That was the message last week from Robin Worsnop, chair of the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group, as tourism minister Fergus Ewing prepared to launch the group’s new strategy in the Scottish capital.
As Ewing prepared to unveil the blueprint at ETAG’s annual conference, held at the John McIntyre Conference Centre yesterday, Worsnop urged capital operators to join the tourism effort and take advantage of the support the group, Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland, have to offer.
“Edinburgh Airport has plans for expansion and had its busiest ever year last year, particularly with short routes from Europe, so the opportunities are there for the licensed trade to capitalise on,” he said.
“A lot of the growing number of people coming in for short breaks are looking for authentic Scottish experiences in the bars and pubs of Edinburgh.
“If these numbers are growing, as they are, and continue to grow over the next ten years, there’s a great opportunity.
“Whether they recognise it or not, they [pubs] are part and parcel of the experience of the visitor. Pubs are synonymous with Scotland and local culture and visitors will all visit one.”
But Worsnop, who earns a living as boss of Rabbie’s Small Group Tours, said there are some cultural changes bars in Edinburgh could make to appeal more to tourists.
“One of the things to consider is how welcome they’re made to feel – there are times when a pub or a bar can be a little bit intimidating to somebody who maybe doesn’t speak good English,” he said. “So it’s about making them feel welcome so they want to spend time and money there.
“A lot of visitors would look to eat in bars as well, because that would be part of their culture.
“One of the differences between Scotland and European markets is that children are very welcome in all sorts of places – in restaurants, bars, everywhere – across Europe. [But] there are places at times where they are not so welcome here. Children make people less nervous about being in a place if they are a visitor as it’s less threatening.
“There’s also a good opportunity in serving local produce and indigenous Scottish food as part of the authentic experience, rather than deep-fried stuff. There’s a great value which can be generated in that as well.”
As for ETAG’s new strategy, Worsnop said it was less about what it can offer the on-trade in Edinburgh but an invitation for operators to seize the initiative.
“Yes, there’s a strategy to try and grow the sector, but what is the trade going to do to capitalise on and make the most of it?” he questioned.
“The support provided by Scottish Enterprise, through Business Gateway, and VisitScotland is to accentuate and inform the type of experiences people are looking for, so it’s kind of research and consumer trends which the [tourism] product can be developed from. The emphasis here is ‘this is a strategy for the whole industry to take advantage of’. We see it as an opportunity [for businesses] to invest further in their product, capitalise on that and make profit.”
While ETAG’s membership includes hotel and restaurant associations, no individual pubs or bars have joined yet. Worsnop insisted the door is open.
“Big efforts are being made to get a database together to appeal to this sector, though we understand it is difficult for these guys to attend events,” he said. “There are opportunities to attend events and network, but it’s up to them to engage.”
Speakers at the ETAG conference were due to include Scottish Enterprise operations chief Paul Lewis, Chris Greenwood of VisitScotland and Hamish Taylor, ex-head of brand management at British Airways, director of Eurostar and CEO of Sainsbury’s Bank.