Tuesday 23 March 2010

"Tourism is Getting its Act Together" (Alledgedly)

According to the STF newsletter, "Jim Mather Minister for EET committee called for a tourism debate in Parliament last wednesday.

The Minister commented 'the industry is getting its act together, very much a leading sector and one that has importance beyond its direct economic proposition.'"

Now I'm not sure whether this is just me having another cynical moment but with the exception of limited pockets of joint marketing and development partnerships and some strong and positive collaborations it can hardly be said that Scotland's tourism industry is getting it's act together.

It is a statement of proposterous hyperbole when all you have to do is type "Scottish Tourism" into Google alerts and watch for the disfunctional, disjointed, disaggregated and duplicated projects, organisations and initiatives across the country.

What there is, is a plethora of projects taken on by positive well intentioned, motivated groups of individuals; creating DMO's, area marketing initiatives, product groupings, online marketing. But what they all have in common is that they are working in isloation; they are not as Mr Mather insists getting "their act together" in anything that even resembles strategic planning.

They are not joined up in any sense and no formal communciation flows exist neither up nor down across the sector.

Of all of the people who should not be making such statements, Mr Mather must surely be one. He can quote every management theory ever applied in business management so the simple concept of Goals Down, Plans Up is not alien to anyone who has listened to him speak around the country. He is an extremely intelligent individual with a very strong vision and apparent desire to effect change. But change needs to be an action not a discussion. And making inane statements about an industry as clearly disjointed as tourism getting its act together does little for either party.

Strategy implementation needs structure. The dismantling of the ATB network was long overdue but it was replaced with informal communications and informal communciations do not lead to co-ordinated implementation. The net result of removing formal communications was fairly predictable and Scotland's now left with a tourism organisation that can, after restructuring, talk more effectively to itself but has forgotten in large part how to absorb inbound communications.

Every time the quote claiming that this initiative or that project is another great example of how Scottish tourism is rising to the challenges of a difficult marketplace there is a counter argument running deep that would state that here we go with another duplicated project using more public funds for narrow local issues. Positive projects not fulfilling their potential abound simply because they are being developed and implemented in isolation from prospective partners across the country.

Council funded initiatives and alliances, Visitscotland Growth Fund projects, SE and HIE investments, Leader money. Lots of public money is being spent of that there can be little doubt. The argument that public money is being spent well or spent wisely is an entirely different proposition.

One thing is for certain, this fragmented public expenditure is not being spent under some grand strategic tourism plan and someone really has to step up to the mark and explain why not?

This may be an industry (it may actually be more of an eclectic group of businesses which sometimes share common markets)but it is likely to be "an industry" which over the next five years will actually face more challenges post recession than during it.

There is NO framework, there is NO clear communications structure, there is NO clear direction, there is NO clear leadership.

Strategic thinking is required to deal with future isses of supply and demand, with changes in international marketing, with product development, with structure and communications, taxation and capital investment, with mis-spending, with the role of councils in tourism, with a whole host of areas relating to tourism and hospitality.

Tourism businesses need a lot more than to be told it's getting its act together.

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