Tourism guru to speak to rebel Borders group

Tom Burnham Borders Tourist Board taken by the national newspaper of Iceland after I'd delivered a dissertation to the Chamber of Commerce on why Icelanders would rather do business with Scots than with anyone else
Tom Burnham Borders Tourist Board taken by the national newspaper of Iceland after I'd delivered a dissertation to the Chamber of Commerce on why Icelanders would rather do business with Scots than with anyone else

A BORDERS-BASED tourism guru is to speak at the AGM of a local breakaway group.

B&B operators, dissatisfied with national promoters VisitScotland, set up the Borders Tourist Board five years ago.

The board has invited the successful businessman Tom Burnham, based in Earlston, to talk at its annual general later this month.

The Borders Tourist Board has 60 members and aims to boost that to 100, according to chairman Colin McGrath.

“We are inviting all our members, former members and other interested parties to our AGM with the aim of increasing our membership and continuing to be a viable and economic local alternative to VisitScotland, who should promote Scotland as a whole and leave the local tourist groups a to promote their area.”

Before setting up his own business four years ago, overseas trade, tourism and marketing consultant Mr Burnham, 67, worked for UK Trade & Investment, promoting tourism and helping operators in North-east England.

He said: “National and regional tourism boards never have enough money to do the marketing for people who are in the less favoured areas.

“Small providers have to get off their bottoms, club together and do it themselves. The Borders Tourist Board is doing that brilliantly – it’s a very good example – and I know they have got it in them to have a lot more than 60 members: the object is to fire up potential members to that fabulous project.”

Mr Burnham’s career has been in selling and persuasion. He has been invited to join the KGB three times. He has been in jail behind the then Iron Curtain on several more occasions – and says the key to being set free is smiling a lot.

He was captured by the regime when he was working in Romania one time: “I just smile and they smile back and decide that I must be harmless.”

He was accused of being a Vietnamese spy while in Thailand a few decades ago.

“I was in a very, very rural part, on the Mekon during the Vietnam War: there had been panics and they decided, since I was there and, just on the other side of the river where the Vietnam War was going on, I must be a spy. They were very Sherlock Holmes about it – if I was the managing director of a British company why was I travelling in a beaten up old taxi?”

He was managing director for Gillette in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand at the time.

Mr Burnham left Oxford University in 1967 with a degree in ancient German: “There didn’t seem any point in learning modern German because I spoke it fluently and I thought it would be much more interesting to go back 1,000 years. It wasn’t, it was excruciatingly boring.”

He went to work for Proctor & Gamble in Newcastle, at that time the real world university of marketing. He was head-hunted by a London advertising agency, then another in Singapore, where he stayed for a year.

He then spent several years selling Gillette razors in south-east Asia before setting up a bartering department for them behind the Iron Curtain.

He bought a farm in the Borders – Newton, between Denholm and Jedburgh – and divided his time between farming and bartering for Gillette, then for Lego, the plastic children’s building blocks.

He also found time to be a councillor on the then Borders Regional Council from 1982 to 1986. Then he was interviewed to become Lego’s managing director but he and his wife decided they wanted to stay in the Borders

“I had to live off my own hand and ended up setting up an export training scheme, “ he said.

That led to him working for UK Trade & Investment from 1997 to 2007: five years as an export promoter from the UK to the five Nordic countries and five as a tourism promoter – when he pioneered tourism networks and helped set up 15 in the north-east of England and one in Jedburgh. He has written a booklet on setting up tourism clusters.

He then decided to set up his own consultancy company, CTB Global, in international export trading, business development training, business expansion, rural tourism and rural community development

“My single core skill is selling things to people overseas – I just have the nack to do that,” he said.

Otherwise, he says most of his work pretty much boils down to: “You have a product and a consumer and you’ve got to find the best way to put them together.”

Mr Burnham will give his presentation, Confessions of a Tourism Network Guru” at Borders Tourist Board’s AGM at Edenbank House, Kelso on Wednesday August 29. For more information phone Mr McGrath on 07767 662075 or 01573 228346.