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Wish You Were Here?
Frontline Scotland
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Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK
Frontline Scotland: Wish You Were Here?

This is the transcript of the Frontline Scotland programme Wish You Were Here broadcast on 29 May, 2001.

EUAN: Scotland should be a marketing man's dream. The skirl of the pipes is known the world over, and, besides the weather, we've got attractions for everyone.

We got this. (whisky) And we've got yards and yards of this. (tartan). And lochs - well we can do lochs by the bucketful. And we've got the best of this in the world. (golf) And we've got Edinburgh. But what we don't have is enough of these. (tourists)

Summer's on its way, but the sun isn't shining on Scottish tourism. It's one our biggest industries, but it's in crisis. Images of foot-and-mouth beamed around the world have scared visitors. But the tourist trade problems lie deeper than that.

GERRY DOWDS (Director, Forum of Private Business): We need customers, more and more customers, and guess what, in Scotland, what have we got? We've got declining tourism year after year after year.

FEMALE TOURIST: Decorations are bad, the food's bad, the service is bad.

ROLF KOKSVIK: I'm quite convinced there will be a lot of tourism industries which will go belly-up this year.

EUAN: So what's gone wrong, and can it be fixed? Can the Scottish Tourist Board, or visitscotland, as it is now known, put Scotland back on the world map? The message - loud and clear from the lochs, the cities, the villages, and the glens - is wish you were here?

TITLES: "Wish You Were Here?"

EUAN: Rolf Koksvik was rocket scientist at the European Space Agency, but became disillusioned with the industry. He and wife Olive moved from Holland and bought a run-down hotel in Aberfoyle.

They're now working more then 100 hours a week, and they've seen their dreams of making a good living in Scotland disappear.

OLIVE KOKSVIK: You'd think we'd make a profit because we invested a lot of money in the place, so our first year was run at a loss.

But I just feel that in this area alone... I mean there's lots to offer people in this area. But they're just not coming.

EUAN: So how hard is it?

ROLF: Here...

OLIVE: Extremely hard.

ROLF: March and April were dead months, and that we blame on the foot-and-mouth crisis. In fact, you could look down the street and there wasn't a soul in it. It's starting to pick up a little bit now. Weekend traffic, day trippers, but through the week it's still fairly dead.

EUAN: Rolf and Olive invested their savings in transforming the hotel. But they're finding it hard to make the books balance. They're living on borrowed time.

Have you thought about giving up?

OLIVE: Oh yes.

ROLF: But you can't just give up. You've got to stay put and make the best of it. Of course marketing is a bit of a problem and we need...we could do with some support from the tourist board to market the area better. They say they're spending a lot of money in the US on marketing, but of course...

OLIVE: We can't see that from here. So we just have to take their word for it.

EUAN: Gerry Dowds is the Director of the Forum of Private Business. It carried out a survey which showed 90% of businesses throughout Scotland have had their income seriously affected by foot-and-mouth. And he says people like Olive and Rolf have been let down by both the government and the tourist board.

GERRY DOWDS: They've spent £150,000 renovating the Town House, it used to be called The Clachan. You only have to look at it, it's absolutely beautiful. Rolf used to work for the space agency. He was a rocket scientist. He found it easier to be a rocket scientist and put people up into space than it is to make a profit out of making...out of this hotel in Aberfoyle here. And it's not because he's not running it well, he's running it brilliantly, he's working 100 hours every week and so is his wife. He's been let down by the area tourist board, and their bosses, the Scottish Tourist Board, who are not bringing visitors to Aberfoyle.

ROLF: Tourism in Scotland is the biggest business in Scotland from what I understand, and unless they take it seriously they're going to get their fingers burned, because at the moment they're squeezing the life blood out of us. And now with the foot-and-mouth I am quite convinced there will be a lot of tourism industries go belly-up this year. But the governments don't seem to understand that and they're not serious about giving us any support at all.

OLIVE: They're not listening.

EUAN: Within the industry there's resentment that the Scottish Executive seems to put tourism in second place to farming. Yet tourism brings in £2.5bn a year to the Scottish economy; farming contributes a fraction of that figure. Scottish farmers could end up with £200m in compensation for foot-and-mouth. Visitscotland got just £5m to help them through the crisis.

IVAN BROUSSINE (Scottish Tourism Forum): One thing that's really angered the tourism industry is the sort of fact that it's been given second place to farming.

