quality Tourism Advisors who were unable to deliver Quality Assurance visits.

Quality Assurance: Quality Assurance fees were waived for the over 4,000 members of the scheme through 2020 and again for 2021/2. Face to face visits were suspended, though advice continued over the phone and online.

Information - iCentres: All 26 of our iCentres closed during the first lockdown and re-opened from mid July 2020 until Christmas 2020. They were then closed from Christmas 2020 to April 2021 during the second lockdown.

Communication with businesses: VisitScotland staff stayed in touch with businesses throughout the period, signposting them to funding and offering advice. This was complemented by a new programme of webinars, online resources and communication to help guide industry to the right support for them. More than 40 webinars related to COVID-19 reached more than 12,000 people while 5,500 calls were made to industry to understand challenges, identify gaps in advice and support and to signpost to sources of these.

Marketing

International: Our strategic focus has been to keep Scotland top of mind in all key markets through ‘dream now, travel later’ messaging, inspiring potential visitors as to what a holiday in Scotland can offer when it’s safe to travel. This included light touch brand building activity in Europe and North America plus extensive use of our own channels – social media, PR, email marketing programme and updates to visitscotland.com - plus relationship building and product knowledge training with international travel trade.

The reach figure for our international email database is 754,000 and we have grown our social media channel followers by 12% over the past 12 months, with over 2,000 posts reaching people a total of 411m times. This year to date people have been engaging with our Instagram posts 13% more than during the period immediately before the pandemic.

Domestic: The Scottish & wider UK market has been prioritised to stimulate holidays at home during the periods Scotland has not been in lockdown. Integrated campaigns with media and travel partners have ensured that Scotland is front of mind with audiences in the UK that want to travel.

Over winter we launched a ‘love local’ campaign to shine a spotlight on being a #hametowntourist and promoting experiences, food and drink and local stays to complement Scotland’s Town Partnership campaign. Over the 4-week activity wave our campaign page secured 5,281-page views / 2,973 unique page views whilst our paid media activity with News Scotland and Bauer radio reached 1.3m and 2.15m respectively. Across our PR activity we secured 73 items of coverage with a reach of 1.47 million.

There has been a significant focus on Responsible Tourism and promoting responsible enjoyment of the countryside together with our partners from the Visitor Management Marketing & Education Subgroup. This has included a dedicated campaign – ‘Scotland, all of ours to care for’ using multiple channels to reach audiences in Scotland and the UK; a media partnership with STV running during July 2021 and the development of an industry toolkit with royalty free content promoting key messages about how to enjoy Scotland responsibly and leave no trace. New assets such as a ‘guide to motorhoming’ and a ‘guide to camping’ have been developed to give consumer guidance.

During the pandemic we have also utilised the expertise of our Marketing & Digital teams to provide support and expertise to Destination Marketing Organisations and Sector bodies to help them evaluate and enhance their digital channels and marketing plans. Working in partnership to deliver joint activity such as Agritourism virtual farm tours and UX/SEO reviews were undertaken for Go Rural, Wild Scotland, Sail Scotland, ASSC and others.

After sharing our findings with Go Rural and Wild Scotland, both partners decided to redevelop their websites entirely and our SEO team then provided further guidance on creating a tender that would ensure their new website was fit for purpose.

Expo: Our flagship Expo event has been replaced with two virtual ‘Scotland Reconnect’ events. These brought together international buyers together with Scottish product, ensuring businesses can contract with buyers selling Scotland internationally and to keep Scottish businesses in touch with key international contacts. At the 2020 Scotland Reconnect event, 257 Scottish tourism businesses took part to meet virtually with 265 travel intermediary buyers, tour operators and wholesalers from 23 markets. At the 2021 event, 298 exhibitors met with 388 buyers from 26 markets.

Events

Events funding and support: Given the unprecedented nature and impact of COVID-19 on events, all of EventScotland’s funding streams were reviewed and paused. Scotland’s Events Recovery Fund was established in conjunction with Scottish Government to help Scotland’s events sector plan and deliver events through to the end of 2021, and to provide support as the industry responds and adapts to the effects of COVID-19.

Business events marketing: The pandemic caused all face-to-face sales & marketing activity to move to virtual or hybrid settings, including all six major trade shows for the sector in UK, Europe and USA. Online activity was restricted to “when the time is right” and educational content (for non-furloughed clients) versus selling. The dedicated business events digital campaign, Journey to Change, was postponed from April 2020 to March 2021.

