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STA Conference 2019 speeches

Stephen Leckie, Chair of the Tourism Leadership Group and the Scottish Tourism Alliance

If you remember first half of 2012 like I do, you’ll recall the long bank holiday weekends, the Diamond Jubilee, the European Championships, the Olympic Torch winding its way across Scotland, the build-up to the ‘greatest show on earth’, the Olympics and the joining up of these final dots of our future tourism strategy, TS2020.

Our industry was bold, optimistic but realistic.  We built a strategy with measured ambition, knowledge, insights and expertise drawn from all parts of Scotland’s tourism sector, with the support of the Scottish Government and our public agencies.

Tourism Scotland 2020 was launched in the June of that year, an industry-led strategy with an ambition to grow overnight visitor spend by £1b to £5.5bn by 2020 by making Scotland a destination of first choice for a high quality, value for money and memorable customer experience, delivered by skilled and passionate people.’

That was our vision, but has it been our reality?

As an industry, we pinned our colours to the mast with confidence and set ambitious and stretching targets:

  • Growing overnight visitor spend by £1bn in real terms, from £4.5 bn to £5.5bn by 2020

  • Increasing the 2011 combined average overnight visitor spend from £287.00

  • Increasing total Scottish Tourism employment from what was in 2011- 185,100 people

TS2020 as it soon became known focused on driving growth in our key markets by strengthening our key assets – Nature and Activities, Heritage and Culture, Business Tourism, Destinations, Towns and Cities and Events and Festivals – using a framework that became known as ‘The Rocket’ that could be easily adopted and adapted by our different sectors and destinations.

Throughout the strategy period to date, Scotland’s tourism industry has celebrated some phenomenal successes.  Glasgow’s hosting of The Commonwealth Games 2014, an event which has become known as one of the most successful games with Glasgow emerging as the star of the show thanks to the impeccable, creative and innovative delivery and of course that world famous welcome from Glasgow’s people. 

The success of Edinburgh’s festivals this year broke all records for ticket sales, our many sporting, cultural and music events continue to attract visitors from all over the world and from within the UK. 

Our tourism successes are recognised globally, and we should be pleased with this for consistently stepping up to the mark, often within challenging times to deliver these incredible experiences to all those who visit our country.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen some unforgettable tourism moments happen in destinations all over Scotland – the opening of the V & A in Dundee, the launch of the North Coast 500, the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup; superb events and festivals of all types have taken place in every part of the country drawing millions of visitors.

A review of TS2020 took place earlier this year, conducted by EKOSGEN for Scottish Enterprise on behalf of the Tourism Leadership Group with the purpose of capturing the contribution that the strategy made to the sector’s growth and the progress that has been made in delivering against the key performance indicators that were built into the strategy. 

The review is one of many tools that the Strategy Steering Group charged with shaping the  future strategy “Beyond 2020” has used to look at and determine what the future opportunities, challenges are, and our future vision and mission should be.

So, let’s have a look at some of the highlights!

  • We increased total overnight visitor nominal spend by £557m at the end of 2018

  • Our total tourism spend now supports £7bn which is equal to 5% of Scotland’s GDP

  • We have encouraged more people to join and work in our industry – our sector now employs in excess of 200,000 people in Scotland, equal to around one in 12 jobs across the country (despite the fallaway of 3000 EU nationals in the last year)

  • Our tourism business base has increased by 9% over the period 2011-2018 and we now have more than 14,500 enterprises in the sector.

