On Monday this week, World Tourism Day, Melissa from the team had the great pleasure of meeting with Neil Christison from VisitScotland to discuss all things tourism. Also, keep a look out for the summer round up video from VisitScotland, to read the full interview please read on….
- What is Visit Scotland and what is your job in the organisation?
VisitScotland is the national tourism organisation, responsible for inspiring visitors to come to Scotland from all over the world. We do this by having a world class tourism offering, with a top quality visitor experience.
This experience starts when the visitor is inspired to come to Scotland through marketing, to the transport that brings them to Scotland, to the people they speak to, the places they visit, the accommodation they stay in, the food they eat, and so on. Our job is to work within Scotland to ensure all aspects of this experience are as good as possible.
Our collective aim is working together with industry (through the Scottish Tourism Alliance) to help grow tourism revenue to £5.5 billion by 2020. The strategy that we are all working towards is called Tourism Scotland 2020.
Three of the key departments at VisitScotland that are critical to the success of the organisation are Marketing, Events and Partnerships.
My job as Regional Partnerships Executive is within the Partnerships department and it involves working across the east of Scotland from Moray, Speyside and North Aberdeenshire down through Dundee, Angus & Perthshire, working with key tourism-related stakeholders to help and support them develop their tourism offer in this part of the country. My job is very varied and it involves working with my colleagues across the organisation to provide support with anything from marketing campaigns, to event organisation, training courses, and funding applications. I work with local councils, tourism groups, MSPs, Councillors, tourism businesses and many others.
- How important is tourism to Scotland?
Tourism is hugely important to Scotland’s visitor economy and we welcome almost 15 million visitors every year. This contributes over £11 billion to the Scottish economy.
We talk about the ‘visitor economy’ which means tourism benefits all industries, not just traditional tourism businesses. For example, if a hotel is performing well, this will have a positive knock on affect to the plumber, or the window cleaner, or the event organiser, or the florist, or the accountant, or the butcher, and so on.
Tourism supports almost 300,000 jobs and it is projected to continue to grow year on year, which few other sectors can say. In Dundee & Angus, this is expected to rise considerably given the exciting future the area has in store in 2018 and beyond, with the opening of the world famous V&A Museum of Design and the wider Dundee waterfront, as well as The 147th Open Championships at Carnoustie. Already we have seen major events at Slessor Gardens such as Little Mix; which unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend!
- What got you into the tourism industry?
I have always had a passion for tourism. Having been lucky enough to travel to a lot of foreign destinations growing up, I was always fascinated by the variety and contrast that each destination offered, and I was always very aware that Scotland has one of the best (if not the best) offering of them all. I studied Geography at university and came home every summer to work in the VisitScotland Information Centre in Edinburgh which I thoroughly enjoyed. I did this for 4 summers as well as working in some big hotels such as The Old Course in St Andrews, and after graduating I got a job as a Quality & Tourism Advisor. If you have ever seen ‘the hotel inspector’ on TV, it is not like that! But similar in the sense that there is a team of advisors who would visit hotels, B&B’s, visitors attractions, etc. and help them achieve their desired star rating from 1-5 by providing lots of advice and support. I then moved into the role that I am in now, which I have been in for 3 years.
I have therefore taken the route into tourism that a lot of my colleagues have done, often starting off in the information centre and progressing through the organisation. VisitScotland, like many tourism businesses, are really keen to develop their staff and progress them up the ladder.
We also have many graduate and modern apprenticeship opportunities and many of my colleagues have since gone on to get really good jobs following a graduate or modern apprentice position, either at VisitScotland or within the wider tourism industry.
- What is the best aspect of your job?
I think the best part would be seeing things come to life and come to reality. There are many businesses that I met with on Day 1 and we discussed their vision, and together with my colleagues we helped them reach their desired goals and they are now operating as successful visitor attractions. Examples of this would be Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre and Peterhead Prison Museum, both have smashed their targets for footfall and thousands of visitors each year are having an enjoyable, quality experience visiting them. The same can be said on a bigger scale with the V&A Museum of Design which is coming to life more and more every day.
- What skills or qualifications does someone need to work in the tourism industry?
VisitScotland has many departments offering a wide range of job opportunities, so this is therefore a difficult question to answer. What I would say is that if you have an interest or passion for tourism or have experience in marketing, event management, catering, business management, research, accounts, finance, HR, the list is endless, there will be job opportunities for you in the tourism industry. Given that the tourism sector is increasing year on year with more jobs being created simultaneously, it couldn’t be a better time to think about tourism as a career choice.
We really want to get the message out that you can have a career in tourism through a huge variety of ways. Tourism employment is way broader than simply working in a hotel or a visitor attraction.
A key skill to have nowadays is digital, which younger generations grow up with and are very accustomed to. Digital changes happen almost daily and one of our biggest challenges is to keep up with these. Visitors are now booking everything online and reviewing everything online, so we need to adapt. Instagram has quickly shot up as the key channel to engage with a younger audience, so we have adapted and VisitScotland now have more followers than any other tourism destination in Europe on Instagram. We have a following of 1.5million across all of our social media platforms; Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Good customer service skills are a very important quality to have in this industry. All VisitScotland staff are World Host trained.
- What is your favourite tourist thing to do in Dundee & Angus area?
Dundee and Angus is a really exciting place to be at the moment, with countless things to do. For me personally, I am a keen golfer and love playing some of the Angus courses – my favourite being Carnoustie and I can’t wait for the Open to return next year.
There is also a growing tourism trend that we are finding growing in popularity, and that is ‘Dark Tourism’, which is to do with places associated with tragedy or even death. Not long ago, a company called Dark Dundee formed. They are fantastic, offering thrilling tours of the city – learning about Dundee’s dark and murky past! No wonder they are #1 on Trip Advisor.
- Are you doing anything for World Tourism Day?
Yes, we will be doing lots of social media activity and we are going to release our new YouTube film with our summer round up, so a perfect way to celebrate another successful year in Scotland’s tourism industry!