EUAN: The Scottish Executive announced help to businesses hit by foot-and-mouth in the form of deferred VAT and National Insurance Contributions and Business Rates Relief. But many feel it's not enough. Among them is Mark Shmidzu, who runs a cycling and back packing hostel in the Trossachs.

MARK SHMIDZU (Hostel owner): I think the Scottish Executive themselves really should be far more aware of the damage that this is doing to the rural economy. I really don't think that they've grasped just what they have cost local businesses, or how much a lot of businesses have suffered. 2001 looked very good, and then were hit by the dreadful foot-and-mouth crisis, and that really decimated our business.

EUAN: Twenty per cent fewer visitors have come to Scotland this year. That's an estimated loss to the Scottish economy of around £335m. In an attempt to revive the lucrative American market the government invested heavily in the Annual Tartan Day in America. Celebrities were wheeled in to persuade US tourists to come back.

SEAN CONNERY: "You will find majestic countryside open. You will find our championship golf courses open, although not too easy. But most of all you will find the hearts of our people open."

EUAN: Sean Connery's message may be true, but it's a message that is simply not getting through to potential visitors. Tourism in Scotland has been dropping steadily since the mid-1990s, at a time when world tourism is booming. And many people are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Scottish Tourist Board, the government quango in charge of marketing Scotland.

PETER WEIR (Restaurant owner): Oh, it's devastating up here, it's definitely...have a look round about you. There's hardly a car in the car park. There was a busy Easter and a busy May, but apart from that there are very few people about.

EUAN: So who's at fault then?

PETER WEIR: I would say the tourist board. The tourist board has got a lot to answer for.

EUAN: So how could it change, what needs to be done?

PETER WEIR: They need to spend more money on advertising and get it right.

OLIVE KOKSVIK: People, no matter who you speak to, they just say: "I'm not paying my fees this year because they don't do anything for me".

EUAN: In November last year after a disastrous year for tourism the Scottish Executive commissioned a report into the workings of the Scottish Tourist Board. It severely attacked those running it. The chief executive resigned in the wake of that criticism. The Scottish Tourist Board changed its name to visitscotland, and commissioned head-hunters to carry out a world-wide search to get someone to help them out of the crisis. On 19 April this year the new chief executive, Rod Lynch, was proudly introduced to the press by the newly appointed chairman, Peter Lederer, and Scottish Executive Minister Wendy Alexander.

WENDY ALEXANDER (Enterprise Minister): We said six months ago we were going to go out and look for world class leadership...and we found it in Rod. He has exactly the skills to lead the tourism industry in Scotland in the future.

EUAN: Four days later that offer of the contract was withdrawn when it emerged that Rod Lynch had a conflicting business interest. The whole affair is now the subject of a legal action. It was a humiliation for the Scottish Executive and visitscotland. A chief executive has still not been appointed.

PETER LEDERER (Chairman, visitscotland): We are at a cross-roads, there's no question. Other destinations are doing a better and better job, and there are new destinations coming on to the marketplace all the time, so people have more choice, peoples' expectations are going up all the time. So we have some critical decisions to make about where tourism goes from here.

EUAN: What image are you sending out at the moment, because the recent mess with the chief executive, you get the impression the tourist board, visitscotland, call it what you will, is in absolute turmoil.

PETER LEDERER: Well the thing is tourism is our largest industry, it's £2.4bn to the economy and 184,000 people in it. It's a very important industry and I have taken on this job determined to get it right. There are issues we've got to tackle in terms of quality, in terms of the marketing, in terms of how the of government support the industry, and we've got to make sure that's streamlined. But there is great potential for the future.

EUAN: Last year's Scottish Tourist Board advert was aimed at bringing tourists from all over the world. It didn't work. There was no increase in visitors. But time may be running out for visitscotland. Earlier this month some of the biggest players in the tourist industry got together at a secret meeting to discuss the prospect of abandoning visitscotland and marketing the country themselves.

LAURENCE YOUNG (British Hospitality Association): I think that might happen, and if we have the continuing unravelling of our structures as we're getting at the moment then that might well happen, and that may or may not be a good thing. But I think at the moment what everyone wants is to make the current structures work. We must recognise that there is a Scottish Parliament there, that there will continue to be a political involvement in tourism, so there needs to be something. It's probably in the form of national tourist board in which the government is involved, but then one fundamentally must respond to industry needs.

