Borders tourism must fight for a slice of 2012 action

Mike Cantley
Mike Cantley

THE Olympic Games, a new Disney animated film and a television advertisement featuring Floors Castle could all add up to 2012 being a boom year for tourism in the Borders.

That is the aspiration of Mike Cantlay, chairman of the national tourism promotion agency VisitScotland, who this week urged tourism business operators in the region to step up their efforts to cash in the events.

“Notwithstanding the tremendous potential of businesses focusing on the route of the Olympic torch in the run-up to the Games, we are already receiving feedback that there will be a displacement of visitors from the south of England because the demand for accommodation and services there will far outstrip supply,” said Mr Cantlay.

“People from across the world want to be in the UK for the Games, so VisitScotland’s focus is trying to encourage them to come to Scotland and we hope the Borders will be a popular staycation destination.

“Our role is often misperceived since the break-up of the old area tourist boards and we now look at the big picture, anticipating trends and finding ways to capitalise on key events, like the Games.”

It is 15 years since Mel Gibson’s epic Braveheart hit the silver screen, but Mr Cantlay confidently expects a new animated film – joint Walt Disney/Pixar Animation production, Brave – to instill a huge amount of international interest in Scotland.

Clips from the film, due for general release next summer, were shown to business representatives at a recent Scottish Borders Tourism Partnership (SBTP) industry day at the Buccleuch Arms Hotel in St Boswells.

From the team behind Toy Story and Finding Nemo, Brave is set in a mystical Scotland and its cast features the voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson and Robbie Coltrane.

“It is expected to be a hit across 72 countries – and it’s just one of the profile-raisers which has led us to dub the period from 2012 until 2014, when we host the Commonwealth Games, as Scotland’s Winning Years,” Mr Cantlay told TheSouthern. He highlighted the fact that Scotland would provide venues for four major golf events: The Open, Scottish Open, the Johnny Walker and, significantly, the Ryder Cup in 2014.

Floors Castle, the picture-postcard home of the Duke of Roxburghe, will be the focus of VisitScotland’s latest advertisement in its Surprise Yourself television campaign.

“The television ad will be launched in January and could be very exciting for this area,” said Mr Cantlay. “Our research shows that between this spring and summer, the Surprise Yourself campaign saw tourism-related turnover in the Borders increase by £1.7million, so we obviously have even higher hopes for the Floors-based promotion.

“The castle will also be used in posters promoting Scotland in London, Paris and New York, and this targeting of potentially mass visitor markets is a most important element of what we do.”

Born in Galashiels, Mr Cantlay says he is only too aware of the “serious economic challenges” facing many businesses in a sector which is the largest employer in this region.

“My New Year’s wish is that more and more people discover the amazing visitor experience the Borders has to offer and events next year will herald a period of unprecedented opportunity. It’s not a case of business as usual – tourism will be the tonic for the economy and it’s important all Borders businesses fight for their share of huge market potential.”

Meanwhile, the SBTP has announced a new management team, comprising chair Catherine Maxwell Stuart, Barbara Elborn, Jo Sutherland, Hilary Buchan, Kate Pearson and Paula McDonald, who is succeeding Sandi Hellowell as VisitScotland’s regional director.

“We will work to create better communication channels across all the tourism sectors in the Borders,” said Ms Maxwell Stuart.

“It is now more important than ever that our tourism businesses have a voice and work collectively to ensure the Borders continues to have a thriving tourism industry,” she added.