A number of these successes were identified in the formal review:

  • At a national level the strategy has helped define the importance of all types of tourism activity, business and leisure to Scotland’s economy
  • The process of strategy development, the nationwide consultation that was undertaken and the engagement and industry activity across all sectors of our tourism industry as a result of TS2020 was deemed to be a success
  • The level of industry engagement and the breadth of businesses actively supporting the delivery of the priorities and ambitions of the strategy outstripped anything previously experienced
  • The strategy has given the industry a louder voice through the STA, in our ability to influence government and forge stronger relationships with our public agencies
  • The strategy has empowered destination organisations and sector groups to deliver successfully across the country
  • By focussing on our assets, it has brought our businesses and stakeholders together to plan, deliver and resource activities more effectively
  • Establishing a culture of collaboration as a way of working has been the overriding success of the strategy

So, job done, box ticked and move on to the next ten years…? Not quite…

The reality is that although we can say that TS2020 has brought about significant, positive change and a huge economic contribution from Scotland’s tourism sector as a result of the dedication, ambition and collaboration that has been displayed by all of us over the last seven years, we are unsure that the real term increase of £1bn in overnight spend we set out to achieve back in 2012 will be reached.

Our 2016 mid-term review highlighted that there was a need to focus on some specific areas that would accelerate growth, so we refocussed our strategic activities around 4 clear priority areas – Digital, Leadership, Quality of the Visitor Experience and the sector’s ability to Influence Investment.

However, despite our efforts, like all industries, we have, and continue to experience challenges that could not have been foreseen, ones which have and still are today having a direct impact on our collective ability to deliver our growth ambition of the extra £1b by 2020.

Our world looks and feels very different today…The targets of TS2020 were set at a time when socio-economic conditions were completely different from what we are now experiencing.In recent months we have experienced a dip in overall spend, but there are parts of Scotland where tourism spend is in line with the strategy aims, such as in Edinburgh, Argyll and parts of Fife. 

So, what’s changed?  What makes it difficult to say, hand on heart, that we have delivered every part of our tourism strategy as successfully as we would liked to have done over the past seven years.

Brexit and a weak global economy were not part of our landscape in 2012 and both have undoubtedly had a significant impact on our visitor markets (although some of that has been positive), however we are experiencing decline in spend by our core market (UK residents), as the cost of living bites and household budgets continue to be squeezed.  Decisions on where we visit, when we go and what we can afford to do as part of that visit are being given more careful consideration than ever before.

The way people travel and stay has of course changed too since 2012.  The rise in short term lets and the rise in the popularity of Airbnb has reduced the average visitor accommodation spend as typically the self-cater rate per person is below that of more traditional hotel and B&B accommodation. Many more Scottish families are also opting to do day trips instead of overnight short breaks.  The rise of low-cost budget travel makes it harder for us to remain competitive within the global market. It is today a much bigger challenge than it was in 2012 especially where our competitor destinations have lower levels of taxation and are becoming increasingly easier and cheaper to access. 

Scotland has for the first time in the last few years experiencedwhat some refer to as ‘over-tourism’ in certain areas, creating pressure on infrastructure, with negative impacts on local communities and widespread reporting of that in the media. 

The threat and no doubt subsequent reality of the introduction of a tourist tax by some local authorities has also created ripples that have travelled far and wide, reinforcing a perception that Scotland is an unwelcoming and expensive destination. 

We have also lost a significant proportion of our workforce as a result of Brexit and  many of our tourism businesses are now facing a recruitment crisis.  We simply don’t have the number of people we need working in our industry to deliver the type of product to the world we had hoped and planned to. – Not all these trends could be predicted!

Macro factors aside, it’s important for us to reflect on some of the areas where we as an industry have also beenunable to deliver some of the results we anticipated and be honest about that. 

It is hard to look back and be critical, but it is necessary in order to learn and pour the value of this experience into the future, so we have looked at our current strategy from a critical perspective. For example, the Ekosgen report highlighted that tourism growth has not been uniform across the country which has impacted on our overall performance this has also been a key learning point which has influenced our thinking around what kind of strategy we need going forward so that all of Scotland benefits from Tourism. At the same time, the report has also allowed us to reflect on the many successes of seven plus years of dedication, collaboration and a lot of hard work from industry has delivered.

The review of the strategy has given us lots to think about and the opportunity to use the valuable learnings to shape the approach and the development of our future strategy.

