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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 24/04/2019

... visitor attractions

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. We want to celebrate 50 years of golden moments with the tourism industry in 2019 with this anniversary allowing us to look fondly at the past while fixing our gaze toward the future.

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 Gordon Morrison, CEO of the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions (ASVA) about the changes the sector has seen over the past 50 years.

Do you have any interesting stories you can tell of your time in tourism?

“I’ve worked in tourism for the past 15 years. During that time, I have been fortunate enough to visit almost every corner of the country and have enjoyed eye opening experiences at many visitor attractions.

“Probably one of my most memorable experiences was when I was visiting a Paintball Centre to assess their eligibility for visitor attraction accreditation. I fully embraced the experience, turning up in full khaki combat gear, investing in a full set of paintballs and paint grenades and I psyched myself up, ready to take on all comers.

“As it turned out the ‘all comers’ I came up against happened to be a team of Royal Marine Commandos, who were enjoying a team building exercise… As the experience started, they basically vanished into the trees never to be seen by my eyes again. What I did see though were repeated paintball pellets bursting all over my body at a frighteningly regular rate throughout the day.

“It was actually a fascinating experience and there was no doubt that it was eligible for visitor attraction accreditation, but my bruised (all over) body did not thank me for it the next day. I have to confess that I still break out in cold sweat every time I go near the site now, as I am sure that those commandos are still in there, waiting for me…

“It goes to show however, that the term ‘visitor attraction’ is an all-encompassing one. In my 15 years in the industry, I have visited almost every different type of attraction, from Arboretum to Zoo, and it has opened my eyes to the wealth of wonderful experiences available to visitors in Scotland.”

What are the main changes within the visitor attraction sector over the last 50 years?

“The biggest change is almost certainly the recognition that the visitor comes first and that visitor experience is paramount to the success of an attraction.

“If you look back on visitor attraction experiences twenty to thirty years ago, this was not necessarily the case. Back then visitor attraction employees often had a more custodial attitude, where they were there to protect the attraction. It would not be uncommon for staff members to admonish members of the public who were trying to engage with the experience (I am sure those of us of a certain age can all remember being told ‘don’t touch that’ or ‘don’t walk there’).

“Over the years however there has definitely been a cultural change and the vast majority of attractions now put visitor experience first and do everything they can to ensure that the visitor can enjoy a fully engaging experience.

“The quality of experience overall has risen and again this is because of renewed focus on putting the visitor experience first. Our sector has enjoyed the fruits of these labours, with ever increasing numbers now visiting attractions across the country and visitor satisfaction levels at record high levels.”

And finally, what do you think lies ahead?

“Visitor behaviour is ever changing and visitor needs and demands are only going to increase. The increased use of digital technology in everyday life is going to impact on our sector increasingly over the next five to ten years.

“We are already at a stage where people can experience virtual reality experiences in their own homes, so there is an expectation that visitor attractions should be embracing new technologies, to provide yet more engaging and immersive experiences for visitors going forward.

“It is highly unlikely that virtual experiences will replace the real thing and I have no doubt that people will continue to enjoy visiting attractions in large numbers. But the experiences at the visitor attractions will need to change and adapt to meet the expectations of a tech savvy generation who will be expecting to be wowed then they visit.

“ASVA will, of course, continue be there to support the attractions sector through any period of change, offering advice and guidance, as well as sharing best practice throughout our network of members. We celebrated our 30th birthday in 2018, so whilst we may be a young whippersnapper in comparison to VisitScotland, we are a wise old head when it comes to advising and supporting visitor attractions in Scotland!’’