As we enter a situation where lockdown restrictions continue to be eased, the tourism industry faces a new challenge of balancing the needs of the businesses in attracting visitors and much-needed revenue, with those of local communities.
Destination Marketing Organisations want to provide warm and welcoming experiences to visitors, when it is safe to do so, as well as protect the communities and people working in the industry.
Midlothian and Borders Tourism Action Group (MBTAG) has developed an approach with effective communication at its core. MBTAG has kept communication channels open throughout the crisis by carrying out regular surveys to gauge sentiment amongst the industry, as well as providing bi-weekly updates to members on support available to them.
They've continued to share virtual and inspirational messages on their consumer channels through the Scotland Starts Here campaign. MBTAG Project manager Jemma Reid said it is important that we keep the destination in mind when we're ready to welcome people back, and ultimately this will help develop stronger communities as a result.
Understandably, fear levels around welcoming people back to communities, especially in rural areas, remain high and the immediate challenge we face is overcoming that. But equally, there are major concerns from tourism businesses about their sustainability. We have remained in constant contact with our members throughout this crisis and we have adapted content across our social media channels to ensure the region as a destination remains in people’s minds.
We have also focused on communicating what people can find on their doorstep, reminding people of the amazing produce and services that are available locally. Many businesses have adapted to offer local takeaway or delivery services, such as The Allanton Inn, Fleece Bar & Kitchen and Osso, moved online like Dalkeith Country Park or Mainstreet Trading, or are focusing on providing support to key workers and those most in need, such as Schloss Roxburghe which has provided care packages to hospital staff.
And likewise, by supporting local businesses, residents and communities are helping to keep these businesses alive and when the time is right, we hope that they will become positive ambassadors for the Scottish Borders and Midlothian, letting people know about the amazing experiences and services on offer in their own area.
The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating effect on tourism across the region, but it has also afforded us the opportunity to go back to basics. Our approach, first and foremost, has been about keeping communication open and promoting many of the amazing virtual experiences on offer.
Our blogs have focused on rural virtual experiences - such as Beirhope Alpacas, Jacksons of Jedburgh - as well as encouraging people to appreciate the small things in their ‘Moment of Calm.’ While we can’t go anywhere, we can ensure that the destination is well represented.
Also, by showcasing local businesses who are providing for their communities during these tough times, we hope to strengthen these relationships. As and when restrictions are eased, businesses will be relying on their local communities first and foremost to survive - by working together we can instill pride and ensure that they are best placed to survive.
We have the opportunity to press a restart button on life, to slow down and take in what is around them. Tourism businesses are relying on their local communities to survive and by supporting each other, we hope we can overcome this crisis and develop a loyal local support network in the process.