PETER LEDERER: I think certainly we've come...had a difficult year last year, and I think foot-and-mouth has really created almost the crisis we may have needed to really get focused on what needs to be done. One of the reasons I've taken on this job is I really do see that out of this can come some very positive outcomes in terms of how we position Scotland, how we market the country, and how we work together because it's the only way we're going to do it, to develop the huge potential that tourism has.

GERRY DOWDS: We're talking about the fundamentals of running a business. OK, it's a big business, but it demands professionalism. And that's why marketing has got to be taken away from the Scottish Tourist Board. I mean they have just been a disaster, they don't know how to do it. We need to now put it out to tender, give the professional companies, pay them on a results basis, at least in part, and say if you get it right we'll pay you really well. That would be good, it would be good for our economy. If you don't get it right then it's going to someone else.

PETER LEDERER: I think the marketing is something we should look at how we do it. There's no question the Scottish Tourist Board, visitscotland, is looking all the time about how they improve that, that marketing product. And I think involving people from outside, some people from industry, and some expertise, it will be a good thing and I think that's something we will look at.

EUAN: But marketing a country is a complex business. Creenagh Lodge is a marketing specialist who thinks modern Scotland has a lot to offer. She helped turn New Zealand around - a country with strong similarities to Scotland.

CREENAGH LODGE (Chairman, Corporate Edge): New Zealand started from a much worse position than Scotland. Its economy was in the most appalling state. They had a drought; sheep were being slaughtered; and it was on the verge, not quite but very nearly, veering towards bankruptcy. And the whole of this project, which unified the country, the prime minister took a huge interest in it, did a roadshow, and everybody united behind it. And, gradually the confidence began to come back. It's really important Scotland sets out to become a destination in its own right, somewhere where you go to for the sake of being in Scotland.

EUAN: Her company's research found the image of Scotland and its people is admired around the world. It should be easy to sell.

CREENAGH LODGE: One of the things we discovered from this world-wide research we did was that one of the greatest assets Scotland had was the people. Warm, friendly, educated, amusing, all of the good things. But we need to communicate that. Somehow, I don't quite know how that has to be done in a very simple marketing programme. And it is the people of Scotland who are important.

Scotland's magic is not to do with the usual things - there's the unique landscape, the unique spirit of the people.

EUAN: So, find a way to market that and we may get the visitors back. But if they were to come what would they find? We went on the road and found some of the small niggles that could mar a holiday in Scotland.

On the road: Well this is typical of the welcome we found all across Scotland. I've just been in there and asked for a cup of coffee, and there's a lovely lounge overlooking the hills. We asked to have our coffee in there, to be told: "No you can't, that's residents only, you've got to go and sit on the wooden benches". That's typical of the many of the residents only signs we've seen throughout Scotland. The lounge is empty, and so is the hotel.

MALE TOURIST: You don't feel very welcome at all. And compared to what we're used to in Cornwall, and Wales, and in England, where they greet you with a smile, say: "How can we help you?".

FEMALE: Some of the older hotels are just dreadful. They haven't been kept up to date. Obviously there's not been money to maintain them, and so when we're looking for something we look for something more modern, or bed and breakfast because that's usually superior.

EUAN: You say some of the hotels have been bad, what has your experience been?

FEMALE TOURIST: Oh, decorations are bad, the food's bad, the service is bad.

EUAN: No one would argue that roadworks aren't a necessary evil in life. But why does the council have to carry out these cosmetic alterations to Scotland's most famous street, the Royal Mile, in the middle of the tourist season?

Visit Scotland - it's beautiful, it's clean, and it's tidy.

Well here we are at the top of Edinburgh's Leith Walk, and tidy it's not. And another thing...

IVAN BROUSSINE: You and I are consumers. We go abroad, we stay at home, we look for quality. It doesn't matter if you're going for one-star, or you're going for a five-star, you want value for money, you want quality, and that's actually what the industry has to deliver back to the consumer. If we don't do that then, quite frankly, Scotland remains a second choice destination and not a first choice destination.

EUAN: Industry leaders are worried that Scotland is seen as old-fashioned, tacky, and out of touch. Traits which may seem quaint to some US markets cut no ice with modern discerning tourists from Europe.

JOANNE BLYTHMAN (Writer and critic): I mean this is the drag isn't it, you know, the Castle down to Holyrood Palace, and the first thing you sort of see is naff, tack.

