Businesses in Hawick are hoping a £60,000 initiative will stop the town trailing behind rival destinations in the tourism stakes.
The town’s common good fund sub-committee has agreed to back the digital tourism project, called the Town of 1,000 Trails, with a £15,000 grant.
Organised by various Hawick business bosses, it will see the creation of an interactive online guide to walking, cycling and horse-riding trails around the town.
As with TripAdvisor, users will be able to leave reviews to signpost their favourite trails and highlight those that need improvement.
Visitors will also be able to upload photos of their trips to populate the site with detailed visual guides for fellow tourists, and users can even create their own trails and give them names.
The group estimates that the initiative’s start-up costs will be £58,916.
So far, it has raised £11,245 – thanks to grants from the Bill McLaren Foundation and Hawick Walking Festival, plus an £8,000 private donation – so the common good fund handout agreed last week takes its running total to £26,000-plus, not far short of the halfway mark.
Applications for funding from the South of Scotland Economic Partnership and Scottish Borders Council’s localities bid fund will yield the rest of the money needed, the group hopes.
Appearing before the common good fund sub-committee at Hawick Town Hall, Andrew Dobbie, one of the partners behind the project, said: “Over the last two years or so, a group of like-minded individuals have come up with a plan for the areas surrounding the Teviot called the Town of 1,000 Trails.
“Where we come from is that, basically, we’re wanting to emulate the Lake District model on a smaller scale.
“We feel that the countryside from Hawick moving towards the English border is quite spectacular and underused.
“We feel that this could be something that could see traffic going to the Lake District and neighbouring Northumberland also use the area there.
“We’ve consulted with various people including digital professionals, landowners, politicians, businesses and potential funders.
“During this process, it quickly developed from an above-ground campaign of signposts and tourist hubs to a digital platform, and that is what we are presenting today.”
Mr Dobbie, joint director of Hawick High Street carpet shop Dobbie and Michie, estimates that the project’s yearly running costs will be about £22,000 and that it will take around three years for it to achieve financial sustainability.
Karen Gateson, director of Casteye Consulting and a fellow member of the Town of 1,000 Trails group, added that the project will also undertake digital marketing work, explaining: “I give the example of someone maybe looking to come on holiday to the Scottish Borders and looking to see what’s on.
“They’re going out and searching, and that’s to Google Ads and search engine optimisation, and our site will come on top of those searches.
“But it’s not just about that. If someone – say, a teenager in the US – is using Google to buy a bit of cycling kit, suddenly, an ad will pop up saying ‘oh, you’re a cyclist are you? Have you seen what the Borders has got to offer? Have you seen the tracks around Hawick? Do you know that Hawick has the oldest cycling club in Scotland?’
“And suddenly, without them really looking for that, we’re popping up, and they’re going to their mums and dads ‘can we not go to Hawick on holiday?’
“Our digital marketing platform will also contain information on accommodation, and activities such as golfing and fishing, so that will have a knock-on effect for the economy, with businesses able to piggyback on that platform and tell people about what’s available here.”
As well as Ms Gateson and Mr Dobbie, the group is made up of Darren Thomson, joint managing director of accountancy firm Douglas Home and Co; Rory Bannerman, owner of Bannerman Burke Law, and Dee Elliot, the firm’s property manager; Stuart Oliver, founder of Think Fitness 4 Less gyms; Fred Stevenson, a business banking manager at the Royal Bank of Scotland; and Ronald Yule, a videographer and studio technician for ITV Studios.
Their plans have met with approval from councillors, with Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall saying: “I think it would be madness not to support this, and I’m hoping everybody does support this as this is driven by the business sector in the town.
“We’ve got big players in the town who are all ready to commit to this.”
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer added: “The key to this is that we have got a group of volunteers prepared to take a big step towards developing a new project for Hawick, one that has the potential to go way beyond local boundaries, so we’ve got feet on the ground selling Hawick, and in Hawick we’ve not got a lot.
“VisitScotland are a poor, poor substitute for what is happening in this part of the world. We get nothing coming in for the money we spend.
“This creates a real alternative, and the investment we’re being asked to make, roughly a quarter of their start-up costs, seems to me to be money well spent.”
Councillors voted unanimously to approve a £15,000 grant for the project.