The Tourism Leadership Group and the future Strategy Steering Group considered a number of areas and all agreed that our future tourism strategy should:

  • Maintain the TS2020 ethos
  • Be clear on the intended audience, that this was likely to be more than our industry
  • Recognise the customer’s voice and the importance of the overall visitor experience
  • Recognise differing regional opportunities and support needs
  • Balance inclusive growth and environmental sustainability in its purpose and priorities
  • Develop a new approach to ‘Destinations’ which are a key to success
  • Respond to BREXIT through innovation, particularly in recruitment and skills
  • Respond to diminishing public funding through a different approach to delivery
  • Value data with a specific supporting strategy that helps inform decision making
  • Be underpinned by a robust action plan with SMART targets and a logic model
  • Deliver a new governance model with new partnerships at all levels
  • Recognise the pace of change in its focus and implementation arrangements

The past, and especially the learnings we have taken from the last seven years are a solid basis for shaping the future.

It is only through thorough careful review, the acknowledgement and indeed celebration of our successes of which there are many, having a clear understanding of the challenges we experiencedand how we could have dealt with them more effectively, that we are now able to look to the future, occupying a stronger position, that we can ask ourselves ‘Where do we go from here?’

Although we have completed the review process of TS2020, we are by no means at the end of that road – we still have another year to deliver our TS2020 ambition harnessed by the strategy -and looking ahead, we have number of opportunities to do that.

The Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 presents a wealth of opportunities for us all to engage in the year long programme of activity and events taking place all over Scotland and market these and our businesses to our visitors.  Events confirmed so far include Ferry Tales from the National Theatre of Scotland – an imaginative and impactful performance and community project supported by CalMac, celebrating Scotland’s waters and the journeys over them made by thousands of residents and visitors. 

The Clydebuilt Festival will expand its existing offer to bring art, music, crafts, boats, dancing and sea shanties to the Riverside Plaza.  Events like the Fife Regatta, the River of Light, an extension of Scotland’s Boat Show that will take place in the evening at Kip Marina and DolphinFest will put destinations across Scotland on the map, attracting visitors from near and far. Plus, we look forward to the opening of the new Johnnie Walker Experience in Edinburgh and celebrating the 200th anniversary of this iconic whisky.Six ambitious collaborative projects have also been developed to celebrate Scotland’s outstanding West Coast Waters as part of the forthcoming themed year, developed by The West Coast Marine Tourism Collaboration to raise awareness of the superb marine tourism offer in the area.

We have also had the recent news that Glasgow has been chosen to host COP26, the UN’s climate change summit, an event that will attract 200 world leaders and over 30,000 delegates to Glasgow – another huge opportunity for Scotland and our tourism industry to showcase ourselves to the world.

The Scottish Government has also confirmed in its recently announced Programme for Government a package of continued support for the tourism sector to:

  • minimise the burden of regulation and associated cost
  • recognise the essential role of marketing Scotland at UK and international levels
  • provide sustainable support to enable industry to deliver high quality, value-for-money and memorable experiences
  • support the growth of a skilled, professional and inclusive tourism workforce
  • continue investment in Scotland’s digital infrastructure to accelerate growth
  • consider how we ensure that transport policies, practice, taxation and the industry’s tourism strategy work best together for the benefit of the Scottish economy

This has come as a result of government now having a far better understanding and acknowledgement of the challenges faced by the industry which the STA has worked hard to communicate on our industry’s behalf.

So, despite what we acknowledge to be a rather gloomy outlook in many respects, there is also much to look forward to over the coming year, an overarching feeling of positivity, and there are many opportunities to embrace before we say our final goodbye to TS2020.

These are my thoughts and I know, the thoughts of many of you in the room today.

Most importantly our industry can only perform to its optimum if we do as we have done in the past seven years work together and that it has the understanding and support from others especially those in Scottish and UK Government.

Marc Crothall, Chief Executive Scottish Tourism Alliance

Stephen referred to how the landscape of the global tourism industry has changed.  The way people travel, visit, explore and experience destinations is entirely different to what it was seven years ago and despite all the unknowns that exist within today’s political and economic climate, we know with absolute certainty that the patterns and trends of today’s tourism market will have changed again beyond recognition within the next ten years.

