I read with great interest the contribution of Bob Downie from The Royal Yacht Britannia to the Tourism Committee of The Scottish Parliament where his comments questioning the long term effects of Homecoming 2009 seemed to cause apoplexy amongst some.
His thurst was very clear and succinct in my mind and was simply stating the obvious to anyone who is invovled in the "industry" that is tourism and hospitality.
“I think it’s quite handy that it’s happening when it’s happening, but in terms of next year and the year after, in that sense it’s almost a distraction from addressing the issues in Scottish tourism,” he said.
Mr Downie's comments focussed on his worries that shortfalls in the quality of the Scottish product will not be offest by the increased focus on the marketing of the Scottish product. While that is nundoubtedly true to an extent there remains a need for destination marketing of the country at a generic level while the undoubted ills in quality are addressed simultaneously. (There are also arguments to be made that it's not only quality on its own that's the issue but quantity; in a very unstable imperfect market the imbalance between an over supply of product can surely drive down the long term reinvestment levels and thereby quality - for another blog perhaps)
In short he thought that Homecoming was a series of welcome events but was a distraction for the long term ills telling the committee, “Homecoming will come and go with the tide – there’s still the same problems on the beach.” Perfectly put.
And that is the key to this. Even from a marketing perspective; so much has been wrapped up in the Homecoming parcel you'd almost think it played part of a Government strategy on Tourism when no such tourism strategy exists. The comment from the government spokesman tells its own story.
The spokesman responded to the criticisms by saying, “ We and the industry are forward planning for the years ahead, and looking at every opportunity to further improve our tourism product and our huge drive to attract visitors will continue well beyond 2009. Our aim is to increase tourism revenue by 50% by 2015.
It is right to seize this landamrk as a chance to celebrate our literature and language, culture and history, our national sport, our national drink, and our many innovations, with the millions
of people around the world who have a connection or affinity with Scotland. This will be the start of a lasting legacy. When visitors experience all that our fantastic country has to offer, they will come back time and time again."
You know for those involved in the industry to continually see such bland over statements made for political purposes must be galling and on this occasion the sympathies do lie with the marketing team at VS. The government threatened to take tourism more seriously than their predecessors but as yet have failed.
Planning for the years ahead? If this means targetting the Chinese market as they are doing this week then that is certalnly years ahead but what about budgeting, reigning in duplicated council expenditures, product development, communicating with the sector?
Increase tourism revenue by 50%? This deserves a whole article in itself and why a newspaper journalist didn't have the mind to challenge the use of a target that was set so high even before an economic crisis ensued is beyond me. It is incredulous and not to anyone's credit that they keep rolling out this ludicrous economic target to an industry that will just stop listening to such whimsical fairy tales. It certainly does not constitute strategic planning that's for sure.
It is right to seize this landmark (the 250th anniversary of Burns birth) as a chance to celebrate. For sure it is, as it also is for Guinness to celebrate the 250th anniversary of their product in the same year. Do you think Guinness have built their five year plan around an anniversary. Rhetorical question of course.
Event marketing must be built around a part of a detailed marketing strategy that is built around the quality of the product, the value pricing of our proposition and the attention to the infrastructure that is required to facilitiate the travel that goes hand in hand with hsopitality bednights. Sounds a bit like the old Four P's of may old marketing lectures - probably passe by now - but we cannot build the hospitality sector on Homecoming, a time based promotion, no more no less, that as Bob Downie rightly pointed out has actually little legacy beyond 2009.
Promotional offers do not in themselves resolve long term business issues and the vaccuum that is 2010 is sucking us very quickly towards its centre.