Staff impact

As of 17 March 2020, all staff at VisitScotland moved to a homeworking environment. iCentre staff were also home-based for the periods they were closed during 2020/1. In total we’ve had circa 410 office-based staff (excluding iCentre staff) working from home, following Government guidance.

Communication was critical and as well as enhancing the information on our intranet and through our internal social media activity, we introduced a Friday roundup, internal meetings with the CEO and a weekly message from the Chairman. We also supported staff through mental health awareness and introduced a quiet hour where no emails could be sent to encourage them to go out and leave their desk. This resulted in our staff engagement figures increasing by six points to 78– a considerable rise in a pandemic.

2. What additional activities is Visit Scotland now delivering

a) to provide COVID-19 related support to businesses

Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group (STERG)

VisitScotland continues to chair STERG. The role of the group has been to coordinate the response of the key public agencies involved in tourism to COVID-19; provide a forum for consistent and comprehensive data gathering, sharing, analysis and dissemination of information relating to the impact of COVID-19 on Scottish tourism and to act as the single authoritative communications source for the Scottish tourism industry in relation to COVID-19.

The priority now is delivering the phase one projects which have been developed as part of the Recovery Strategy (more detail in 2B below).

Scheme

Period

No.

£m

EISF 1

Aug ‘20

505

5.05

PEBF

Dec ‘20

106

11.40

EISF 1 Top Up

Feb ‘21

499

3.10

EISF 2

Feb ‘21

418

9.90

Top Up (All)

Jul ‘21

971

1.00

Total

2,499

30.45

In June 2020, EventScotland, part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate, established the Event Industry Advisory Group (EIAG), to inform and influence Government’s planning for the recovery of the sector. The Group, Chaired by Peter Duthie of the SEC, convenes once a month and has met 20 times since its inception, with the most recent meeting on 6 July. There are 24 industry representatives on the core Group, with further industry representation included in the associated priority workstreams (Innovation, Physical Distancing, Health & Wellbeing, Funding, Communications and Government Relations).

The EIAG Chair and relevant EIAG members previously met on a bi-monthly basis with Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work & Culture. Following the Scottish Parliament election in May 2021, EIAG have met with the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, Angus Robertson, on 28 May, the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, Jenny Gilruth on 15 June, and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Kate Forbes, on 20 July. Future meetings with Ms Gilruth are currently being scheduled.

b) to support the economic recovery?

VisitScotland have chaired STERG throughout the pandemic and supported the Tourism Recovery Strategy providing both the insight and economic outlook information, undertaken scenario planning work, supported the industry consultation and the development of the final report and recovery proposals.

A number of new initiatives are being developed with recovery monies provided by Scottish Government for the STERG Phase 1 tourism recovery plan. VisitScotland is leading on six of these projects:

  • Destination & Sector Marketing Fund, launched - to support organisations to promote their destination or sector when domestic travel can resume
  • Visitor Management Strategic Infrastructure Investment, launched - to support the implementation of the Strategic Infrastructure Plans in six priority areas identified by Scotland’s Visitor Management Infrastructure & Investment Subgroup over 2-3 years
  • Social Tourism Holiday Voucher Scheme, launches August - a voucher scheme to create a more socially sustainable and inclusive tourism industry
  • Days Out Voucher Scheme & Campaign, launches September - days out incentive scheme to support areas such as attractions, tours, activities and experiences
  • International Demand Building Campaign & Inbound Tour Operator Marketing Fund, launches September – to build international demand through marketing and funding
  • Tourism Observatory data project - a resource for Scotland’s tourism industry which would make necessary, relevant and valuable data, analysis and insight easily accessible.

We are also supporting Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise in delivering the Net Zero Tourism project; to make Scotland’s tourism industry greener and more sustainable.

3. What activities have been suspended, deferred, or scaled back?

Quality Assurance: Our Quality Assurance programme was scaled back during the period. Fees were waived for the over 4,000 members of the scheme through 2020 and again for 2021/2, and face to face visits suspended, but advice continued over the phone and online.

iCentres: During the year (2020-2021) there was a decrease in footfall of 93% from the last ‘normal’ year (2018-2019) in our iCentres. This was partly due to lack of international visitors and the levels system which meant much of Scotland’s population were not travelling outwith their own local authority. Our retail and ticketing activities were affected by the decline in visitor numbers.

