A beaver seemed to have escaped from Knapdale and somehow met up with the tallest tree [from Ardkinglas?], conspiring to capture a visitor to the Argyll and the Isles Tourism precinct [AITC don't do boring old 'stands'] at the VisitScotland Expo which opened at the SECC today.
The team manning the purple polo-shirt precinct were on manic form. They completed 90 pre-booked appointments with tourist industry buyers before lunchtime, Gavin Dick, Manager of Inveraray Jail said, with a twinkle in his eye, that he had personally done 80 of them.
Then Mike Story, CEO of this marketing cooperative [left above], knocked off a 20 minute interview for CNN Travel.
Just a couple of days ago he had spent the entire weekend leading familiarisation visits ['fam' trips] for leading international travel writers to Oban and its Seafood Temple; to Inveraray Castle, where the Duke and Duchess gave them all a cup of tea in their kitchen; and to Loch Fyne Oysters where Virginia Sumsion laid on a spectacular tasting of smoked fish products in the restaurant’s new private dining room.
According to Mike, the trip was a knockout experience for writers who have seen it all – except what Argyll can conjure.
At Expo, the Argyll businesses were reporting a lot of attention and interest from the BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India, China], the economies that are the new engine of the global economy.
Mount Stuart, Machrihanish Dunes, and Food From Argyll reported a lot of Russian interest. Oban and Lorn Tourism’s Linda Battison and Lead Councillor for Tourism, Louise Glen Lee, found whisky a great bonding agent with the Russian buyers. Louise, with her expertise in malt whisky, had a load of fun with them and is looking eastwards for her next holiday. Louise also introduced us to Ledaig, a dram from the Tobermory distillery with a great ‘bonfire’ smoky peatiness. She dismissed our helpless mispronunciation of ‘Ledig’ and taught us the right one – ‘Leejig’ [worth sharing with other ignoramuses].
Several Argyll representatives reported a lot of interest from the Middle East, from Asia and from Scandinavia.
Tourism buyers from the BRIC nations coming here in increasing numbers in search of new experiences to add to their portfolios must prompt judiciously timed proactive initiatives from here on their home ground. Argyll and the Isles Tourism have this in their sights and will work towards it. Certainly the earlier that productive relationships are built with these powerful economies and their interest westwards, the deeper such relationships will be.
CalMac – an essential part of the tourism offer of the entire west coast – had a strong presence at the exhibition. High end activity tourism operators like Portavadie Marina were there to consolidate and build their distinctive current market. Virginia Sumsion was dispensing oysters alongside the Inveraray Castle stand.
Alan Moody from the Putechan Hotel in west Kintyre reported plans to build a learning area to support the interests of the West Kintyre Stargazers ,who have made the hotel a Dark Sky spot. Stuart Green from Argyll and Bute Council wore his purple Argyll and the Isles Tourism shirt and immersed himself in working with the visiting buyers.
Two new – and clever, group brandings were in the Argyll and the Isles precinct – Amazing Stories and Nature’s Paradise. The first is an umbrella for the entire heritage sector; the second for the gardens, woodlands, nature reserves and wildlife sector. The names are immediate selling points; and the wide embrace of each helpfully demolishes the overly narrow categorisation that obstructs the interests of visitors.
The board of Argyll and the Isles Tourism were endlessly watchful for opportunities, networking in between appointments, part of a team that is growing all the time in its cohesiveness and strategic focus. It is no accident that there are several representatives and members of Argyll and the Isles Tourism playing central roles in the Scottish Tourism Alliance, whose reformed identity and purpose is making it a real force for growth in the Scottish tourism industry.
VisitScotland’s Chair, Dr Mike Cantlay was present in dress kilt, with CEO, Malcolm Roughead [above right], opting for the safe suit.
Speaking of costume, some of the other operators – like Dumfries House, above [with its Argyll connection through its former owners, the Bute famiily] stinted nothing.
Checking out the competition was a good benchmark for Argyll and the Isles Tourism’s presentational presence.
The Isle of Arran – more properly, Ayrshire and Arran – has changed its set-up from last year, this time with a large corner space, open to invasion by visitors from all points. Last year they had an airport check-in style set which does tend to repel boarders. In contrast, Aberdeen City and Shire, whose decidedly anal check-in-desk set we commented on last year, have stuck with what is a bad idea. it creates barriers, behind which the staff on the stand are visually and physically immune to contact with the buyers.
And in contrast to that, the Argyll and the Isles approach, extended since last year in taking even more space, using both sides of the aisle and opening up the spaces on each side, with no intermediate barriers, creates a ‘precinct’ feel people can stroll around, mingle with the representatives, eat, drink and chat. This feels a much richer experience and its confident outgoing friendliness is a major strength.
For next year, we would like to see a physical presence of the activity tourism providers who will drive more development in Argyll – the walkers, the kayakers, the wildife tours, the divers, the sailors… Much of this could be done with a big flat screen and some fabulous film – and by personnel from this part of the sector joining the exhibition team.
We also wonder if it would be worth exploring whether all the Argyll and Bute businesses – like Mount Stuart and Inveraray Castle – might take stands alongside the overall Argyll and the Isles precinct?
There is an argument for the present Expo systems of grouping together all of the ‘heritage’ operators and all of the ‘big house’ operators.
But the all-embracing territorial impact of the total Argyll provision would be very powerful. We feel that this would be of all round benefit.
The individual businesses would have a context their current locations deny them, leaving the experience they can offer their exhibition visitors a thinner one. [And where is Helensburgh?] And Argyll and the Isles would be able to display the spectrum of experiential wealth which is the truth of this quite astonishing place.