Tourism is one of Scotland’s most important industries. It’s been creating jobs and sustaining communities for decades, contributing billions to the Scottish economy.
This year is a golden year for VisitScotland as we turn 50 on 25 July 2019 - the date when the Scottish Tourist Board was created. Over the past 50 years, alongside the wider tourism industry, we’ve helped to position Scotland as a must-visit destination in international and UK markets.
Whilst this is VisitScotland’s own milestone, it’s very much an anniversary to be shared with our industry colleagues and partners. We spoke to Elspeth Sutton, Chairman of BH&HPA (British Holiday & Home Parks Association) Scotland about the changes the sector has seen during 50 years of tourism.
Do you have any interesting stories you can tell of your time in tourism?
I fell into tourism 28 years ago! It was not my chosen career but I haven’t looked back since. It is probably one of the toughest careers you can choose but also one of the most rewarding. I am grateful for all the thousands of lovely people I have met and for the many varied experiences I have had as a result of working in this ever-changing industry.
One of the most indelible memories was working in the Highlands over 20 years ago in the days before ‘online booking’. It was Christmas Day and I was managing a holiday park and we were pretty much snowed in. My family couldn’t get to me because of the weather so I had resigned myself to a quiet day on my own with my pets. All the staff had the day off. Early afternoon there was a knock at the door. It was a Chinese family of six who were lost and looking for somewhere to stay, quite bizarre!
The park was closed and had all the water turned off and I couldn’t have put them into a van as everything was frozen. There really wasn’t anywhere else they could get to, so they had to stay with me in, my then, one bedroomed house, it was tight, but I ended up having one of the most fun and interesting Christmases ever.
The family stayed with me for two nights until the weather broke and they could move on. I remember them leaving and thinking, ‘heaven knows what they are going to tell their friends and families’. A couple of months later I received a stunning Hermes Scarf with a long thank you letter from the family who had thoroughly enjoyed their experience and told all their friends and family to come to the Highlands to experience the “True Scotland”. Not sure if my house, two cats, two dogs, a frozen turkey and some “Paxo Sage & Onion” could be classed as 5-star hospitality but we still keep in touch and neither they nor I have ever forgotten that time.
Thinking about customer’s today who really want to “experience” destinations, I guess you could call me a trailblazer!!
What are the main changes within the holiday park sector over the last 50 years?
The two biggest developments within our Industry relate to the customers and the product.
Customers’ expectations have risen dramatically and quite rightly so. I always tell my team to remember that the person walking through the door to stay with us may have saved up all year to have this holiday and it is all down to us to make it the best stay they have ever had. Their time is precious, and they do not want to waste a minute of it and therefore it is our responsibility to ensure that they do not need to think about a thing.
Customers who stay on holiday parks are looking for accommodation that equals and, more often, betters what they have at home. It is all about luxury and mod cons.
It is very clear now that time is precious, in previous years, customers would travel up to three hours to either stay in a holiday home or purchase a holiday home. Year on year that journey time is decreasing, with most customers not wishing to purchase a holiday home that is more than an hour’s drive away, which is particularly challenging in Scotland.
For the same reason, short breaks are now far more common than full week breaks and customers want to pack as much as they can into their 2 or 3 day break. Customers expect to holiday more but for shorter durations.
The product - holiday homes - have completely transformed over the last 20 years. A static caravan is no longer the 21ft x 10ft tin box we all used to know. Holiday Homes come in all shapes and sizes and that is certainly the case for static caravans and lodges; central heating, top end ovens, spa-like bathrooms, outdoor living areas, mood lighting, etc are all expected.
For short break glamping customers, it seems that the more unique the accommodation offering is, the more it will let. This goes back to customers not just looking for a bed for the night or a base - they want an experience that they can tell all their friends and families about.
Whenever we take a static caravan or lodge to a show or exhibition customers who have either never been in a caravan, or certainly not for 10 years or so, are definitely wowed by the product.
And finally, what do you think lies ahead?
Exciting times. As digital technology improves, and we all become more savvy; pricing is key. Customers come onto holiday parks now to purchase, fully informed on market prices and ready to haggle on pricing. It is so important that we continue to provide value for money options. Customers looking to come to stay are waiting to the last minute before booking and expect discounts.
I believe that customers will start to use their smart devices to research and indeed to book holidays and any operator who does not embrace this technology will fall behind. Customers also expect their holiday accommodation to be fully equipped with smart tv’s and smart speakers, WIFI is no longer an extra it is now an essential.
Electric cars – our industry must be prepared for the changes in vehicles. Many of our members have already installed charging ports and again, going forward, this will be essential for tourism providers.
Customers are increasingly more aware of the environment and actively seek green options when they choose their holiday destinations. Parks that can evidence they operate best practice in terms of reducing their environmental impact have a better chance of success. The British Holiday & Home Parks Association operates the David Bellamy Conservation Award Scheme, which is one of the longest running green tourism awards in the UK. It recognises parks who work to protect and enhance Britain’s natural environment.
Changes in legislation are affecting our industry. Our members report that over 40% of their time is now spent ensuring they are compliant with the many and varied regulations coming across our desks.
Staffing continues to be challenging and recruitment, especially in rural areas, is extremely difficult. Our industry prides itself on our people and the British Holiday & Home Park Association offers a great range of general and industry specific training. I believe that schools and colleges should highlight the many and varied careers that the hospitality and tourism sector can offer youngsters to tempt them into joining.
Who knows what else lies ahead – every day in this industry is different!