During the period the iCentres were closed, circa 110 iCentre staff were home-based and redeployed to work on other projects e.g. the planning and implementation of a new EPOS system. They also undertook non-face to face information services e.g. manning messenger services on our consumer website.

iCentre Footfall

18/19

19/20

20/21*

21/22 YTD **

Footfall

2,119,551

1,961,889

145,182

175,159 

*Phased reopening from 20 July 2020, closed again from 23 Dec 2020

**Phased reopening from 26 April 2021, stats until 31 July 2021

Non face to face enquires

20/21

21/22 YTD **

Email and Phone enquiries

15,661

11,944

FB Messenger enquiries

6,775*

19,740 

*FB Messenger was not installed until the second half of the year and the consumer journey to Messenger was only recently improved

**YTD until 31 July 2021

Marketing: The level of investment in International Marketing has been scaled back with resources diverted to prioritise enhanced investment in the UK market. Internationally we have used more earned and owned channels to keep Scotland top of mind than we would do in a normal year. However, the additional recovery monies provided for International Demand Building for autumn 2021 will enhance our international footprint to support a sustainable recovery for International markets in 2022.

Events: Scotland’s events industry has been unable to operate in its normal capacity due to the impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the virus. While it was initially envisaged that we would start to see some recovery from early 2021, the reality is many events have had to cancel their events in 2021 for a second year running, which will put the long-term future viability of these events at serious risk:

  • Thistle Awards - due to the continued pressure and uncertainty that Scotland’s tourism, hospitality and events industries have faced, VisitScotland, in collaboration with Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards (HITA), Aberdeen City & Shire Tourism Awards (ACSTA) and the industry panel took the difficult decision to cancel both the 20/21 and the 21/22 programme of Scottish Thistle Awards
  • Business Events - all size and types were suspended from March 2020 to June 2021, including association congresses, corporate conferences and incentives. Due to the long lead-time of business events, the pipeline for future events continued to flow via digital channels for 2022 onwards
  • Growth Fund - due to COVID-19, the decision was made by the Growth Fund Panel in March 2020 to pause the fund. The fund has continued to remain closed in order to develop wider recovery funds across the sector
  • Themed Years - the Year of Coasts and Waters was extended into 2021, given the support and commitment from the industry and Scottish Government to extend the opportunity of the celebratory year. The Coasts and Waters supported events programme for 2020 was unable to take place as planned, so all funded YCW events were afforded the opportunity to reshape their events and had the opportunity to apply through Scotland's Events Recovery Fund for additional funding to cover costs. In April 2021 the events programme restarted and features a mixture of digital and hybrid events, with only a small number of event organisers deciding to cancel. The approach to promotional activity for YCW was aligned to the VS marketing strategy and focused around weaving messaging through VS core channels and partner activity while travel restrictions were in place. Paid campaign activity re-started in March 2021 and will continue for the remainder of 2021.

4. If activities were suspended, deferred or scaled back, how was this budget used?

Financial year 2019/20

Spring/Summer campaign activity in March 2020 was suspended. VisitScotland gained approval from Scottish Government to use the funds to credit the Quality Assurance fees that were charged to customers in Feb 2020, refunding just under £1m back to industry. Financial year 2020/21 Quarterly reforecasts were completed to ensure spend was prioritised to the most appropriate areas. The discretionary budget (excluding fixed and contracted costs) was focussed on recovery activity.

Income was forecasted to be zero which had an impact on spend and activities were scaled back to manage this.

Any potential underspend in activities was identified with options about how this could be re-prioritised. Areas where spend was re-prioritised to were:

  • Self-Catering fund £560k
  • Hostels Fund £250k

5. How has Visit Scotland’s budget been impacted?

In relation to our core budget, the impact has been around loss of income. Due to the reduction in marketing and events activity during lockdown, we have managed to build this reduction into our reforecasts to ensure we have a balanced outturn.

Pre-pandemic, this income added between £4m-£5m to VisitScotland’s budget which was essential for us to deliver our programme of work. The challenge will be how we re-instate that income going forward, given the current situation and financial challenges industry are facing.

In relation to ringfenced monies, VisitScotland received a significant amount of ringfenced funding throughout the year to deliver the Covid grant funding programme. This ringfenced funding increased the VS budget from £41.1m to £131.75m in 2020/2021:

Income

Budget

GIA (core)

41.1

GIA (ringfenced)*

84.32

GIA (Capital)

6.33

Total Income (Group)

131.75

6. How much funding was allocated to Visit Scotland for COVID-19 related business support?

Please see the table below which details funding per business support fund:

Support Fund

£m

Self-Catering

1.0

Events Sector Recovery Package (EISF 1, top up, Pivotal, EISF2 and SERF)

30.00

Sector Destination

1.5

Marine and Outdoor Restart

4.0

Visitor Attractions

10.0

Coach

10.0

Hostels – Strand 1

2.3

Country Sports

1.0

Inbound International

12.0

Day Tour Operators

3.0

Tour Guides

3.0

Motorhomes

1.0

Funding for Resources to deliver funds

0.5

Total

79.3

Funded through VisitScotland core funds:

Support Funds

£m

Self-catering

0.56

Hostels strand 2

0.25

Total

0.81

7. Was there any overspend or underspend in relation to these funds? If so, what were the reasons for this?

There were no overspends across any of the funds.

