As part of our Ayrshire & Arran takeover this week, we caught up with Daniel Steel (Chief Executive Officer, Ayrshire and Arran Destination Alliance) and Sheila Gilmore (Chief Executive, VisitArran) to find out about local tourism development and recovery plans from the pandemic.
What is the biggest challenge facing Ayrshire & Arran as we continue to recover from the devastating impact of COVID-19?
"The challenges have been relentless over the past 18 months for industry across Ayrshire & Arran. The one which has been consistent though is uncertainty. Ever changing lockdown restrictions for domestic and international travel, regulations on business hours and operations, issues with the ferry network to our islands, visitor management pressures, and the current staffing crisis which is impacting many businesses right now.
"Uncertainty will continue to be an issue as governments legislate to try and navigate us out of the pandemic, so the ability for businesses to remain agile is going to continue to be key. As Ayrshire & Arran we are already lobbying on many of these issues, and helping to signpost businesses to support and advice. But it remains tough, and we must all work together to meet these challenges."
"I think there are two key issues here. Staffing shortages across the sector are obviously further impacted by staff self-isolating, whether this is in front line roles or in the supply chain and this impacts on service delivery. I also think there’s a general COVID fatigue. Visitors are perhaps less likely to take the precautions that we still need to do in order to keep our communities safe – on an island this is even more relevant as we have excellent, but limited health services. We’d remind all visitors to wear face coverings in shops, restaurants and on the ferry in particular, where passengers perhaps don’t realise it is mandatory. Responsible tourism is also very important so we’d promote the mantra of ‘leave only footsteps’ – or even (in relation to litter) ‘take back more than you came with’!"
Which recent / upcoming local tourism developments are you most excited about?
"There is a huge amount to be excited about – even over the most uncertain period I can remember, we have seen new businesses opening, development of new products and services, investment in facilities, a boom in outdoor activities, and communities rediscovering their love for what’s on their doorstep with staycations in Ayrshire & Arran.
"This has changed the conversation around tourism development in a really positive way – communities want to protect what makes their places special and share that sustainably with visitors we welcome. This opens up huge potential for us to think differently about our natural assets and how we can help visitors to explore and enjoy the region in a more sustainable way through storytelling, nature, local food and drink, and engagement with the people who live and work here."
"On a local level, it would be the launch of the new VisitArran website in autumn! VisitArran has worked closely with businesses on this and, along with our new video assets (funded through the VisitScotland Destination and Sector Marketing Fund) we really hope it will reflect all that Arran has to offer. We're going to be busy delivering our new SeeArran, FeelArran, BeArran campaign throughout winter, and this is also funded through the Destination and Sector Marketing Fund.
"On a national level, I think getting back to delivering in line with Scotland Outlook 2030 is vital. Taking account of our passionate people, our thriving places, our diverse businesses, and our memorable experiences is even more important now than it was before the pandemic. People want immersive opportunities – and we have that on Arran certainly, in bags!"
Do you have any top tips / advice for businesses for 2021/22?
"I’ve spent the past two decades in tourism, most of them in Ayrshire, and I learn from businesses every single day. So, it’s not so much about me giving tips, but encouraging businesses to do the same. Talk to the businesses around you – there is so much good practice and innovation already in the region but there are always new opportunities to collaborate, learn, and grow by working with others. That is exactly why Ayrshire & Arran Destination Alliance has been formed – to help join some of those dots and provide the glue that can help bring industry and communities together to recover and grow."
"On Arran, our businesses are generally privately owned and everyone has had to be very hands-on over the last few months. I think businesses are to be congratulated for how they have addressed the last year. It’s been challenging in so many ways; added costs of PPE and protective measures; constantly changing guidelines; opening – only to have to close again; and now dealing with the ongoing staffing crisis exacerbated by staff who have to self isolate etc. My advice to all our businesses would be to give yourselves a massive pat on the back, and try to take some time out to recharge your own batteries. By pulling together we will all get through this, so we need to support each other and above all #bekind."