Driving a Rural Development Strategy to boost Tourism in a Digital Scotland

A digital tourism strategy for Scotland's rural communities

Our Cities and key established Tourist destinations such as our Major Cities, Isle of Skye, Castles, Museums, Art Galleries, Kelpies, Golf Courses and Major Festivals are well marketed and are already recognised major attractions Globally.

It’s time for a new unique approach.

A Digital Tourism orientated Organization working at a Rural Level inspiring Rural Development to drive Tourism in Scotland.

How many Scottish Villages and small towns are little Gems? Needing some Aspiration and Ambition to realise the positive contribution they could make to Tourism, which is so vital to Scotland’s economy.

So many of our rural Villages hold History, Heritage, Cultural, Fauna, Flora and other natural attractions that the vast majority of Tourists never actually see. I have watched on the side of the A84 Trunk Road North watching as many as 20 or more Tour Buses per hour, packed to the gunnels with Tourists, travelling from Edinburgh or Glasgow to Oban, Fort William or beyond. The visitors sit in awe staring out of their steamed up windows looking at our magnificent scenery, our lochs, Mountains and rural communities, without knowing what they are missing as they pass us by. The real Scotland is also important and is massively undersold.

This point came home quite starkly one day when I received a phone call from a couple from Perth wanting to Holiday for a few days with friends in Strathyre. I found this strange and even the accent did not click with me that they were calling from Perth in Australia. I ran an outdoor activity company at the time and they wanted to see the “Real Scotland” as described on my simple web site. To my surprise, they wanted to come in mid-January – Not exactly main Tourist Season, but such is the year-round appeal of Scotland. We had recently tidied up the village to give it some kerb appeal as component of our on-going “bottom-up” Development Strategy, being part of our Smart Village initiative through Digital Scotland.

Our Australian guests had a simple Agenda:

  1. Mountains,
  2. Lochs,
  3. A walk in the Snow
  4. Good old Scottish Banter with Live Music in a traditional Pub where the landlord does not throw you out for the odd cuss or having one pint too many.

They stressed they did not want a Bus tour that missed out the “best bits of Scotland”

They sent a deposit to assure me they were serious and over they came. I must be honest and say they did actually visit Edinburgh, the Castle, The High Street, Glasgow and Stirling. However they did arrive and we organised B&B rooms at the Village Inn.

First day, having pre-warned them to have the right outdoor clothes, I arranged through a small Tour company friend, to take them to see Loch Lomond, – They walked in the snow all the way to the summit of Ben Lomond and enjoyed an even better view of the loch and all four returned safely to Strathyre.

With objectives 1, 2 and 3, achieved, all that was left was the Pub event. They were early for Burns Night but this did not stop us piping them into the pub thanks to young Ceana our local piper.

They had the recitals; the Burns Supper with the Haggis piped in and with some traditional music laid on by my friends in Balvaig,

We had a fantastic night, they were great company and we had them form their own band with our instruments and they sang their hearts out. Ceana provided free lessons on the bagpipes to round off a great night.

They had another day locally, discovering the hidden wonders of Strathyre, spotting our wildlife, wandering our many tracks and trails and taking dozens of photos in the wonderful scenery.

We had enjoyed their company and the Auzzie banter and were surprised when they genuinely stated that although they had enjoyed the visits to the Cities and the historic attractions, they really liked the 3 Objectives of Lochs, Snow and Mountain but the highlight of their holiday was the time spent in Strathyre with the real people of Scotland, which they said gave them memories they would cherish. They said this had made their visit to Scotland such a wonderful experience.

This is an example of the rewards awaiting many Rural Communities that can be developed to inspire the Aspiration and Ambition to exploit such opportunities. This Bottom-Up Strategy has wonderful benefits:

  1. It empowers Rural Communities to look at the kerb appeal of their Community and if it is tired or run down as we once were, to do something positive to enhance it through people power this is the first step with immediate, sometimes amazing, impact.
  2. It creates a common purpose and restores pride in the Community it prepares the community with the right mind set and focus to create the right environment to appeal to visitors.
  3. It shows communities that Tourism is vital, not only to Scotland but to their own local economy when the Tourists start to arrive and contribute.
  4. It sometimes needs an offer of help to realise the History, Heritage, and local attractions that often exist right on their doorstep and they have just not realised it yet – We can help them discover this.
  5. In order to attract Tourists to enjoy this new unique experience of the Real Scotland, a Digital platform is required to professionally present the new attractions. This fits with the Scottish Government aims on Scotland’s Digital Economy but reaching out to the Rural Communities as much as local Business as they are also part of this strategy.
  6. This is an innovative approach where Rural Development drives Tourism and Tourism drives Rural Development.
  7. In order to achieve this new innovative approach, we encourage Partnerships and Collaboration and through time, this drives new much needed employment opportunities in Rural Communities.
  8. This initiative is measurable and achievable with a dedicated team of experienced consultants working with communities to deliver agreed targets in growth in new Tourism streams.
  9. The developing communities with adequate training can take over the Tourism activity management as a sustainable process with on-going support provided as required, through our team partnering with Visit Scotland and other stakeholders.
  10. The initiative is already in action with a proven working model showing this bottom up approach works and compliments the need to drive Scotland’s Digital and Tourism Economy strategies.
  11. The Initiative with adequate funding, can roll out Strategically, targeting suitable communities one Community at a time and evolve as Community engagement carries the momentum forward, working to a deliverable timescale and revitalised local Development Plans, many of which, have been dormant for many years.
  12. Local Businesses offering accommodation, food and drink and local transport operators will be part of the collaborative drive to achieve these goals safeguarding employment and opening opportunity for new job creation.

The above strategic plan delivers all of the requirements of the Visit Scotland Growth Fund Campaign.

“Engaging with the people of Scotland to deliver:”

  • A strong digital focus and creation of digital content  √
  • Strong strategic alignment √
  • An innovative approach √
  • Effective partnerships and collaboration √
  • Achievable and measurable growth targets √
  • A sustainable approach √
  • Project viability and deliverability √

By Kenny Higgins, Consultant Digital Scotland

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