For the funds below there is a residual amount left of the original fund. This is primarily due to:

  • the value of these funds being increased significantly following launch/or in the days prior to launch
  • the volume of eligible applicants being less than expected
  • the size of eligible applicants (linked to size of the award) being smaller than expected

Fund

Underspend £m

Reasons for this and proposal to reallocate

Marine and Outdoor Restart Fund

0.81

Proposal to launch strand 2 of this fund approved.

This fund was doubled following launch and therefore some business types were excluded from the original guidance which would have been included if we had known earlier about the value of the fund increasing to £4m.

A number of repayments were made from successful applicants to this fund as they received a higher offer from another fund. Under all fund criteria, businesses could only accept a grant from one of the business support funds.

Visitor Attraction Support Fund

0.31

Some applicants repaid or did not accept award as they received a higher offer from another fund.

A higher volume of smaller sized businesses eligible than originally forecasted.

Country Sports

0.16

Lower volume of eligible applicants than initially anticipated.

Tour Guides

0.31

A number of grants repaid due to the applicant receiving a higher offer from another fund.

Inbound Tour Operators

0.51

Day Tours

0.31

Lower volume of applicants than anticipated. Some applicants rejected grant offer due to receiving a higher offer from another fund.

Motorhomes

0.17

Less businesses in the higher bands than had been initially forecasted, not a significant variance.

Total

2.58



8. What was the cost to Visit Scotland of administering Covid-19 business support funds and how were these costs covered?

Costs of £500k were covered by Scottish Government. This allowed VisitScotland to bring in a third party (Chiene and Tait) to help complete the due diligence work and finance checks needed for over 5000 applications at a cost of just under £240k. This additional funding for resource covered the costs of the new Caspio platform and allowed us to bring in contractors required to deliver the grants across the areas highlighted below:

  • Finance
  • Developers
  • project managers
  • business analysts
  • Legal (through DWF)

VisitScotland covered the costs of the core staffing allocated to all the fund programmes (over 230 staff) from core budget.

9. What systems did Visit Scotland put in place to administer COVID-19 business support? What lessons can be learned from this process and what, if any, improvements are planned to systems for distributing business support grants in the future?

VisitScotland procured Caspio to deliver the EISF 1 fund and have continued to use this platform for all funds following this, except for the Destination Sector fund which was delivered through a paper form.

Caspio is a platform for building online database applications and is based around a licence model. The organisation opted for the silver corporate licence package with the compliance add-on. This allowed the organisation to have an end-to-end system for:

  • designing the application form
  • collecting the data
  • gathering evidence from the applicant
  • assessment by each of the key assessment teams
  • Original outcome
  • Appeals
  • Appeal documentation
  • Appeal outcome

We delivered our funds with input from industry and sector groups to ensure that the right support was delivered to the businesses and individuals most in need. Every fund was brought together with extensive consultation with these groups, listening to feedback and identifying potential issues.

This worked well as it allowed us to develop bespoke funds which met the unique needs of each sector. Due to the diversity of some sectors, this was not a perfect solution, however it was much slicker and more tailored than a sector-agnostic fund approach.

10. How has Visit Scotland been engaging and communicating with businesses to understand their business support needs?

Research: Following two surveys carried out early in the first lockdown, we carried out a further wave of research amongst tourism businesses during 2020-2021, to understand the impact on them and get their opinions on the support they most needed. Recognising the huge impact on the events sector, we also carried out two surveys to gather insights from the events supply chain.

Discussions with industry: Staff in our Engagement team were redeployed on a programme of over 5,500 calls to industry to understand the challenges, identify gaps in advice and support and to signpost to sources of these. Later, they supported the development of re-opening guidance for industry and stayed in touch with businesses through challenges of changing guidance and levels systems. In our Events Directorate, a significant volume of ongoing 1-2-1 dialogue between event organisers and EventScotland Managers has taken place regarding funding agreements and wider industry support.

