That was the message from Stephen Leckie, chair of the recently renamed Scottish Tourism Alliance (formerly forum), as he addressed the seventh annual Scottish Tourism Week conference at Murrayfield earlier this month.
Speaking to 170 delegates from across Scotland’s tourism sector, Leckie, the fifth generation of his family to run Crieff Hydro in Perthshire, said that “consistency of quality is key” if the sector is to remain competitive in the harsh economic climate.
“To make Scotland a destination of first choice for high quality, value for money and a memorable customer experience delivered by a skilled and passionate workforce – that’s the vision for tourism,” he said.
“We could have talked today about hunkering down, steady as she goes, and all of that but this is about competing for growth.
“We, Scotland, are the envy of Europe as we have a well-run marketing body [VisitScotland] that pours visitors into Scotland – it’s up to us to give visitors that memorable experience. We know much more about our customers, where they come from and how they get here.
“Our customers are mercurial – fickle, lively, quick-witted – and we mustn’t lose sight of that; they want to do and try new things.
“At Crieff we have 21 Segways and 45 quads because people want to rent them.
“It’s about being different. We need to be maverick and mercurial – we have to stand out from the crowd.
“Consistency of quality is one of the key challenges we face.
“Investment in buildings is important but it’s also important we invest in our people.
“We mustn’t lose sight of the people who deliver our product.
“Quality, value for money, memorable – that must be at the top of the agenda for everyone.”
Leckie’s call for quality was echoed by VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead.
Highlighting a number of opportunities for tourism businesses in the coming years (see story below), Roughead told the conference that “quality is absolutely fundamental”.
“Tourism is 365 days a year; we can’t afford not to be open,” he said.
“The competition is getting better and better and that means we need to get better.
“In this era of information overload, with so many travel review websites, people need help.
“Our Quality Assurance scheme is independent and gives people another benchmark.
“Quality is absolutely key going forward.”
Leckie and Roughead both stressed the importance of Scotland’s 20,000 tourism businesses and 250 associations working together to the future growth of the industry.
“If we don’t join up we’ll continue to be fragmented around Scotland; we’re so much better together,” said Leckie.
“MSPs are realising the importance of tourism to the economy.
“66 MSPs signing up to back Scottish Tourism Week – that’s more than 50% of MSPs that are starting to get the magnitude and size of tourism and how important it is.
“The government now has a division to roll out high speed broadband to rural Scotland and that’s good for tourism – we’re disparate so we must be able to link up.”
Roughead agreed on the importance of working together.
“It’s all about partnership and it can never be about anything else,” he said.
“Alone we are just a voice in the wilderness but together we can punch above our weight on the global stage.”