Friday 4 June 2010

VisitScotland Changes?

I've resisted the desire to commit words over the past few days which would have resulted in a knee jerk reaction about everything that has been said and written since last weekend's revelation that Phillip Riddle's coat was hanging on a less than reinforced coat hook.
What is required now is not another navel gazing review of the organisation that has by default become the watchword for tourism and hospitality in Scotland but instead a root and branch appraisal of what is required to fulfill the potential of what is described as an industry but is actually a collection of businesses whose interests sometimes overlap.

The Scotsman's leader comment today was disappointing.
"WHAT is the big plan for Scottish tourism? How should the publicly funded VisitScotland lead change in the sector? And what should be the priority for VisitScotland – short-term campaigns or long-term strategy?
These are the issues that lie behind the clumsily handled news of the departure of chief executive Philip Riddle."

The opening question has validity and not only needs asked but more importantly answered. The second two unfortunately miss or perhaps even highlight the issue. VisitScotland has become seen as synonymous with Scottish Tourism and it's not. Scottish tourism is not about a bureaucratic centralised organisation and VisitScotland cannot and should not be seen to be leading change. That must be the role of businesses stepping up to the plate to meet the challenges.

As for the priority of VisitScotland? Well it must be too divest itself of all of the roles that it should not be involved in.Destination marketing has changed for ever and the recognition has not fully seeped through the ranks that they are still involved in things they shouldn't be. Tourism is fundamentally an export business and its marketing and development is no different - in broad terms at least - to any other sector trying to develop its exports.

The big picture questions about the need for such a large organisation and what in actual fact it should still be taking responsibility for is actually quite simple to analyse.

What do they do currently? Could that job be done more efficiently and effectively by someone else in either another public sector organisation or by the private sector themselves? Quality Assurance? Exhibition and Event Management? Online Room Sales? Training and Development? Website Sales to SMEs? Tourist Information Centres? Printed Material Advertising Sales?

Anyone who has worked in the areas of hospitality and tourism is well aware that the curse of the "industry" is perpetual duplication and an inherent inability to collaborate properly. It leads to investment in displacing visitors from one destination to another and therefore deflects from attracting new markets. This is not VisitScotland's fault directly but Phillip Riddle did oversee on his watch the restructuring of Scottish Tourism; a restructuring that has lead to a VisitScotland that communicates with itself better but has failed to communicate externally its aims and objectives.

VisitScotland remains as fragmented as the industry it purports to serve. It has some superbly strategic and visionary individuals within its walls who provide a superb service to Scottish tourism but even the most ardent defenders of VisitScotland must be wondering whether they may be able to perform those tasks better in a different environment.

Public sector supported destination marketing has still theoretically got a place in the marketing and product mix that is Scotland but is it different from whisky, or medical research or education? Does it need a separate organisation any more? Would it work better under as a specialist export division within a Scottish Executive department or SDI even?

The real fear is that this change in Chief Executive is just another political dogfight and little more. A change of leader rather than a change of direction? God help us.

Whatever the outcomes of the current infighting, we have to stop talking about VisitScotland and start talking about Scotland. All too often it appears that marketing campaigns are promoting the brand of VisitScotland or derivative and not the destination.

It really does have to change Mr Mather.

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