Webinar programme: We have run a wide-ranging webinar programme to ensure businesses are up to date with the latest information and insight. Webinars have responded to business demand and have been devised to help businesses with areas such as enhancing their digital skills and developing their offer for the International travel trade. Events industry facing webinars have also been delivered, providing attendees with essential updates on the interpretation and application of guidance, plus a forum for feedback and the sharing of good practice.

More than 40 webinars related to COVID-19 reached more than 12,000 people.

Communication: Our website visitscotland.org, became the central point for all information and updates. We had a year-on-year increase in page views of more than 200% (1 April 2020 – 31 March 2021 compared with 1 April 2019 – 31 March 2020) and new users increasing by 120%, with the COVID-19 advice hub consistently the most popular section on the site, with more than 1.4 million page views in total over this period.

All other channels including LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook pointed to this information to ensure consistency and our Tourism Insider e-newsletter fed all new information on a weekly basis. We sent out 40 COVID-19 Tourism Insider e-newsletters to 13,000 businesses and stakeholders and ad-hoc emails on specific topics e.g. funding and lockdowns. Regular and relevant event industry updates were also carried across our events-specific communications channels.

Our successful industry campaign, Get Tourism Ready, resulted in around 9,000 businesses signing up for the Good to Go Scheme and our external communications focused on the excellent job the industry had done to get themselves up and running again after the first lockdown.

EIAG: EventScotland has led the EIAG since June 2020, when an urgent requirement for an industry-wide body was identified to provide a co-ordinated voice during the national response and recovery planning. This provides a vital forum for listening to industry and a collective voice. The content of EIAG discussion and key actions continue to be shared with wider industry through communications channels.

11. What role will Visit Scotland play in supporting businesses through the recovery period?

Recovery projects

VisitScotland is leading on the six recovery projects listed above (at question 2B) and supporting Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise with a seventh project.

Marketing

We have developed a recovery marketing strategy and plan that will ensure:

  • Scotland is discoverable in all our priority markets year-round through an always on programme of digital marketing
  • We increase awareness and propensity to visit through targeted awareness activity at key times of the year in all our priority markets
  • Customers move through the journey from awareness and consideration to booking through working with travel partners, transport providers and the travel trade
  • Work closely with the industry in Scotland to ensure for each destination and sector we present the right product at the right time to ensure a spread of visitors across the year and across Scotland
  • Through all activity Scotland is promoted as a Responsible Tourism destination, aligned to the vision set out in the Tourism Recovery Strategy & Scotland Outlook 2030
Engagement

Our programme of Industry Engagement continues to support businesses in their recovery, including the delivery of webinars and support sessions to get businesses online bookable and upskilled in digital.

Communications

Well-established communications channels keep industry informed of any new developments in relation to the pandemic and our industry website continues to be a go-to source of information.

We recently worked with partners to put the spotlight on the great jobs in the hospitality business and supported the Scottish Government campaign to showcase the fantastic industry. This campaign is ongoing but so far has resulted in around 200 new jobs being posted on the central job portal.

We are running a campaign to put tourism front and centre, ‘Tourism Force for Good’, which is all about focusing on the importance of the industry and the need to invest in it. Through focusing on three key areas– the economic, sustainable and wellbeing benefits of tourism -we have created more than 80 million opportunities to see our message.

Industry collaboration

VisitScotland will continue to provide leadership and support to the events sector through the EIAG and tourism through STERG.

Events

Upcoming role in supporting events businesses includes:

  • Events funding support: will continue through Scotland’s Events Recovery Fund, which is hoped to be extended into 2022 to allow the events sector to recover from two lost seasons. Business Events: operators in the business events sector will be supported by VisitScotland readiness to attend rebooted industry platforms in Autumn 2021, should they go ahead, such as The Meetings Show, IMEX America and IBTM, as well as strategic partnerships to keep Scotland front of mind to short-haul markets for volume recovery in 2022, such as the C&IT Corporate A-Lister. Online opportunities to place operators in front of clients will continue e.g., Successful Meetings University. The quest for volume business events from Q3 2021 through 2022 will dovetail with the more forensic and strategic approach of the Policy-Driven Model for late 2022 onwards, aligning with all pillars of Scotland’s NPF, each of the National Indicators and the UN SDGs.
  • 2023 Cycling World Championships: Scottish Government along with UK Sport and Glasgow City Council are making a significant investment into the 2023 Cycling World Championships. The model of delivery is designed to work with contractors rather than a traditional organising committee structure and as such much of the budget of over £50 million will be spent on delivery and supply contracts.

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Annexe A

COVID Status of Events for Fiscal 2020-21 and 2021-22