Borders needs to shed sedate image to boost tourism potential, says lady laird

Photographer-Ian Georgeson-07921 567360'Traquair house, Marc Muller and wife Catherine who host a dinner party for a group of Turkish MP's
Photographer-Ian Georgeson-07921 567360'Traquair house, Marc Muller and wife Catherine who host a dinner party for a group of Turkish MP's
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a TOURISM task force has been set up to stem the downward trend of an industry which supports an estimated 5,000 jobs in the Borders.

The announcement follows the news that tourism days spent in the region fell by 4.5 per cent in 2010 compared to the previous year.

A key to the task force’s aspiration will be attracting more active people under 50 and shedding the image of the region as a “sedate” destination, according to Catherine Maxwell Stuart, the lady laird of Traquair and chair of the Scottish Borders Tourism Partnership (SBTP).

Hotel and bed-and-breakfast occupancy reflected a further decline with levels well below the UK average.

And the auguries for how the industry has fared in the current season, marked by some of the most inclement weather in living memory, are hardly encouraging.

“What we are getting is a patchy picture, with some operators saying they have done well, while others are clearly struggling,” said Ms Maxwell Stuart, who will head up a new management team appointed by the SBTB.

“Notwithstanding the poor weather, the Borders really should be taking advantage of other favourable factors, such as the fact that more and more Brits are holidaying in the UK and an exchange rate which is very attractive for visitors from the Eurozone. We just have to assume that the Americans will never return in the numbers they did before 9/11.”

The meeting heard that while tourism revenue generated in the Borders last year was an estimated £169million, that was 2.6 per cent down on 2009 and 3.2 per cent down on pre-recession 2007.

The breakdown of the revenue indicates £31million came from accommodation, £31million from food and drink, £21million from shopping and recreation, £24million from transport, £19million on VAT and £43million from the 5,000 local jobs in tourism-related businesses, 62 per cent of which are within the accommodation and food-and-drink sectors.

But hotel occupancy at 47 per cent was well below the 63 per cent UK average, while bed and breakfasts recorded just 30 per cent occupancy (46 per cent nationally) in 2010.

About a third of the estimated 3.85million tourist days spent in the Borders last year were day visitors, with just 15 per cent staying in serviced accommodation (hotels and B & Bs). Around 35 per cent were spent in non-serviced accommodation (self catering, caravans, camping), while 16 per cent stayed with friends and family.

“Even at the reduced level of activity tourism remains the major component of the Borders economy and it’s not all doom and gloom,” continued Ms Maxwell Stuart.

“The new team, which has been properly constituted within the SBTB, will first gather a proper business-to-business database so that serviced sector providers know, for example, when major events are happening and consider offering flexible rates.

“There is no shortage of attractions and events, more recently boosted by facilities for mountain biking and adventure sports, so it’s really all about getting the message out there and shedding the image of the region as a sedate destination favoured only by the over 50s.

“It’s more important than ever that tourism businesses have a voice and work collectively to ensure we continue to have a thriving tourism industry.

“We recognised that the organisers of major events and activities, which have the potential to drive up visitor numbers, must come on board, as well as the smallest accommodation providers.”

Joining Ms Maxwell Stuart on the task force will be SBTB vice-chair Barbara Elborn of the Newcastleton Business Partnership, Jo Sutherland of the Lodge, Carfraemill, representing the food and drink sector, Richard Sweetnam, Scottish Borders Council’s economic development manager, and Sandy Hellowell, regional director of VisitScotland.