I just find this really depressing. I wish I could stand out here with a sign and say: "Believe me, this is not Scotland." I think this really lets us down very badly. We've got good culture, we've got an interesting country, it's got a lot going for it, we really don't need to make a pastiche of what we've got. And the thing is that, OK, this is Edinburgh and the central belt and you can get away from this, you can do quite sophisticated interesting things. But when you get out of town you really hit the tourists with this sort of thing.

EUAN: Peter Irvine is the man credited with almost single-handedly turning Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations into a multi-million pound success story. He has an eye for the modern market, and for him small tourist towns like Callander are an affront.

PETER IRVINE (Scotland The Best): Well, we're here in the heart of things in Callander in the middle of this fantastic scenery in the Trossachs. And I don't want to be the one to disparage Callander, but this is very typical, it's typical of any Scottish small town in that there's nothing to do after dark, and there's not very much on offer for the more sophisticated tourist.

Tourism round the world is moving on very, very quickly, and even places like this will have to move on. And the things that people want now are different to what they were.

There's still a lot of people who would argue that the tartan side, the tartan trash or the tartan quality side even, is what people around the world, Americans and others, that's the way they see Scotland and that's what we have to give them. And there's quite a lot of strong arguments about that. But there is also a whole new thing, and I do think that you can give people that, and give them quality stuff as well, and I don't think it has to be clichéd, and I think you can be creative about how you present yourself and your country and your product.

EUAN: But it's not just tartan tack that many people are upset about. Food, too, is also singled out for criticism.

JOANNA BLYTHMAN: We have very expensive food. Cooking standards are not, are still not high, although they have improved. And we have a whole missing category of affordable, interesting, everyday food. So, I mean the tourist board needs to do things like encourage farmers' markets, encourage small scale producers, small shops and villages. Everything that makes the countryside good to live in for people is what tourists like. I don't want to have the choice between wilderness or tourist tat.

NEIL FORBES (Chef): Travelling Scotland on a day off, and the sun's out and it's a beautiful day, and you say let's stop at a local roadside inn for something to eat. We're not looking for three-star Michelin food here, we're looking for something humble, you take in the family and you're presented with small portions of little UHT milk, and pre-packet cheese, and you're thinking - come on, I think we can do an awful lot better than that. We've got the best larder in the world, it's all on our doorstep. We have the best - we have the best fish, we have the best beef and we have the best vegetables. And we have the best climate for growing all this food. And it does upset me slightly when it's just not there, and people are not really trying hard enough I think.

PETER LEDERER: Well, I think the interesting thing that's happening in tourism is we all travel more, that peoples' expectations go up all the time. And, there's no question that we have some wonderful products in Scotland, and we also have products that need to raise their game. And I think we have to raise the consistency level of all, whether it's visitor attractions, or caravan parks, or hotels. Every experience the visitor gets into needs to be of high quality because that's what the customer of today, and certainly tomorrow, will be expecting.

EUAN: So high quality is what the modern tourist wants. But many of our towns are failing to meet that standard. One of them is Dunoon, according to local hotelier Joe McGoran.

JOE McGORAN (Hotel owner): I know everyone says you can't keep throwing money into Scotland, but I think in this case you do have to. You have to spend money to do up places like The Queens Hall, to regenerate the beach area here, the West Bay Promenade which was the star...the jewel in the crown in its day. But look at it now - it's run down, there's nobody here. We have a sewage pipe that goes out about 200 yards from the wall here, and it's broken apparently, and you get all sorts of sewage and rubbish flowing up on the beach. It's not a place that people can bring children any more. There's a lot of things have to be done.

It's pretty obvious from the state of the promenade here. There's holes everywhere, there's cracks. It could be quite dangerous for elderly people, and we get a lot of them here. They fall down one of these, twist an ankle, break a leg, break a hip. It's just not right. Something has to be done about maintaining the promenade.

This is the paddling pool. It's been like this as long as I've been here, at least 10 years. It's never been maintained, it's never been cleaned. Twice a year at the high tide, with the prevailing winds it fills and empties twice a day. It leaves all the detritus from the sea there. It must be a health hazard for the children that do come down here and play, and there's quite a few at times, even local children. Visiting children? Who knows. I mean, I wouldn't bring my children here.

