There are destinations that would kill for a brand as strong as Scotland's. Not only is the country historically synonymous with creativity and innovation, it also serves up a full helping of tartan trimmings that add vim to an itinerary - from golf and whisky to the Highlands and old-time luxury. Its portfolio of venues can square up to most destinations in Europe, so it's unsurprising to learn that the country's Business Tourism Unit generated almost £725m last year. Granted, delegates are unlikely to get much of a tan, but in terms of pure industry logistics, the appeal of the destination is hefty.
While historical charm has always been a big selling point, the country has long been eager to also portray itself in a modern light - not a difficult task, given the amount of design-led hotels and hi-tech venues it offers - and this approach has received fresh impetus from the vast amount of investment currently being ploughed into the destination. The Commonwealth Games come to Glasgow in 2014 and have been the catalyst for a slew of venue construction, while numerous other projects nationwide are boosting the appeal of the country as a whole.
"We have a massive amount of new product development at the moment," says Lindsay Brown, UK marketing manager for Visit Scotland's Business Tourism Unit. "Glasgow and Edinburgh are the main focal points, as you'd expect, but elsewhere there are things happening all over the country. There are literally hundreds of millions of pounds worth of investment taking place, so the choice of venues and accommodation options is expanding all the time."
In Glasgow, recent additions include Blythswood Square, a 100-room, five-star property, while upcoming openings include the £120m Jumeirah Glasgow, the 12,500-seat Glasgow Arena and a 230-room Jury's Inn.
Over in Edinburgh, the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) has been given the go-ahead for an £85m expansion that will double its capacity.
But it's the increasing appeal of other regions that is helping Scotland to cement its standing as a broad-based destination. Aberdeen will open 2,500 new bedrooms by 2014 (see p43), and the Inverness area has announced several major developments of its own.
Perhaps the biggest of these is the opening of the storybook-pretty Aldourie Castle. Set in a 500-acre estate on the shores of Loch Ness, it is available as a five-star, exclusive-use corporate venue for up to 46 guests. Similarly notable is the launch of team-building packages in the Cairngorms National Park, courtesy of The Great Big Event Company, and the news that Castle Stuart Golf Links - billed as a successor to Gleneagles - will open in 2012. In Inverness itself, meanwhile, the Kingsmills Hotel unveils a 38-room, multi-million-pound extension in May.
Scotland's luxury country estates have always been big draw-cards and, in East Lothian, the 5,000-acre Gosford House will become available to the corporate market this spring. In a similar vein, Turnberry continues to grow its appeal. The Ayrshire resort has just unveiled a 200-capacity function suite overlooking its golf courses, which hosted last year's Open.
The 2014 Games are having an effect on other areas of infrastructure too, with work well under way on a five-mile extension of the M74 motorway, which runs from the English border to Glasgow. This is a further boon to the country's accessibility, coming at a time when its five international airports offer direct routes from the likes of New York, Vancouver, Dubai, Berlin, Stockholm, Milan and Madrid, as well as more than 100 flights from London each day.
International business has certainly been helped by the attractiveness of the weak pound, but there are also cost benefits for UK clients. Research in 2009 by Visit Britain named Edinburgh and Glasgow as two of the top three most price-competitive major European destinations for association conferences, a fact that has helped the country attract some 350 such events in the past 12 months (including the 45,000-delegate Offshore Europe event in Aberdeen last September). Corporate business is also healthy, with the likes of Land Rover, Estee Lauder and Sony among those to have recently used Scotland for launches or incentives.
The current appeal, in many ways, is one of image perception. "At EIBTM in November, we had an eight-fold increase in enquiries for incentives," says Brown. "With the C&I sector as it is, I think this can be put down to the fact that Scotland is not seen as a frivolous destination, but very much a serious-minded one, so yes, you can get business done, but with the character and the hospitality aspects, you'll have a good time too."
Scotland announced an increase of more than eight per cent in business trips north of the border last year, and looks set to consolidate this upturn. The industry allure of Edinburgh and Glasgow has always been well established - as has, in recent years, that of Aberdeen - but with other regions continuing to make their mark, the overall package has never seemed more worthy of closer inspection.
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