There is a growing appetite amongst visitors to try local produce and traditional dishes, writes VisitScotland’s Riddell Graham
THIS year has been incredible for Scottish tourism – from the 970 Homecoming Scotland events to the ‘best Commonwealth Games ever’ and, last weekend, the Ryder Cup.
But despite 2014 nearing an end, I can assure you the party is far from over; next year is shaping up to be just as exciting.
Not only will Scotland play host to nine world-class events, but from January to December next year we will be raising a glass to our natural larder with the return of the Year of Food & Drink 2015.
Bars play a key role in enhancing our reputation for food and drink.
Scotland’s pubs and bars can, and of course already do, play an important part in creating an appetite for our country’s distinctive cuisine.
For many visitors, a stop at a pub or bar is a popular choice; it’s a chance to sample our famous food and drink as well as witness our world class hospitality.
Whilst 2015 will be another great year for those looking to visit Scotland, it is also a year of potential growth for our tourism and food and drink industries.
The food and drink industry in Scotland is worth almost £14 billion to the Scottish economy, domestic sales have risen by 30% since 2007, while overseas are up by 50%.
And it’s whisky, our national drink, that’s leading the charge.
On top of that, we know 58% of all visitors and 71% of overseas visitors to Scotland eat in a pub or bar, whilst almost half (49%) of all visitors want to try local food, so there is a real financial incentive for the country’s licensed premises to support this year of activity.
And it’s not just VisitScotland which believes that; more and more businesses up and down the country are considering their food and drink offering, looking at their menus and thinking about how they can better cater for their customers.
There is also a growing expectation and desire among visitors to see local produce included in their dining experiences. Sampling traditional dishes and regional foods is the second top activity undertaken by visitors to Scotland.
Last month, we rolled out our quality assurance award scheme, Taste Our Best, to include pubs and bars.
We are already aware of many businesses across the country doing great things to promote our natural larder and now we want to celebrate their efforts and recognise those that deliver the very best Scottish food and drink experience.
Taste Our Best provides businesses with an assessment of the overall quality of the visitor experience and the use of Scottish produce on their menu.
Funded by the Scottish Government and VisitScotland with support from Scotland Food and Drink, the Taste Our Best initiative brings together the tourism and food and drink industries.
It is designed to recognise businesses including hotels, restaurants, cafes, takeaways, visitor attractions, B&Bs and now pubs and bars that not only offer a quality food and drink experience, but include and promote Scottish produce on their menus to give consumers choice.
I hope those who achieve this award wear it as a badge of honour; this is a celebration of their service and recognition of their efforts to raise standards.
The Year of Food & Drink will enhance our reputation as a ‘land of food and drink’ and our pubs and bars will be a key ingredient in making that happen.
• Riddell Graham is director of partnerships at VisitScotland.