In honor of the 250th birthday of Scotland’s national poet, Robert “Rabbie” Burns, a yearlong program of celebration has been created to recognize Scotland’s contributions to the world and the country itself as a destination for travelers.
The famed Brig O'Doon, the bridge over which Tam O'Shanter escaped from the witches in the classic Robert Burns poem, at Alloway, Ayrshire
Homecoming Scotland is a government-led initiative in conjunction with VisitScotland and EventScotland. The concept has evolved over the past three years and will culminate in 2009 with a program of activities that will offer something for every taste.
“We are working with the Scottish tourism industry to build on Homecoming Scotland 2009 and create a legacy that focuses on those things that Scotland is known for around the world,” says Susan Russell, international PR executive with VisitScotland. Scotland, she continues, is famous for Burns, whiskey, golf, “great minds and innovations” and as the ancestral homeland of millions around the world. Around 200 events are planned throughout the year—commencing with Burns Day (his birthday, January 25) and lasting until St. Andrews Day (November 30)—that will focus on those five key themes. Other events that were already planned throughout the country will now feature a Homecoming “slant,” as Russell describes it, making them ideal additions for people traveling for one of the other activities.
“With a yearlong program of events to choose from,” she says, “we hope that visitors gain an exciting, memorable experience during their vacation to Scotland.” Ancestral Scots can connect with their heritage by attending The Gathering, the largest clan gathering on Scottish soil in modern times, July 25-26. Approximately 30,000 people are expected over two days, and attendees will enjoy a Clan Pageant down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, the Highland Games in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park and a selection of Scottish textiles, food and drink to experience.
Fans of Scottish music will have plenty to appreciate throughout Homecoming, particularly in Glasgow. They can listen to the massed pipers at the World Pipe Band Championships in August. In January, the Celtic Connections festival will showcase the best in both traditional and contemporary Scottish music. A specific Homecoming-themed weekend is planned, which will showcase how Burns has inspired musicians throughout the years.
The Edinburgh Summer Festivals take place throughout August and include the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the Festival Fringe and the International Book Festival—all of which will incorporate a Homecoming Scotland them. “The Tattoo are also running satellite events throughout Scotland,” Russell adds, “so there is an even greater opportunity to see them, and in different areas of the country.”
Guests can learn about whiskey-making on the Clynelish Distillery tour
To help agents market Homecoming to their clients, VisitScotland and the other sponsors have created an online toolkit at www.homecomingscotland.com/toolkit. This website allows all travel-trade businesses to access official logos and images that will help them brand their products for the Homecoming year of celebration. Agents can also go to www.scotsagent.com, a free educational website that will teach them more about Scotland. There are five online seminars as part of the program, and upon completion agents can enjoy various business benefits, including an invitation to visit Scotland on a fam trip during April. Agents can also visit VisitScotland’s dedicated travel-trade website, www.bookingscotland.com, where they can register for the company’s bi-weekly e-newsletter that will keep them up to date on upcoming events and developments in the program. VisitScotland recommends Hotelbeds to book rooms throughout Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland for travelers looking to make a journey to the British Isles.
“One avenue [for agents] is to take their current popular tours to Scotland, see what events are happening over that time, and add it to the program” suggests Russell. “Also, if they do a whiskey, golf, heritage or Burns tour, they are able to incorporate the Homecoming Scotland message, as it complements the themes extremely well.”
Agents should also focus on what events are key for their client base, Russell adds. Events focusing on Scottish ancestry are of particular interest to North American visitors, such as Highland Games, Piping Live!, the International Genealogy Festival and Celtic Connections. “It would be great if travel-trade colleagues could build these events into their existing programs, or create new product specifically for Homecoming Scotland,” Russell says.
Beyond Homecoming, there will be more events and activities to encourage tourism to Scotland. “We will build on the success of 2009 and continue to encourage visitors to come to Scotland to enjoy its great contributions,” Russell says. “There are many North Americans who don’t have Scottish ancestry, but who are passionate about Scotland and its culture. We hope that they visit Scotland and are inspired to try on a kilt, take part in the Highland Games and enjoy a wee dram!”