Visitscotland: Cover story

By The Drum, Administrator

November 29, 2006 | 9 min read

VisitScotland has courted controversy since it launched just over five years ago. Indeed, it almost seemed cursed from its very first days. It came into being, following a high-profile rebrand from its former Tourist Board incarnation, at a time when tourism levels were already faltering. The effects of foot and mouth were gripping the nation, but worse was yet to come.

Just after the rebrand a new chief executive was named. Five days after the initial announcement, the organisation said it had withdrawn its job offer due to a conflict of interests. A new chief was drafted in with less of a fanfare – but the worst was to follow. September 11. The Twin Towers attack brought tourism to its knees.

It was during the May of that year of turmoil that Malcolm Roughead took over the marketing reigns of Scotland’s struggling tourism body.

“It is time VisitScotland moved from being tourism police to a marketing body,” was the opinion voiced by one leading Scottish MP at the time. “Scotland is a beautiful country with many assets to sell to people both at home and abroad, and those advantages must be used to full effect.”

This opinion was met by a chorus of approving grunts from parliamentary peers and fellow countrymen alike. And that is exactly what has happened under the guidance of Roughead and his team. The turn around has been nothing short of miraculous, and the effort put into picking up Scotland’s most important sector from its knees has not gone unnoticed. Roughead was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s new year honours list at the beginning of the year, an award he is quick to share with his team.

“That was a collective recognition for the team at VisitScotland and the huge amount of work that’s been put in over the last four or five years to turn around an organisation that was going nowhere through some pretty bad times,” says Roughead. “I was just the lucky guy who went up to get the honour.”

Roughead’s soft voice is almost drowned out by the general hubbub of the busy Radisson Hotel in Glasgow where he has put aside time in his busy diary to catch up with The Drum. By the time you read this, Roughead will have been formally sworn in as the new chairman of the Marketing Society in Scotland. It’s a role in which he aims to emulate the success he enjoys as marketing director of VisitScotland.

Part of VisitScotland’s success is down to the fact that its marketing efforts were refocused to build a strong brand for Scotland which aimed to distinguish the country from its competitors and position it in the minds of consumers as a must-visit, must-return destination.

“Tourism is a very competitive environment,” says Roughead. “Perhaps one of the most competitive out there. It’s a £2.5billion market. It provides 200,000 jobs in the Scottish economy. It’s an indigenous product and the market is growing.

“Previously we weren’t getting our share of that market – the numbers were in decline. But I guess we were given the luxury of rewriting the blueprint. We have since stuck with that plan through thick and thin, and it’s beginning to pay off.”

Scotland is like any brand – you have to analyse the consumer, look at the drivers and analyse the barriers. However, there is one major initiative that Roughead believes has played a bigger part than most during his time at the tourism body – the Executive’s route development fund, making it easier for airlines to access Scottish airports.

“That in itself hasn’t transformed the market, but what it means now is that we can work on a level playing field,” says Roughead. “You still have to convince people to come, but at least it has removed one of the great barriers. Scotland’s brand has really just been invigorated. It’s not been reinvented.

“One big challenge we still face in our core market is over-familiarity. Which is ironic, as in the fast-moving consumer goods market familiarity is what you are aiming for. Over familiarity leads to less of a propensity to travel. ‘I’ve been to Scotland. I’ve done that.’ So the challenge for us is to add interest and show the target audience that there is so much more to do than you would expect and give them a reason to return. Repeat visitation is key to growing the market.”

Roughead has overseen the creation and implementation of a number of diverse campaigns, from city break destinations to adventure sports, and from festival activity to the more traditional iconic advertising associated with selling Scotland.

“Audience segmentation is very important to us,” he says. “The various messages are targeted in a very focused manner at the audiences we believe will deliver the most positive response. One of the great strengths that we have is our diversity. But that is also perhaps one of our great weaknesses too – unless it’s managed properly.

“I believe that’s what we have managed to do well. We do have the luxury of a fantastic database which gives us a great insight into the behavioural patterns of our customers and potential customers, which allows us to become very targeted and focussed.”

In terms of GDP, Scotland’s tourism percentage is higher than most countries. In some parts of Scotland, the GDP could be as high as 16 percent and a lot of communities are dependant on the industry. Generally speaking tourism accounts for around 4 percent of the GDP, making it one of the largest industries in Scotland.

In terms of volume and value, the UK market is still by far and away the largest market for VisitScotland. The second largest market is North America and Canada, followed by Germany and Australia.

VisitScotland works with a core of four local agencies in the UK – 1576, Mediacom, WWAV Rapp Collins and

BD-Ntwk – as well as Family which works on the business tourism account. Internationally, the organisation works with a pan-European agency which is part of the Grey Group, and in the States it works with a smaller, specialist agency based in New York. The budgets are split by region, and the tourism body currently spends, including research and PR, around £12million in the UK. Internationally it spends around £7m, with a further £2m on business tourism.

“The agencies set an exemplary cross-agency process,” says Roughead. “They show a great maturity because there is a temptation to think, ‘What’s in it for me?’ What comes first and foremost is how we communicate with the consumer and what we communicate.

“Communication channels are changing all the time. People need to be communicated to at different points in the day. We want to be top of the cerebral search engine, always front of mind.

“As part of our customer relationship management campaign, is fundamental to what we do. Add onto that the 125 tourist information centres across the country with a footfall of seven million people. has traffic of around 13 million people and the contact centre deals with over a million calls. The potential behind all of that, to join it up and really maximise the value, is phenomenal.

“We have been following a strategy towards an overall ambition of 50% growth. One of the big areas that we are looking at is the evolution of communication channels over the next three to five years and how to harness new technology to reach new markets.

“There is a lot of work going on to try and develop an

all-embracing media communications platform. Using the genre of new media has yet to be fully understood and fully exploited. The growth in digital and online communication has been organic, but there are many interesting areas we have yet to touch on, the use of blogging, for example. Can we exploit this? Can we use it in a way that’s not intrusive? Can we add value?

“The power of word of mouth is phenomenal. We’ve been looking at Trip Advisor and YouTube. It’s an exciting area. As are the new markets that are emerging. China’s developing and Russia’s bubbling along. The growth potential is massive.

“Furthermore, 45% of people living in England still haven’t had a holiday in Scotland. So there is still a lot of work to be done in our core markets.”

One of the issues Roughead and his team have had to work hard to address is cost. Vacations here are hardly cheap, and if there’s one thing likely to put off potential visitors it’s the thought of facing a hefty bill. In fact, a weekend in Paris is often cheaper than a trip north of the Border for many southerners. However, Roughead argues: “The issue is not cost – it is one of value for money. If you go for dinner, you will have a certain price tag at the back of your mind. But for that price tag you also have a certain expectation at the back of your mind. Where Scotland can really win over visitors is by bringing added value.

“Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter where you go around the world, you are always going to get good and bad experiences. Tourism is everyone’s business. If we all buy into that philosophy and we all do our own little bit, then satisfaction levels will continue to rise. Tourism is everyone’s business. It is in everyone’s interests to understand it, get behind it and support it.”

Roughead smiles when the old cliché of tartan and heather is thrown at him. He sighs: “They are an urban myth engrained on the psyche.

“However, I would have no problem with using Scotland’s icons. The problem is with how they are used. You won’t find us using Scotland’s icons for the UK market, but, particularly in the long-haul market where the recollection of Scotland is pretty vague, to have something as strong as those icons is a fantastic start. A lot of countries would give their eye-teeth for these associations, yet we tend to worry about them.”


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +