Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Statistics Don't Make A Tourist Boom

I'm back on the warpath against VisitScotland in today's Scotsman.

There was an almost deafening silence from all the parties in the run up to this election in regards to tourism; all in all it is extremely worrying. Why would Scotland's second biggest industry be so low down the agenda - is it because they don't understand it? In the Scotsman on 3rd May Alan Rankin, the outgoing chief executive of the public-private Scottish Tourism Forum, was critical of politicians in their lack of perceived ambition for the industry. He is particularly worried about the SNPs proposal 'to abolish the national marketing body VisitScotland and bring it under the control of a radically restructured Scottish Enterprise.' Will this happen if the SNP manage to form the next administration?

VisitScotland has a media campaign that tells us just how well they are doing, many, whose livelihoods depend on tourism, would disagree with them. Arguably much of what happens in Scottish tourism happens despite VisitScotland. However, the SNP's idea of putting it under Scottish Enterprise is equally flawed. There's no question, given the industries importance to the Scottish economy, that there should be a tourism minister. At the same time a radical change in VisitScotland's approach is vital. In particular their web site, which is dull, full of mistakes and inaccuracies, and it lacks sufficient accommodation to attract visitors to certain parts of Scotland. Above all else it fails to deliver on 'Scotland the Brand'.

An article on the same day headlined 'Tourism boom as visitor numbers rise 6%' masks many of the issues. Visitor numbers don't make for a tourism boom. They like all statistics mask a myriad amount of detail, not least the fact that the Kelvingrove Museum accounted for almost 2.5% of that growth. Next year on a like for like basis the scenario will likely change, just as it has done at the Scottish Parliament visitor attraction where numbers were down 26% - the newness has worn off. Visitor numbers include a great many local people. VisitScotland are past masters at peddling statistics, perhaps they should concentrate more on the real issues.

Much of the problem with VisitScotland is that it is a business run on the PFU model, with investors all keen to see a return on the money. At the same time it gets a large amount, the majority in fact, of its money from the Scottish Executive. VS looks to make money out of everything it does - especially when it comes to booking accommodation. There's a gap in the thinking here. On the one hand you have the information arm of the business and on the other the moneymaking and it ends up falling between two stools.

There has been a major ‘spring into summer’ promotion for the Borders (I use the word major as that is what their press release said). When you eventually find details of the promotion, after numerous clicks on the web site, you find ten properties offering accommodation in the Borders, that's ten in 1,800 square miles - eight self-catering and two hotels. It's pathetic.

I'll spare you all by not going on about the numerous bizarre things on their site, the mistakes and the tortuous process of actually finding out information. The problem is simple, their web site is designed by geeks not by people trying to market Scotland. Until it's fixed it will continue to under perform - despite what they say.

No comments: