AITC responds to the loss of Scottish hotels and major UK travel firms

COVID-19 has impacted every corner of society and the tourism industry has been one of the worst hit.

The collapse of Shearings and others is of deep concern but they could be the first of many, and the focus has to be on resilience and adaptation in these testing times.

In terms of what could replace this loss, we need to fully understand what the market is seeking, which will be further crystalised with this pandemic creating a new norm - as people’s response to travel, tourism and leisure will change.

The decline of the coach market was already being evidenced. Trends and insights from VisitScotland have demonstrated the market is shifting and any response therefore needs to appeal to what the market is seeking. 

In a response to the Dunoon Observer, Chair of AITC, Iain Jurgenson added;

"Some of the very important investments that have been taking place in Argyll were already responding to these new trends – Drimsynie and Hunter’s Quay as well as the Burgh and Queen’s Halls and new businesses like Wreckspeditions.

The Heart & Soul of Scotland campaign work we did with Glasgow and Rail & Sail with CalMac and Scotrail are other good examples of responding to and also seeking to influence consumer demand.

"The hard work of Dunoon Presents over recent years with its sport and music events programme has really helped change people’s perceptions of the area and position it as a serious outdoor activity and leisure destination.

The Dunoon Project is seeking to regenerate the town on the back of this outdoor and active market and although the current crisis will inevitably stall things – the ambition is exactly right and I would urge the community to think even bigger and look at what other initiatives can help with this repositioning."

"In terms of strategy, we as the Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO) for Argyll have been at the coal face of discussions with Government and STERG (Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group) via the Scottish Tourism Alliance and my fellow director Calum Ross is directly involved in the UK Hospitality input to Westminster and Holyrood Governments. I also sit on the Argyll & Bute Economic Resilience Forum chaired by HIE and we are focused on recovery strategy.

Strategic planning is underway at a national level and here in Argyll - but a lot still remains unknown and it is vital that any strategic response for tourism in Argyll is set in the context of government guidance and is made available as soon as this is provided. STERG published their full framework just on Friday and we are in the midst of devising our response. 

We are currently in the respond phase and have various mechanisms in place signposting businesses to support available, working with sector partners on businesses falling through the gaps in support and have a business WhatsApp group which has been active since the middle of March. Many Cowal businesses are on this and many more could be.

My firm advice on specific steps at this stage is everyone should work together in this crisis and pool all the resources we have available – and have one consistent message for visitors, businesses and communities. We will set the tourism strategy and seek to define a local response in each area of Argyll and need as many businesses and the communities to engage in this and own it. AITC has been held up as an exemplar in collaboration and now is the time to prove the value of this. For businesses who are unaware get in touch – we are just opening up our model to direct membership in response to demand. 

We have held annual summit events for businesses across Argyll and a mini summit every year in Cowal which is always well attended. Helen our local agent is easily contactable and quick to respond. We are working on the strategy and will publish when the full guidance is available but not before as confusion will be our worst enemy.

We will continue to support individual businesses where we can and will signpost any new support as it becomes available. We will also focus significant effort on product development and campaign activity linked to the new norm and based on resource we have in place. West Coast Waters, Taste of Place Trails and active travel are three strategic priorities we have resource to progress and we see as central to recovery which will play to our strength being so close to the central belt and the domestic market. 

Wild About Argyll is the place brand and consumer face of AITC – on the web and social media and also all our campaign activity."

"Visit Cowal is our local member and is the destination group which local businesses can join for networking and to deliver in- destination activity including the area map published each year.

We work closely with all our local groups and also organisations like Dunoon Presents. When you strip things back Dunoon and Cowal have got some sound foundations and strong ambition in place which will stand the area in good stead for recovery."

"Businesses – old and new - were already responding to emerging trends which we believe will be even stronger post COVID-19 and to ensure we rise out this crisis we need everyone in Cowal and across Argyll to get their shoulder behind the same mill stone.

We are devising the strategy working with partners and will put our heart and soul into achieving all that we set out – that’s the way we have worked since 2012. But we will achieve so much more if everyone – businesses and community - align and grasp the bigger picture.

We are going to be facing a fiercely competitive staycation market and our focus has to be on the visitor and their needs and wants and ensuring as we appeal to them that we act responsibly and with our many communities interests to the fore."

Notes to Editor:

Evidence of tourism performance in Argyll in recent years can be view here 

STERG Action Plan, published 22 May 2020 – Point 13 details, a national tourism recovery taskforce will be set up shortly.