We can’t predict the future of course, but we can (and indeed have) drawn on today’s insights and yesterday’s lessons to shape a robust strategy for the future.

So, what do we know for sure?

We know that today’s traveler visits, books and experiences Scotland in a different way to what they did in 2012.  We know that the global climate emergency agenda has shifted the way we think about where we travel and stay, how we get there; the impact we ourselves have on our global environment and our destinations, we are being much more conscious in making our leisure and food choices. We also know that our domestic market is becoming ever more cautious in their decision making and that their level of spend on tourism and hospitality experiences is at risk of further decline. As such, there is an increasing need to attract more visitors and the right visitors to Scotland year -round, in order to grow our tourism industry. 

We have continued political and economic uncertainty, we are witnessing an even faster pace of technological change and global growth of tourism.

Our core markets are unlikely to change, new markets will emerge, and we will continue to build on our competitive and unique strengths that we have across allour assets.  Our Landscape and Scenery, our Heritage and Culture, our People and Welcome, our Activities, Events and Festivals and the Business Events that we attract will continue to bring visitors to our shores. 

As we look to the future, insights tell us that Food Tourism and Adventure Tourism, will have the potential to become key drivers of visits to Scotland. The Healthy Living trend has also led to Wellbeing experiences becoming an important item on the checklist of tomorrow’s traveler.

In the medium term, global tourism experts refer to twelve Megatrends happening today.  For Scotland, we have merged these under four headings as we look forward to 2025 these are:

We want our visitors to experience more – enjoying immersive ‘live like a local’ rich experiences.  We need to market the whole of Scotland and ensure that our visitors can experience all of what our landscapes and destinations have to offer. 

We know that today’s traveller is evolving and that we attract many different types of visitors, both culturally and demographically. 

We also know that just how important it is for data to inform how we improve and influence the visitor experience in what has become a very dynamic world.

We’ve also looked at how our competitors are shaping their future tourism strategies and we can see some distinct themes emerging, many of which mirror our own.

As a result of what is happening in terms of trends, forecasts and future consumer behaviour, there is a need for our tourism industry, government, public sector and communities to collectively respond, adapt and collaborate to deliver a responsible, sustainable, managed growth for the future.  Future success will only be achieved through partnership.

Our mindset as a nation and as a sector is now shifting from attracting volume to delivering greater economic and social benefits for our nation and for our local communities – the people who live and work in all our villages, towns and cities.  The people who work in your businesses.  The time to change and adapt has come.

Our future national tourism strategy must therefore respond in a different way to address these current and future challenges and maximise the opportunities that we have in our sights in the short, medium and long term.

We know how difficult it is right now to look to the future with the current challenges we are experiencing across our industry and the immediate challenges that we know are on the horizon.  Dealing with the unknowns of tomorrow, today are not easy, especially when our industry is in such a fragile state with many potential impacts still to be felt.

Brexit, the climate emergency, the potential introduction of a tourist tax by some authorities, immigration and Scotland’s de-population crisis is the backdrop to our current tourism landscape and remember too that our destinations all experience different challenges and indeed opportunities.  It is therefore a time to act brave, be ambitious, forward thinking and maintain the level of resilience which we are known so well for displaying.

It is now more important than ever that we create the very best memories for everyone who visits and experiences all that Scotland has to offer with no long-term damage to our environment.

Our strategy should enrich lives and preserve our places with our industry acting as pioneers for delivering responsible tourism.  We need to look to build a 21st Century tourism industry for all – our visitors, our people, our businesses, our communities and our environment.

Tourism is acknowledged as having a hugely important role in delivering Scotland’s wider economic strategy and national performance framework. The STA will continue to focus on the core of the organisation’s agenda which is aligned to delivering sustainable growth for business, through representation of the industry voice to bring about changes at policy level that will have a positive impact on our tourism sector and wider economy.

Scotland has a global reputation to protect, and we will only realise our collective vision if our policies and economic conditions allow us to ensure that we are seen and can present the country as a quality, attractive destination throughout all stages of a visitor’s journey, and that we are able to compete globally on price.

