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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 26/02/2021

Scotland’s coasts and waters provide a wealth of opportunities in each of the country’s regions, and a number of organisations have used the Themed Year to showcase their local area, inspiring and engaging visitors and locals alike.

We spoke to Carron Tobin, Director of Rural Dimensions and freelance development manager with AITC to find out more about West Coast Waters – a campaign which has brought together tourism and destination marketing organisations from across Scotland’s beautiful west coast from Wester Ross and Lewis in the north to Arran and Kintyre in the south.

Why did your organisation decide to get involved with Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21 and have you been involved with Themed Years previously?

We, as Argyll & The Isles Tourism Cooperative (AITC), have engaged in each themed year particularly around marketing and campaigns but also product development.  We were delighted when the Year of Coasts and Waters was announced – it felt like it had Argyll’s name written all over it. Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 (YCW2020) was actually the trigger for the West Coast Waters collaboration to be set up. 

We had been working with Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) on marine tourism opportunities across the west coast in 2017 and when the Themed Year was announced it gave real impetus to what we were doing but HIE challenged us to consider a bigger geography, so we reached out and quickly formalised the West Coast Marine Tourism Collaboration. This is a collaboration of all west coast Destination Marketing Organisations and tourism groups collectively representing over 2,500 tourism interests across the west coast of Scotland and our first task was a detailed audit of all the places you can get on or off the water – over 300 locations.  This audit then focused on what you can do at each location from events and activities to attractions, distilleries and eateries.

What are the main activities, content or campaigns you’ve created around the Themed Year? 

West Coast Waters is a pan west coast strategic campaign all about encouraging people to get on – if not in – the waters of the west coast (#immerseyoursenses).  We launched in Autumn 2019 and hope to extend throughout 2021. This marketing campaign was developed specifically to take advantage of opportunities presented by the Year of Coasts and Waters. From creating inspirational videos  to working with bloggers, we have used paid social promotion to extend the reach of our marketing activity to audiences across the UK and help raise awareness of the fantastic on and in water activities available across the west coast.

We are working on a number of linked projects, including The Coast that Shaped the World – a £500,000, three-year project bridging from YCW2020/21 into the Year of Scotland’s Stories 2022 funded by NatureScot’s Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund and led by our partner University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).  It is all about local story gathering and digital story narration and interpretation.

There is also the WCW Baton Relay - a pan west coast baton relay extending over 20 weeks and connecting all our communities and local events.  We had an amazing itinerary scoped out just before lockdown but this has been postponed to 2021 and will no doubt need some careful thought on what it will look like with so many events impacted by Covid-19 again in 2021.

Three mini campaigns were rolled out in 2020 to encourage engagement during the pandemic through organic social media activity. A West Coast Sunset Trail competition was launched on social media channels early in the campaign, to encourage people to share their favourite sunset images from the west coast. Throughout 2020 and every fortnight a West Coast beer/spirit supplier offered a prize for the winning photo, and both the winner and the prize giving business received profile across the West Coast Waters social media channels. This user generated content also helped to highlight locations where you can best see the fantastic west coast sunsets e.g. from McCaig's Tower in Oban or from our numerous west facing beaches dotted along our coastline. The long term plan is that a Sunset Trail will be created to add to the West Coast Waters website along with some of the stunning images from the competition that were shared using #WCWSunsets.

Once it was clear lockdown was not going to finish soon, we ran an #immerseyoursenses campaign to engage people and keep the west coast front of mind.   By taking one sense a week we invited followers to share their favourite west coast sights, sounds, tastes, smells and textures.  We had really strong engagement from locals and from much further afield.

The West Coast Woofers initiative then ran over summer, and the aim was to encourage people to share the best locations along the west coast for dog walks. Locals were especially encouraged to engage with this activity during lockdown, to inspire future visitors to come to the west coast for a dog friendly break and showcase it as a dog friendly destination. Themes were created each week including Coastal Wander of the Week and Beach Walk of the Week, and DMOs were encouraged to get behind the campaign to engage with the content as well as promoting their own content aligned to the themes. Everyone was encouraged to use the hashtag #WestCoastWoofers.

Venture West boat trip - Heart of Argyll
Venture West boat trip - Heart of Argyll

Image credit West Coast Waters

What success stories have you experienced with your Themed Years activity?

To help encourage industry engagement with the West Coast Waters campaign, an industry toolkit was created by our creative agency Designline Creative and each destination had a bespoke WCW logo designed which was themed to the colour palette of the destination. This has resulted in really strong industry engagement with the campaign and has helped to increase the reach and impact of the campaign.

Our main success is the level of collaboration in what we are doing.  We had a roadshow underway in March 2020 prior to lockdown and the buy in was significant with all sorts of offers of help and support and evident enthusiasm to be involved.  The Coast that Shaped the World has appointed 32 local story gatherers who are collating all sorts of stories and hidden gems from their individual areas across the west coast.

Have there been any unexpected outcomes? 

Our West Coast Waters network has provided a really strong basis for peer to peer support and information sharing during the pandemic working closely with Calmac in particular and other partners – this wouldn’t have existed without West Coast Waters. 

What do you have in plan for 2021?

We will be continuing to roll out our West Coast Waters marketing campaign and plan to introduce new dimensions to it and engage more and more businesses and providers.  We are very excited to be working on the Coast that Shaped the World project which will gather then narrate lots of well-known and less well known stories for 2022 and create new exhibitions in local communities – and  when we hope to launch a new campaign encouraging people to travel on the roads less travelled to discover more about our amazing cultural and natural heritage. 

A view of Crinan harbour with docked boats
A view of Crinan harbour with docked boats

Image credit West Coast Waters

Beyond West Coast Waters, a range of other Destinations have pro-actively engaged with the year.

Promote Shetland has used the Themed Year to highlight unforgettable opportunities the islands have for enjoying activities related to their coasts and waters. Blogs include Shetland’s Best Kayaking Spots and Shetland’s Wild Swimming Boom, which includes tips for five great places to swim in Shetland.

The Coig (Gaelic for ‘five’) is a series of five touring routes around Ayrshire, the Clyde Coast and Clyde Islands of Arran, Bute and Cumbrae. Each route is designed to showcase the area’s natural beauty, outdoor adventure, history, heritage and nature. The Coig featured a blog which highlighted some of the ways these routes and the Year of Coasts and Waters could be enjoyed together, showcasing suggestions to some of the best experiences to be found on and off the water – from sailing and kayaking to visiting the Scottish Maritime Museum or cycling on Cumbrae. 

The website also used the Themed Year to highlight the fact that Orkney has nearly 600 miles of coastline and 16 inhabited islands. A blog provided details of nine different ways to experience coasts and waters, including island-hopping adventures, wildlife-watching or admiring the sea stacks and rugged coastline on a walk.  

Online content has proved a popular way for destinations to showcase their local product and experiences which align to the Year of Coasts and Waters. The Outdoor Capital of the UK - Lochaber helped to launch the Themed Year with a blog detailing local experiences while Welcome to Fife have used the theme to highlight some of the region's best coastal locations, beaches, lochs and wetlands. 

In January 2021, VisitDundee had the inspired idea of publishing a blog entitled “How to enjoy the Year of Coasts and Waters in Dundee right now without getting wet or too cold.” The article had a varied range of suggested activities for locals to enjoy within government guidelines during lockdown, including enjoying some fish and chips and learning about the city’s maritime history.