As we've traced back through our 50 year history to coincide with our golden anniversary, officially on 25 July, we decided to take the opportunity to sit down with our very first Chief Executive, Lester Borley, to reflect on his time with the Scottish Tourist Board (STB). The STB re-branded to VisitScotland in 2001.
Mr Borley, who lives in Edinburgh, was appointed Chief Executive in January 1970, six months after the Development of Tourism Act 1969 was enforced, alongside Sir Hector MacLennan as the Board’s Chairman.
One of our Corporate Press Officers, Anna Gault, sat down with Mr Borley to find out more about his experiences while at the helm of the STB.
What was the biggest challenge you faced at the beginning of your role?
The biggest challenge we faced then was always that Scots took their own country for granted and were going abroad for their holidays so that was the challenge for us, developing the domestic market.
There are far more people on the spot to spend their holiday in Scotland than getting them to come from any other country in the world – it’s a market on your doorstep.
There is no doubt that Scotland has always been for the Scots and that was a primary market.
What did you do to attract visitors from international markets?
Even 50 years ago Americans with Scottish ancestry were flocking to our shores to follow in their family’s footsteps.
The fact that so many Americans have Scottish origins was a factor in overseas visitors coming to Scotland searching for their families or where they stayed.
I think in a way the American dimension of Scottish diaspora is extremely important to Scotland because the sheer volume of people in America who have Scottish ancestry is enormous so the more that one does to promote Scotland as a homecoming as it were, is important and we did a lot of that.
What was your proudest moment as Chief Executive?
I had to hold public meetings to get people to understand the potential of tourism and its impact on the economy and I suppose that was something I thought was most successful.
I worked with people at a local level and took them to different countries to see how they were dealing with tourism elsewhere and show them how, in the Netherlands for example, they didn’t exist just to promote their own town, they existed in a network and duplicating that in Scotland was another successful thing we did during my time with the STB.
What's the biggest change you've noticed in Scottish tourism over the past 50 years?
I think the recognition of tourism’s economic importance is one of the biggest changes I have seen over the years. It was a vital income source to the country and a job creator and getting people to understand that was the most important aspect of my work.
If we hadn’t taken those steps such as getting the training right, and the method of promotion right in the early days, tourism may not have seen as much growth as it has.
Find out more about Scotland's history in our 50 years of golden moments timeline.