Six ways tourist businesses can prepare for tomorrow’s world

9th May 2018

I’m just back in the office after Scottish Tourism Month, jam-packed with industry events. My second favourite presentation was given at the Scottish Tourism Signature ConferenceGraeme Codrington gave six tips to help our industry prepare for tomorrow’s world today:

1. Switch on Your Radar

Graeme made the point that it is important to know and discuss what is going on in Scotland, and the world within your business.

Recent international marketing campaigns are excellent sources of information on our country and the expertise it holds. Check out the @VisitScotBTU Twitter feed which has examples of innovation from all over Scotland. The YouTube channel for Scotland is Now includes some fantastic, short videos showcasing progressive, pioneering and creative practice.

Like many of our tourists, I find visiting exhibitions is a great way learn and enjoy yourself at the same time. I’m especially looking forward to visiting Glasgow Science Centre’s upcoming interactive exhibition Idea #59. This will look at how new technology will impact future generations and has been developed in partnership with a range of stakeholders including Interface and Scotland’s Innovation Centres.

Society Now magazine and of course our Interface e-newsletter and blogs give you quick and enjoyable reads on findings from university and industry collaborative projects.

2. Be Curious

Graeme encouraged delegates at the Scottish Tourism Signature Conference to be curious.

As highlighted in a recent Interface blog by Claire Bereziat of Glasgow Caledonian University, food is a crucial aspect of the visitor experience. Young entrepreneurs are dictating changes in the volatile restaurant, café and bar sector. Vegan and free-from options have been identified by the industry as key trends for this year. In terms of production, Scotland has a booming gin, soft drink and craft brew sector. I am proud that Interface connected  Bon Accord to expertise from Abertay University to develop its new natural range of soft drinks. Dunnet Bay Distillers have worked with Heriot-Watt University, University of Aberdeen, University of Strathclyde and University of the Highlands and Islands on many aspects of their development and marketing of Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka. Dunnet Bay Distillers have cleverly combined production with tourism and have capitalised on the boost of visitors through the NC500.

In the run up to The Year of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters I am very curious about marine tourism and the wider Blue Economy. Scotland’s Marine Tourism Conference 2018 gave a warm welcome to a delegation sharing their experience of developing a destination approach to marine tourism in rural Sweden. The West Coast Marine Tourism Collaboration is a current initiative including seven Destination Management Organisations on the west coast of Scotland, with support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise. They are working to understand their current marine tourism assets and spark new products in readiness for 2020.

There is much attention on the world’s largest outbound tourism market- the Chinese market. With Scotland’s first direct air route due to start in June, China Ready can help you start your preparation.

3. Experiment More

A third piece of advice from Graeme was for tourism businesses and destinations to experiment more to see what works.

Our Interface Multiparty Competition has funded innovative ideas in the Creative Industry, Food and Drink and Tourism Sectors. One of the successful projects involved two universities and five visitor attractions coming together to pilot a multi-institutional product aimed to suit the needs of senior visitors. Partnership with Edinburgh Napier University and Heriot-Watt University enabled a trial which could evidence benefits to the over 75 year old participants and the demand for this type of product from a growing consumer group.

Transport of people and goods is so crucial for the tourism sector. Have you heard of MaaS Scotland, a network to encourage new and alternative ways to travel everywhere in Scotland? They believe in rethinking mobility in a way that is smarter, faster and greener than ever before. Scotland’s first MaaS pilot, NaviGoGo is now at the stage of sharing its findings and next steps and the MILL in Dundee will test out even more ideas.

4. Learn New Skills

Graeme also promoted life-long learning to aid employability prospects in a changing world.

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs are free online courses available for anyone to enrol. Some of these are developed by Scottish universities, including University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh.

Professional associations offer many opportunities. For example, Women in Tourism members can benefit from mentoring sessions from a group of business women from the tourism sector and beyond.

Hospitality Industry Trust awards scholarships and bursaries every year. Their latest round included an Innovation Scholarship for anyone in business that seeks international insight into artificial intelligence, technology and future trends in marketing, travel or energy sources. 

5. Embrace Different Opinions

Graeme concentrated on Millennials in his presentation, but there are lots of diverse voices to listen to from amongst our colleagues and staff, our customers and partner organisations. 

Inclusive tourism is hugely worthwhile from a social and economic viewpoint. I am constantly impressed by the work of VisitScotland and local groups like Accessible Fife and Glasgow Welcomes to increase knowledge and inspire the tourism sector. The disabled access review website, Euan’s Guide is going from strength to strength. And Neatebox is a fantastic Scottish SME with a range of products including Welcome which helps any type of visitor service team be proactive in helping visitors with additional needs.

6. Confront your Limiting Orthodoxies

Graeme’s last piece of advice encouraged people to question how they do things and find new approaches.

Interface were involved in the Edinburgh Tourism Innovation Challenge which gained access to tourism datasets to explore and inspire. 120 data and tourism enthusiasts and professionals took part in a fun and productive weekend. In teams they created solutions to tourism challenges including dispersal, seasonality and environmental sustainability. A joint event within Scottish Tourism Month and DataFest18 gave us an update on a few of the projects making good progress @meetwotravel @95SocialUK @PlayQuestNative @ForgePulse

Interface are also involved in supporting more tourism industry- related applications from the public sector in the Can Do Innovation Challenge Fund. This encourages open innovation and provides 100% funding to find and develop solutions with the private sector. For Scotland, it is a new way of working and public bodies are encouraged to bring forward challenges with no market solution, including where solutions could benefit them, businesses, tourists and locals.

A concern I hear often amongst tourism businesses is lack of connectivity. Interface recently connected up an Argyll-based telecoms engineering company Craine Communications with an expert in renewable energy from Heriot-Watt University to develop a power solution for their masts. These masts relay the broadband signal wirelessly via radio links and to bring a reliable internet network in the most hard-to-reach areas and provide superfast broadband access to the last 5-10% of our rural population. All the time Interface is helping businesses find new approaches and new solutions through working with academic partners.

So that’s six pieces of advice from Graeme and some further inspiration from me. But back to my favourite presentation of Scottish Tourism Month. This was organised by the worthy winners of this year’s ‘Working Together for Tourism’ Scottish Thistle Award, VisitArran. At their Scottish Tourism Month event I heard a presentation by a group of pupils from Brodick Primary School on plastic waste. Why have I picked this as my favourite? The young people learnt about this topic in detail and spoke clearly, with confidence and with humour to share their learning. Listening to their voices, their audience included a mix of island business people from tourism, hospitality and food and drink production, many of whom had their radar switched onto this issue already. Their presentation, and the discussion which followed, prompted more curiosity, calls to confront orthodoxies in practice, experiment more with possible solutions, and work inclusively on this common challenge and opportunity. Without realising it, these Arranites were putting into practice Graeme’s advice.