Talking at the Scottish Boat Show yesterday, 12th October, with the very informed Mary MacGregor, Business Administrator of the admirably go-ahead Tobermory Harbour Association, brought a series of critical insights.
Tobermory Harbour Association is to apply for harbour authority status and we were discussing issues from cruise liners to marinas to attitudes to marine tourism.
While Oban did not feature in our discussion, some of what emerged is clearly germane to the future of the fragile local economy of the lovely west coast mainland town.
A group of Oban business folk, with a spectrum of political support at local and national level, have long been proposing the introduction of a transit marina at the town.
Tarbert has benefited from its marina, as have Ardfern, Craobh Haven, Rhu and Portavadie. Campbeltown, which saw the development of its own marina fall prey to other local priorities, intends to see its pontoon network enlarged.
Success is about the right formula in the right place – but one particular element is the key. Size does matter.
Tobermory marina is successful for one major reason – it is big enough and was designed to be so.
Its size lets it earn enough to maintain, reinvest and employ enough staff to make using it a sustainable professional business and a worthwhile and memorable experience for visitors.
It has committed volunteers whose supplementary presence adds to the general sense of helpfulness – and ready access to local knowledge – that visitors value so much.
Unambitious proposals for a minimal pontoon facility and someone who danders down the pontoons to collect the berthing fees are doomed to fail. They may get grant funding to set up such a facility but such outfits cannot earn enough to be able to pay for the unavoidable maintenance and regular reinvestment needed.
Attempts to get a second helping of public money later, to maintain the safety and physical security of the facility cannot succeed where no sustainable business can be demonstrated.
Such a setup cannot justify the berthing fees any ambitious but under specified enterprise would have to charge. As Mary MacGregor says, you have to be able to answer the question: ‘So what do I get for my £40?’
The expertise of the Tobermory Harbour Association, acquired through experience, is vital to Oban, with Argyll and Bute Council on the brink of making a decision on the proposal to establish a walk-ashore transit marina at the town.
It is already apparent how much business and business development the town is missing through the long delays in progressing this proposal.
The Commonwealth Flotilla – a missed opportunity to cry for
Just look at what is coming in 2014 and the extent to which Oban will be unable to benefit from it as fully as it might have been.
Next year, 2014, there is to be a spectacular Commonwealth Games Flotilla, starting in Shetland, mustering as it goes – moving west along the north coast, then south through the Minches, through the Sound of Mull, then south – with the smaller yachts going through the Crinan Canal and the rest round the Mull of Kintyre and into the Clyde.
The plan is to use the James Watt dock a Greenock – but preferably, if pontoon are available, to go on up the river to mark – very directly the launch of the Games.
Something like 400 yachts are expected to be in this once-in-a-lifetime flotilla, bringing together so many of Scotland’s island and coastal cultures.
A logical mustering point would have been Oban, with the flotilla virtually flushed into the Bay at the end of the passage through the Sound of Mull.
But Oban has no facilities to accommodate this so the likelihood is that the majority of the fleet will divert to Dunstaffnage Marina, north of the town.
Oban has no fuelling facilities for yachts in passage – and Argyll and Bute Council – for whatever reason, has been unwilling to countenance the inclusion of onsite fuelling at a potential transit marina. For comparison, look at the service savvy Portavadie Marina, with fuel and water stations on every flight of pontoons.
400 yachts would have refuelled conveniently at Oban. That’s business. They would have taken on supplies there. That’s more business. A handfull of boats may visit as best they can but the majority will not because the facilities they need are not there.
Enterprising local food producers may now consider arranging with Dunstaffnage Marina to have a farmer’s market in residence at the marina for the duration of the flotilla muster.
The presence of the flotilla in Oban Bay would have drawn spectators and the media to the town – again increasing earnings for local businesses. Had the transit marina been in place, Oban might have been in a position next year to welcome this flotilla to a superb facility.
This would have been an immediate benefit to the local economy. More importantly, through the media coverage it would have attracted, it would have established at large the presence and capability of the marina, without spending a penny on marketing it.
An opportunity of this scale and commercial potential will not come again in our lifetime.
However, in settling for the normal progression of things, without the following wind this event would have brought, the town’s business people and/or the council must summon genuine wisdom to support what decision they make on the proposed transit marina.
Social media and maximising benefit from cruise liner visits
The conversation with Mary MacGregor became a three-way one with Mike Story. CEO of Argyll and the Isles Tourism, joining in.
Looking at the use of social media, it is important to understand that facebook is a potentially powerful marketing tool in spreading information – but cannot double as a website.
facebook is intrinsically unable to provide structured information of the sort that is a key element of people’s information needs.
What we are seeing today is a tendency to think that all you need is a facebook page. This may be enough for essentially internal community communications and for broadcasting upcoming events but it is seriously inadequate in furthering the spectrum of business interests.
If used strategically, Twitter is in many ways more versatile – as is obvious in a suggestion made by Mike Story and included below.
Maximising the value of cruise ship visits
Both Tobermory and Oban have had a good summer with an increase in the number of cruise liners booked in for 2014.
Argyll and the Isles Tourism has met with representatives of the cruise sector to establish how best the interests of the local economy might be more systematically supported in such visits.
There is an issue of competition.
When liners come in to a set destination during a cruise, pre-arranged tours for passengers are pre-booked. The cruise lines earn commission from this business and so are understandably reluctant to support advance information for passengers of local services which might compete with their own arrangements.
However, they are happy with information on what people might expect to see and do in walking along the street.
Mike Story had a particularly neat insight here. He suggested that local businesses with, say, special offers or opportunities or events, might simply use Twitter to announce them, using hashtag with the name of the cruise ship – as in ‘#Serenissima’ – so that passengers coming ashore and logging in to Twitter, as so many do, would get the Twitter feed coming through on these announcements.
Local tourism groups would naturally keep their members informed of imminent arrivals – with the rest being up to the initiative and imagination of local businesses.
One thing is imperative. With the richness and variety of Argyll’s natural resources supporting sailing, cruising, diving, sea kayaking, marine wildlife tours, coastal rowing, surfing, sailboarding and coasteering – we must do everything we can to harness these resources into service businesses to grow our economy, our expertise and the jobs we can sustain.