How individual Scottish tourist businesses can ease the crush and enrich the visitor experience

Does Scotland have too many tourists? Are the numbers of people flocking to this small country from the four corners of the globe in danger of destroying the very thing they have travelled so far to see? These are questions which are exercising the minds not only of tourist businesses, but also local people in tourist areas, tourism agencies, infrastructure planning agencies and the highest levels of government.

How can these Scottish businesses address the problems developing in the country as a result of mass tourism?

The first point to consider is that a huge inflow of tourist dollars - and yen, renminbi and euros - is a "problem" that many countries would give their eye teeth to have and which they are actively trying to promote.

But over-promotion of specific destinations, amplified by the repetitive nature of social media and the "like" culture, is taking some places to breaking point. 

The North Coast 500 is a classic example. A brilliant marketing idea, it promoted single track roads through some of northern Scotland's most dramatic scenery as one of the world's classic drives. Result: it is now congested with campervans, tour buses and fleets of supercars.

Edinburgh, some claim, is in danger of being turned into a kind of tartan Disneyland, and the Island of Skye has pleaded recently that it is "full up". Tourists, unable to find accommodation, are said to be reduced to sleeping in their cars.

It is the "choke point" problem, which is a hot topic in tourism circles. If all the tourists want to go to the top five destinations in a country, they will naturally create massive pressure on the infrastructure and businesses and eventually diminish the experience.

How can they be persuaded past the choke points? Well, this is the million dollar question, and finding an answer in Scotland could be key to spreading tourism revenue nationally and enriching the Scottish experience for both international and domestic GB visitors in addition to the businesses benefiting from it.

VisitScotland has done a remarkable job in reaching out to the world in recent years, especially in its social media marketing, but there is still an understandable reliance on Scotland the Brand, and a few key aspects of heritage.

Golf, for instance, focuses on St Andrews and Gleneagles to the exclusion of hundreds of other lovely courses. Whisky concentrates on a few tightly-defined trails, heritage on Edinburgh Castle and the Old Town, festivals on Highland Games and so on.

But there are many, many other places in Scotland which are not as well-known internationally, or even in the rest of Britain, and which merit substantial promotion - Pitlochry, for instance, or Aviemore, or the wide, thinly-visited landscapes of the Borders. 

There is a tendency among individual companies in these less well-patronised areas to rely rather too heavily on VisitScotand's big guns in terms of marketing, in the hope of reaching a wider audience.

But this is not a cheap option, nor does it gain the companies much more than a listing and perhaps a small advert. It would be much more advantageous for them to rely on their own identity and the unique attractions of their individual areas.

The most effective way to reach out to the world, no matter the size of the enterprise, is a well-designed, customer-focused website with intelligent and accessible content which will propel the business up the search engine rankings.

tourist-businessesNor should local businesses focus on international visitors to the neglect of domestic British residents. The former made 2.75 million trips in 2016, compared to 11.52 million trips by UK visitors, so website content has to take that into account.

While Edinburgh sags under the weight of tourist numbers, there are huge swathes of Scotland which are effectively visitor-free zones, despite being attractive destinations in their own right.

It's time for businesses in these regions to show what they can do.

 

By Chris Torres (pictured), director and founder of Senshi Digital.

Event Date: 
Thursday, August 31, 2017

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