"A fleet of Coo Vans hit the road last summer on a mission to inform the masses "…so says VisitScotland
There will be no tourist offices left open in the Uists or Barra under a major shake-up announced by VisitScotland yesterday. (Thursday October 12th)
And the Stornoway and Tarbert offices will remain open until it is decided where the “regional hub” for the Outer Hebrides will be.
There is going to be local consultation about this in the coming months.
The national tourist agency says this cutback – over the next two years - follows a 58% drop in footfall to VisitScotland Information Centres across Scotland in the past decade.
Now two out of three visitors are accessing information online, so a radical approach is being introduced to ensure customer demands are met, VisitScotland said.
The two–year strategy will see a significant increase in the number of channels providing content on places to visit and stay alongside 26 key VisitScotland iCentres in “high-impact locations.”
Offices to close include Castlebay and Lochmaddy. The new ‘regional hubs’ will include Portree and Ullapool. The Lochsboisdale office closed a couple of years ago.
At the same time, around £10m is being invested by VisitScotland each year in digital activity and enhanced information services for visitors.
The VisitScotland Information Centre network will reduce from 65 centres to 26 high impact “regional hubs” over two years but information provision will continue in all locations through partnership arrangements with local visitor attractions, car hire firms, businesses, tourism groups and local tourism experts.
These include Historic Environment Scotland attractions, eight Arnold Clark sites and partnerships with organisations like NC500, Scottish Canals and the Forestry Commission Scotland.
The 26 regional hubs will operate in locations of greatest visitor demand, “providing a cutting edge experience and information about attractions and accommodation to not only the immediate locale, but the wider region as a whole.”
In addition, VisitScotland has recruited more than1500 VisitScotland Information Partners nationally to ensure there is an information touchpoint in every corner of the country.
“From distilleries to Bed and Breakfasts, social enterprises to bakeries, local businesses will be working with the tourism organisation to guarantee that visitors are equipped with the best local knowledge about things to experience in every region.
“With so many relying on smartphones and tablets for information, a big focus of the strategy will be digital communications.
“Annually, visitscotland.com generates 20 million sessions from over 13million users and includes online booking availability, interactive community pages, blogs and a trip planner tool.
In the last 12 months, the redesigned visitscotland.com has delivered 2.7 million referrals worth a potential £560m to businesses (+45% year on year 2016/17).
The VisitScotland online iKnow community currently has over 5000 users and over 7000 trips have been created using the website’s trip planner tool.
Other digital outreach includes innovative partnerships with TripAdvisor, Booking.com and Digital Tourism Scotland.
VisitScotland staff have also been significantly mobilised over the past 18 months enabling knowledgeable advisors to deliver face to face information to every corner of Scotland at events and attractions.
A fleet of Coo Vans hit the road last summer on a mission to inform the masses and in addition VisitScotland delivers outreach at major events with pop-up information hubs.
Lord John Thurso, Chairman of VisitScotland said: “The way visitors access information has changed significantly over the past decade. “With three in four adults now owning a smartphone, a key focus is ensuring our digital communications provide succinct inspirational and informational advice to visitors at every stage of their journey.”
Marc Crothall, Chief Executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance said “The national tourism strategy, Tourism Scotland 2020 identifies both high quality digital services and quality experiences as central to driving tourism forward into the next decade and we must ensure that we are investing in our information provision to highlight fantastic experiences, inspire more visitors than ever before to come to Scotland and make it easier for them to find information they need.
Although there will be fewer VisitScotland Information Centres, we know that there will be many more places for visitors to access information across the country, whether this is online through their greatly enhanced digital platforms and partnerships, the ever-expanding network of tourism ambassadors and businesses who provide local advice or through the improved flagship VisitScotland regional travel hubs.
“We also believe that VisitScotland will manage these changes in a sensitive way, ensuring that alternatives are in place to help manage any local concerns.”
On the same day, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan welcomed the announcement of a new tourism fund for rural Scotland.
The Scottish Government announced the new £6m fund in response to the tourism boom across rural Scotland, and the money will be invested over the course of two years (2018/19 and 2019/20) to help ensure the services and facilities tourists and communities need are provided.
The new fund will support a wide range of improvement projects – such as parking, camping facilities, recycling points and footpath access.
The new fund is expected to launch in early 2018 and will be administered by public sector partners working with local authorities, with input from communities and the industry to identify projects requiring support.
Alasdair Allan MSP said: “The tourist industry is vital to the economy of the Isles and successfully attracts visitors from all over the world each year.
“I have had a series of productive meetings with VisitScotland, Outer Hebrides Tourism and others over the past few weeks talking about tourist infrastructure and about how we can continue to develop what is on offer for our visitors.
“The new £6m Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund will help cater to the very welcome increasing tourist numbers across the Isles.
“Local groups that would like to bid for this funding are welcome to get in touch with me if they need any information.”