Margaret Cuthbert: Enough of the fancy empty words – it’s time for a real nuts and bolts tourism strategy from @scotgov


Economist Margaret Cuthbert wonders whether the well-paid executives of Visit Scotland have ever tried walking around the Scotland they’re trying to sell to tourists

ONE of the most recent big campaigns from Visit Scotland – Spirit of Scotland – was launched by the first minister back in 2016. It hoped to sell Scotland around the world on the basis of the Scottish people’s warmth, humour and fun. 

As usual the vision was all well and good. But, as is often the case, the strategy lacked even superficial study of what the tourist is faced with in Scotland. Two years on since the launch of the £4.25m campaign, nothing much appears to have changed.

For example, most shopkeepers know well that having a good product and good service goes a good way to getting them repeat business, and that people are unlikely to give repeat business to a café with a dirty toilet. So in case the chief executive of Visit Scotland and the first minister haven’t noticed, maybe we should take a closer look at what the Scottish product on offer to our tourists currently includes in our capital city of Edinburgh:

– Filthy litter (plastic bottles, paper, polystyrene takeaway food boxes etc.), and large black dirty bins in some of Edinburgh’s busiest tourist thoroughfares: for example, North Bridge and Nicholson Street;

Two years on since the launch of the £4.25m tourism campaign, nothing much appears to have changed.

– An absence of clean, modern public toilets – so Uncle Sam and Auntie Madeleine, sorry, you will quickly find that Scotland is not really suitable for you with your bladder problems);

– Badly cracked and uneven pavements – so best not to lift your eyes to see the city’s amazing skyline;

– Chewing gum to beat the band embedded in our pavements;

– And should the tourist hire a car, they’ll find umpteen potholes in our city streets.

The situation is no better in Glasgow. Beautiful buildings such as Glasgow Cathedral are just along the road from the public car park in the High Street where one has the dubious pleasure of walking on the ubiquitous chewing gum, and skirting around ripped black bags of detritus.

Albert Camus wrote in The Fall: “Style, like sheer silk underwear, sometimes hides eczema”. As regards this campaign by Visit Scotland we have to change the wording a bit to “tries desperately to hide the reality that we Scots have to live with daily”.

It is time that this quango and the government see reality and back up the glossy sales drive.

But should Visit Scotland answer that these are matters concerning their “partners”, the local authorities, and are therefore not their concern, such a stance would be ridiculous, and would only go to demonstrate that passing the buck might be easy when so many public groups are concerned but it does nothing to make our lives better, or the experience of tourists.

It is time that this quango and the government see reality and back up the glossy sales drive. Possibly, with at least three executives earning over £100,000, Visit Scotland directors do not have to walk in the city, or use public toilets – but tourists do. 

The poor civic treatment of tourists becomes a major economic issue when it is considered that sustainable tourism is one of the Scottish Government’s key growth sectors. Enough of the fancy empty words: it is time for a nuts and bolts improved strategy.

Picture courtesy of Giuseppe Milo

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