The draft of Scotland’s future national tourism strategy has unlike TS2020 been developed through an equal partnership approach with a range of stakeholders from industry, Scottish Government and our public agencies.  It is reflective of the changing world we live in, our new mindset and approach to how we live and work and represents a bold step forward in setting our industry on a path to delivering benefits to those who visit us, Scotland’s people, the communities within our destinations, local economies, our wider economy and indeed, all of our sectors.

We tested a draft vision and mission with all those who attended the workshops and focus groups, we listened to the feedback. The majority told us the sentiment was right,but we needed to be bolder, more ambitious and the words of our future vision and mission must reflect that and make clear it is Scotland’s tourism vision.

You said they must not be bland and un-inspiring, nor must they come across as being vanilla or to PC,so with the help of marketing professionals at the Union agency I am delighted to now share our future vision with you:

Scotland – we will be a world leader in 21st century tourism

21st century tourism?

What do we mean by this – Tourism is going to change, it must change. If the industrydoesn’t change it, governments will. If governments won’t, tourists will. If touristswon’t, communities will. A new model will be developed.

Sustainability, responsibility,innovation and technology already are in many destinations the driving forces that are influencing decisions on new ways ofproviding the visitor with the experiences they are looking for.

How will we deliver our vision?  Through also having a clear and concise mission which is.

Together we will grow the value and positively enhance the benefits of tourism across Scotland by delivering the very best for our visitors, our businesses, our people, our communities and our environment

A bold ambition and direction as I’m sure you will agree and one which I hope will inspire you and show that we’re on a brave new journey a step change from the ambition, content and delivery approach of TS2020.

Whilst this strategy has evolved from TS2020, it marks the dawning of a new era for our industry and a marked difference in our approach to delivering what we see a picture of success looking like.

The strategy has not been developed in isolation it is a result of widespread engagement across our industry. VisitScotland led events back in February and March to capture the views and opinions of industry leaders about the most significant trends that could impact tourism in Scotland in the coming years. The STA then led a programme of facilitated workshops across Scotland and a series of focus groups with young people working in the industry to test the essence of the Vision, Mission and the priority areas of focus. 

You might ask is our vision too big?  Well, a vision statement should set our direction, it should be ambitious and inspiring, it should energise us and if we’re ever in any doubt about where we’re heading, our vision should refocus us.

It should be our reality, but it should also be our collective dream.

It should inspire all our stakeholders – our tourism businesses, suppliers to industry, our government, local authorities, our public sector agencies, our people and future generations; and anyone who has a touchpoint with Scotland’s tourism industry – this is everyone’s strategy.

It’s not inconceivable that Scotland can be the world leader in 21st century tourism.  We are already known and recognised globally for our joined-up approach in delivering our current tourism strategy and have become a case study for how businesses, communities and governments around the world should collaborate. 

We look and will continue to look beyond our shores for insights, better ways of doing things. As a nation we are of course already world leaders in innovation – it’s in our blood, our DNA and it’s the nature of how we respond to opportunities and challenges.  We have the strength of vision that enables us to lead the way.  We inform the debate, we influence others to do the right thing and we act by taking the right steps.

It is entirely within our reach to be the world leader in 21st Century tourism.

But… one question I am sure you will all have in your mind is – ‘How are we going to achieve our goal?’

Scotland’s future tourism strategy has been developed around four key priorities – People, Place, Businesses and Experiences, each with a key aim, and set of outcomes.

We recognise that the visitor experience is a combination of several different elements all coming together and that for tourism in Scotland to thrive in the future, we must address the challenges and seize the opportunities that sit behind these 4 key priority areas

Our passionate people

Our thriving places

Our diverse businesses

Our memorable experiences

So, let’s explore these four areas in more detail.

We have an overarching aim for each of these areas – each has four measurable outcomes.

Our Passionate People

Aim: To attract, develop and retain a skilled, committed, diverse and valued workforce.

