Travel Agent had the chance to catch up with several representatives of Visit Scotland, including Chairman Mike Cantlay and Marketing Manager for North America and Emerging Markets Richard Knight in our New York offices. We took the chance to find out about what’s going on north of Hadrian’s Wall, and how travel agents should promote travel to Scotland this year and going forward.
Of course, we had to ask about the upcoming vote on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom—which, Cantlay said, seems unlikely to pass. And even if it did, he added, the new nation would probably not make international travel more difficult (adding visa requirements or border control), so the vote in September 2014 is probably not an issue for UK specialists to worry about.
Instead, he continued, they should focus on the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, a series of sporting events (not unlike the Olympics) for athletes in the Commonwealth of Nations...or the Ryder Cup, which will be held at the Gleneagles Hotel in September.
And 2014 will also see the return of Homecoming Scotland, a year-long celebration of 100 events and festivals that was last held in 2009. Since then, Visit Scotland has sponsored a range of themed years (2012 was Creative Scotland; this year’s is Natural Scotland), all of which will be echoed in 2014’s five-year anniversary of the Homecoming (food and drink, active, creative, natural and ancestry). Homecoming will showcase hundreds of events across the country, ranging from mass participation to small community activity. It is expected that Homecoming 2014 will bring £44million worth of economic benefit to Scotland.
Scotland is looking to capture more of the North American market, Cantlay said, and to that end, increased airlift from carriers like Virgin Atlantic and Air Canada will make it easier for more people to fly straight into the country without transferring in London. And in terms of flying back, Cantlay noted that he left Glasgow in the morning and was in New York in time for a lunch meeting.
Beyond that, the exchange rate for U.S. dollars to pounds is “amazing” right now, he continued, and even better for Canadian dollars. Large groups booking hotels can even lock in the current exchange rate for their room rates, guaranteeing a steady price up to two years in advance.
“Thousands” of new hotel rooms have opened throughout Scotland in the past two years, Cantlay continued, which he hopes will give the country an upper hand in what he expects will be increased competition in coming years. For example, Premier Inn opened more than 1,000 rooms over the past three years, with two new hotels in Inverness and one in Fort William. Wyndham is also investing in Scottish development, with plans to renovate and reopen a property linked to a marina on Loch Long. And tennis star Andy Murray bought Cromlix House, a Victorian mansion on a 2,000-acre estate, for £1.8 million, and reportedly will reopen it soon as a five-star hotel.