JEANNE COSSAR: I'm actually a native of Dunoon. I love coming home, but when you come into the town centre it's a real disgrace. And I don't how, or what people do when they actually come here as tourists. I go home and see the family and friends. But to see people coming here arriving on buses, I feel sorry for them.

EUAN: The town of Trim, 35 miles north of Dublin. There's no mountains, there's no dramatic seascape. There's not even a championship golf course. And, three years ago there was no tourism either. But all that has changed. Tim O'Brien runs a restaurant and café in the shadow of Trim Castle, used as a backdrop in the film Braveheart. He's set up business here to take advantage of a massive government cash injections designed to put Trim firmly on the tourist trail.

TIM O'BRIEN(Restaurant owner): The tourism didn't exist five years ago when I first came up round these parts. The Castle was here, and you'd have the odd tourism trekking by car, and they'd have a look on the outside, take a few shots and they were gone again. The Castle does an awesome visual thing when you come into town. But that was it, there was nothing to hold them here. There have been huge leaps forward - and the potential still hasn't been affected.

EUAN: Trim is typical of many small towns in Ireland that have benefited from government help. In Scotland, the tourist board has an annual budget of £24m. The Irish Tourist Board gets £200m, almost 10 times the Scottish figure. And that investment has paid off. Visitor numbers have increased by 10% every year.

ALEX GIBSON (Tourism Lecturer): Tourism is centre stage in Ireland. We have a full Ministry of Tourism, and that has been strengthened in recent years. So, I think that tourism is centre stage here, the Tourism Ministry has been very, very effective in leveraging funds from both the European Union and from the Exchequer - funding for tourism projects. And, I think that that commitment at government level is one that has permeated right down to every level in tourism here.

EUAN: So why is there that commitment, why is it so important?

ALEX GIBSON: Well, tourism is very important. If you look at the bare statistics you can see that it is a big contributor to the economic success of Ireland. The Celtic tiger is part built on tourism. For example, in the last 10 years about one in every five jobs in the economy has been created in the tourism sector, and it contributes to that seven per cent of gross national product.

EUAN: The Irish Government's commitment to tourism is perhaps typified by the whole approach to St Patrick's Day. Traditionally held on 17 March, the event was devastated by the outbreak of foot-and-mouth. While the effects linger on in Scotland's half-empty hotels, hotels here in Dublin are stretched to breaking point because they simply moved the whole event, and it's working. There's an estimated million and a half people here for St Patrick's Day celebrations, take two.

ALEX GIBSON: From a PR perspective it's been a masterstroke. It's ensured that all over the world people are covering that fact that the Irish are now moving St Patrick's Day back a couple of months. There has been a debate, incidentally, in Ireland as to when St Patrick's Day festivals should occur. Some advocate that it should be put forward to the back end of the year because the tourist season is already beginning to pick up in March. But for the moment I think it was a masterstroke. I think Ireland and Scotland are in competition, along with places such as rural parts of Britain for example, and Brittany. We are definitely in competition with each other. But we also have some areas where we can collaborate, and that's something that I feel strongly should be explored a little bit more, because in the minds of long haul markets in the States and Asia, there isn't that much distinction made in the mind of the visitor, or the perspective visitor, between the two countries. So, there's scope for co-operation but, yes, it's a competitive battle place out there as well.

EUAN: Much of the success in Ireland has been due to the priority that the government gives to tourism. They have a Department of Tourism run by a minister with a seat on the cabinet. Scotland does have a minister, but it's a junior post, and doesn't come with a cabinet seat.

GERRY DOWDS: If you look at Ireland, their tourism is booming. Why is ours not? The Irish Government is at the heart of what's going on. They're able to get into Europe, get the money, they're able to get private investors and bring it into the development of tourism in Ireland. So the Scottish Executive has to get the right money from Europe, from private investors, from the private economy, and themselves. We need a Minister for Tourism, at least for the next five to 10 years. It needs that, the crisis is so bad. A person who has stature, responsibility, a senior post. And the government itself then has to recognise it can't slope the problem off to the Scottish Tourist Board. It has to take charge of it, and have a proper department within the executive to solve the problems.

EUAN: We asked the Scottish Executive if there were plans to make the tourism minister a senior cabinet post. The reply was short and sweet.

If visitors continue to disappear in such dramatic numbers then there's serious implications for tourism in Scotland. There's a new team at the helm of visitscotland, and confidence is high. There is also a growing feeling that this is their last chance to get it right for tourism in Scotland.

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