1. Our people feel valued for the contribution that they make and have a voice in the workplace.

2.  All parts of our industry are recognised as a valued career choice, attracting the best people and providing opportunities for all to make the best of their skills and talents.        

3.  Using innovation and creativity, our businesses and communities provide and create good and fair work in a supportive workplace environment.

4.  The diversity of our workforce more closely reflects the population of Scotland.

Our Thriving Places

Aim: To create and develop a sustainable destination together.


1.  Tourism is recognised nationally, regionally and locally in our communities as a force for good, a catalyst for thriving communities and is able to respond flexibly to the diverse needs of Scotland’s places.

2. The impacts of tourism on the environment and our communities are understood and responsibly managed and our landscape, scenery, natural and built heritage are cared for and protected for future generations.

3.  Everyone takes a shared responsibility for our places to ensure the right growth in the right areas, benefiting both our businesses and communities.

4.  Our places are connected, both physically and digitally and supported by the appropriate investment.

Our Diverse Businesses’

Aim: To build business resilience, sustainability and profitability.


1.  Within a supportive environment, our businesses adopt responsible and fair business practices, are open to change and committed to investing in their future.

2.  Our businesses have the capability to secure appropriate investment and the productivity of the sector is showing positive improvement, driving inclusive growth and improving financial returns.  

3.  Our businesses are embracing innovation and technology to support both better visitor experiences and the use of new business models that support competitiveness and reflect the changing landscape.

4.  Our businesses demonstrate visible leadership through increased collaboration, building sustainable and resilient business practices and investing in their people and future success. 

Our Memorable Experiences

Aim: To provide the very best, authentic and memorable experiences.


1.  We are providing a wide range of immersive, responsible , authentic and rich visitor experiences that reflect our strengths and changing visitor trends.

2.  Every visitor expectation is met, with each visitor enjoying the very best experience – creating ambassadors for Scotland all over the world

3.  Visitors are staying longer throughout the year, seeing more of Scotland and are spending more during their visit.

4.  Our visitors are able to make seamless journeys and have barrier-free stays that are accessible to all.

So, we have our Vision

We have our Mission

We must protect and consider the environment in everything we do

And we have our four strategic priorities

For us to deliver our aims and achieve our vision and mission, we must determine, define and bring about the right conditions for success.

We have identified these to be as follows:

  • Strengthen our ability to harnessthe power of technology and data
  • Have the right policy and regulatory landscape in place
  • Ensure access to investment
  • Proactively invest in the right transport and digital connectivity
  • Provide a support network for our businesses
  • The successful positioning of Scotland and our tourism industry internally and externally

Tourism cuts across every sector – we have always said that tourism is everyone’s business; it touches every part of Scotland’s economy. 

This future strategy has been developed together by industry, government and public agencies who share this bold vision. Together, we will deliver this through a joined-up approach spanning all sectors and destinationsThrough our ways of working,

Being brave, outward looking forward thinking, collaborative, responsible and putting our communities, our people, our visitors, our businesses and our environment at the heart of everything we do, we can be the world leader in 21st century tourism and we can measure our collective efforts, by setting our own standards for success.

It is a 10-year vision to 2030 that will be supported by short, mediumand long-term action plans – it is realistically and rightfully ambitious!

We are a resilient industry,we have proven that many times over before, and we have built strong partnerships which will see our businesses and our people achieve great things, delivering profit for purpose andsubstantial rewards for the good of all.

Our current and future challenges are well known to us, some may of course appear differently, however we also have many opportunities ahead and much to look forward to as an industry in delivering success not only for Scotland’s tourism sector but for the wider economy, creating a better country to live and work in, and for the world to visit.

This is an exciting, ambitious strategy for each person to own and take responsibility for, delivered with your individual passion and expertise. This is a strategy for each and everyone of us, and one to be proud of.

So what next,Well you’ve heard a lot from me today and as you know, this is a draft and it’s important that we continue to consult with all of our stakeholders over the coming months as we build the short medium and longer term action plan to deliver this future strategy which we will officially launch on the 4th March at the national tourism conference in Glasgow.

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