Scotland has been on quite the successful run since 2011 thanks to a long list of major events that together were packaged in a marketing initiative coined “The Winning Years.” The special events range from the 2012 Summer Games to the 2014 Year of Homecoming, which welcomed people of Scottish descent back to the motherland.
All of those events occupied venues tied to Scotland’s meetings and convention market, which enjoyed increased global exposure during their run, but Scotland’s destination marketing organization is now tasked with keeping the nation on top of planners’ minds moving forward.
“We’ve been in a very good position over the last few years, talking about The Winning Years, the Olympics, the Ryder Cup, Queen’s Jubilee, Commonwealth Games, and Homecoming,” says Richard Knight, director of marketing-the Americas for Visit Scotland Business Tourism. “After the Ryder Cup, that’s done. The Winning Years program, which has been four and a half years in the making, is finished. So it’s very important that we look at what we do and our key messages and key themes for the upcoming years. Because after having these massive events that we’ve had, the one thing we don’t want is 2015, 2020, 2025 to be quiet.”
Toward that end, Knight gathered together 12 leading figures across all sectors of the meetings industry at last year’s IMEX America 2013. The goal of the first-ever Scottish Tourism Board Leadership Panel was first to establish a dialogue to find out how Scotland’s meetings product is perceived in the industry compared to its competitive set. And then, armed with that knowledge, Visit Scotland can best decide how to create and position new product moving forward over the long term.
After meeting in Las Vegas last year, the Panel has participated in a series of conference calls in the interim, and then they all met in Scotland last week during the Ryder Cup to gather together all of the insight from the group. Knight says once all of that is organized, Scotland will be sharing it with the rest of the industry.
We spoke with Knight at last month’s European Torchbearers buyer/supplier trade show in Bermuda to learn more about the advisory panel.
Prevue: Take us back to the beginning when you first created the Panel.
Richard Knight: “I handpicked 12 individuals from within the industry—association, incentive, meetings, corporate and one airline—and said let’s get together twice a year, and I want to use you as a sounding board. So for example, this is what we’ve got planned for Scotland. What does that mean to your industry? How can you best use what we’ve got to offer? Also, what do you love about what other people do? How do you perceive our country and what we deliver? And is there a gap in between?
This year I want to really dig into how Scotland is perceived by the rest of North America in this industry. What do these people think we’re very good at? Is that different than what we think we’re very good at? And actually, what other countries do they perceive to be very good at these things? And can we learn from them, and how can we shape our marketing?
I’m trying to position Scotland as an industry leader by using the strength of the people we’ve got on this board. And also I want to help elevate their importance because they’re helping shape our future. That’s a big thing, we’re going to be doing a lot of PR around that.
Prevue: What can you tell us about the people on the panel, and what was the first line of questioning that you asked them?
Richard Knight: The question I posed after I shared our plans, and what we’ve done and where we want to be, was fairly simple: What keeps you up at night?
These are people who own companies, these are people who run industry. They’re the people who shape our industry in North America. So what keeps them up at night? Is it profitability? Is it new and exciting ideas for incentives and meetings? Is it how to differentiate themselves from all of their competition, because let’s face it, there’s a lot more companies coming back now.
And then we flipped that around and said, okay, how can we make life easier for you? We’ve got an airline, how can we make it easier for them? We’ve got a tourism industry board, how can they make your life easier? So we got a lot of good things out of that.
Prevue: What was one or two of the biggest takeaways so far?
Richard Knight: The most surprising thing to me was why should the MICE industry be that far different to the consumer leisure industry where you buy a package holiday? People were saying what I almost want to see is a catalog with samples, prices and guidelines. And I might not want to do exactly that, but that could be the bones of what I’m looking for. And then some contacts and other things I’m looking for.
So we’ve been working with some DMCs to try and pull that together. I think there’s a good idea in there. We’re never going to be an off-the-shelf industry, but what we can be is, here’s some ideas for what we have, and you can tailor this. So it could be an itinerary of visiting Edinburgh, or going to Glasgow, or St. Andrews or a resort. But what does that look like? How does it fit in all together time wise, and what is a guideline of prices?
Prevue: Is this unique in the industry? And will you be sharing this with the rest of the industry?
Richard Knight: Not unique but not a lot of destinations are you doing that. And yes, we will be sharing it. You’re the first person I’m sharing this with.
Prevue: What do you envision looking ahead?
Richard Knight: What we really want to be doing, we want to shape our plans in line with what the industry is expecting or experiencing at this time. We’re in a very different place than we were in 2009 and 2010. The meeting and incentive world is back on an international platform and we want to be sure to make the most of that.
Next year is dedicated to food and drink, and we will be tailoring our message around that. Most importantly at the Leadership Panel, I’ll be saying this is a government initiative. All of Scotland’s industries will be focusing on food and drink, so what does this mean to you? How can we tailor a package, or how can we communicate with your clients to make them more interested and more likely to come to Scotland? And how can we make dealing with Scotland easier, and how can we make Scotland more profitable for you?
Prevue: What keeps you up at night?
Richard Knight: Good question. What keeps me up at night? I suppose it’s coming up with new ideas for what to do. I think in the industry we’re in, it’s very easy to sit here and say, “Come to Scotland, we uniquely do this, that and the other thing, and we’re super strong in the world of golf, whisky, traditions and history.” But if I went around this room at this event right now, I imagine 90% of the people would have a similar list of all this.
I think everyone is fully aware that Scotland is fantastic for golf, so where should we be putting our focus now? What should we be focusing on? Should it be innovative meeting spaces, innovative experiences? I have my ideas but I want to hear it from the rest of the industry.