A new growth plan for tourism in the north east aims to make Aberdeen city and shire into “Scotland’s leading visitor destination” in the next eight years.
The plan was produced on behalf of the region’s destination management organization (DMO) VisitAberdeenshire following a “huge” consultation exercise earlier in the year which mapped the results onto key market trends.
The “Framework for Growth” refrains from setting “big-number” targets and instead has devised “meaningful performance indicators” on growth in visitor numbers and spend, growth of tourism businesses as well as increased awareness of the region as a destination and “intention to visit”.
For VisitAberdeenshire’s chief executive Chris Foy, the region becoming a “leading destination” is about “setting the pace” of growth in target areas, including seeing visitors staying longer and spending more, delivering “unique, high-quality” visitor experiences and going “ above and beyond” customer expectations.
He said: “We have this aspiration to be setting the pace in Scotland. ‘Leading’ doesn’t mean the most visitors or most money spent – we aren’t setting out to be Edinburgh but setting the pace others can follow.”
The respondents to the consultation highlighted “more market awareness” of the region as being a clear need, as well as public transport infrastructure, Mr Foy said.
VisitAberdeenshire typically works with a database of around 700 business in the region.
In the last year the group engaged 491 of these in seminars or workshops, and has provided one-to-one support to 282 businesses.
“We help drive demand through our marketing and working with tour companies and travel media, but we also help local businesses meet that demand by upskilling them,” said Mr Foy.
Accessibility in tourism a ‘massive opportunity’
One of the major enablers of tourism growth is catering for an aging population with disposable income to spend.
“This is not simply about people in wheelchairs – disabilities come in all shapes and sizes,” he said.
He said the target demographic for accessible tourism “spent their youth in the 1980s and 90s getting around”.
He added: “What a great opportunity for us as a destination if our hotels, attractions, experiences are geared towards people who are 65 and over.
“It’s a big challenge but a massive opportunity.”
What about cruise ships?
He added that VisitAberdeenshire has “got the gang back together” to address the cruise ship market as the long-delayed £400 million Port of Aberdeen south harbor expansion completes next year with capacity to welcome larger vessels.
He said his organisation, the Port of Aberdeen, the local authorities, Aberdeen Inspired are “collectively working together so that the repuational as well as financial opportunity from cruise is met and taken advantage of”.
He also highlighted that golf is a “great asset” for the region , adding: “Last time it was measured it was somewhere in the region of £24m value towards the visitor economy every year.”
No Eurovision – yet
The publication of the strategy comes in the wake of bitter disappoinment after Aberdeen failed to make the short list to host the Eurovision song contest next year.
He said events like the recent Brewdog AGM and the upcoming Tour of Britain cycle race offer the opportunity to showcase the region.
“Within the strategy, we have cited events and festivals as an opportunity for tourism growth,” he said.
“Not only do events increase awareness of our destination but they also provide an immediate call to action to visit.
“The Brewdog AGM last week, and the Tour of Britain cycle race next month are great examples of where the region is already excelling as a host destination.”
VisitAberdeenshire said publication of its plan should provide a “focus for investment and innovation by any organization with an interest in the visitor economy in the north-east”, while key partners and experts will be consulted to develop further action plans to achieve the targets set by the end of the decade.
Paul Macari, head of planning and economy at Aberdeenshire Council, said: “Pre-pandemic, the annual direct tourism expenditure across Aberdeenshire contributed more than £730m to the local economy.
“With some 1,400 diverse businesses supporting around 18,500 jobs, our region has demonstrated it is a real powerhouse when it comes to offering a superb offering to visitors to the north-east.
“Our region boasts a wealth of beautiful towns and villages which continue to offer a wide range of retail, hospitality and leisure businesses and activities for both residents and visitors alike to enjoy all year round.
“After such a challenging time for all these businesses during the past two years, I am confident that this new strategy from VisitAberdeenshire will significantly focus even greater attention on the region and help us showcase the wealth of services, attractions and events we offer throughout the years.”
Aberdeen City Council operational delivery convener, Councilor Miranda Radley said: “Tourism is important to Aberdeen and the north-east’s economy and is one of the markets which has been identified as a growth sector for our area.
“We welcome the new framework and hope it helps tourism businesses in the city and wider area.”
Jennifer Craw, chief executive of Opportunity North East (ONE), which funds the regional DMO, said: “Tourism has a vital role to play in delivering a diversified and resilient economy in north east Scotland.”
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[Tourism boss pledges to make north-east leading visitor destination]