I live in Peebles in the Scottish Borders and am always quick to promote the town and the surrounding area both as a place to live and also to visit. Since we moved here it has become a centre for tourist activity. Yes the town’s pretty and it’s lovely to visit on a bank holiday Monday but that’s never going to be enough to sustain local businesses nor does it explain the growth in the sector which we have seen over recent years.
Instead it’s been innovative individuals and businesses which have built my home town into a year round destination. But surely that can’t be right can it? Isn’t innovation about Dolly the Sheep, technology development and scientists in white lab coats? What has innovation got to do with tourism?
Innovation is absolutely right for tourism businesses. In fact I would argue it is essential for the sector right now. Tourism businesses can’t afford to stand still. Visitors are always looking for a different experience and increasingly want to organise their visit online and this is all happening in an increasingly competitive global market place. To keep up with changing trends and to maximise the opportunities technology provides, tourism businesses in Peebles and throughout Scotland need to do things differently, in other words they need to be innovative.
Innovation is about taking ideas (and there have been lots of great ideas in Peebles) and turning them into new products or services or it can be about businesses doing things better to enhance the visitor experience or even to be more efficient, so saving money.
Glentress as a centre for mountain biking, the Tweedlove Bike Festival, the award winning Kingsmuir Guest House and not forgetting the well-established Peebles Hydro Hotel, all have shown how you can take ideas and build on them to grow both an individual business but also the destination.
There is no doubt that being innovative can be a risky business but there are ways to help businesses reduce the levels of risk. While a business operating in the tourism sector might not think of approaching a university for help there is lots they can do to support the innovation journey. Linked by Interface Queen Margaret University worked with a small borders based company, Borders Journeys, and helped them to successfully transform their business by providing them with the evidence they needed to focus their efforts on the ancestral tourism market.
Well, if that is what can be achieved for one business I can only imagine what could be achieved if groups of businesses and academics worked together to solve industry wide challenges, perhaps across a sector such as Events & Festivals or at a destination level. And while QMU are specialists in tourism, the academic expertise could equally well come from one of a wide range of disciplines: digital & ICT, forestry, history & heritage, sports science, economics, agriculture & land management, environmental sciences are just some of those which come quickly to mind.
What are you waiting for Peebles?