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Scottish cities top global travel lists – again

It’s been a successful week for Scotland on the global PR stage as two giants of the American press listed two Scottish cities as among the best in the world to visit in 2018.

In its annual list of the best 52 destinations to visit in 2018 – “a starter kit for escaping into the world” –  The New York Times named Glasgow the 10th best place to visit in the new year. NYT writers were impressed by the scale of investment in and redevelopment of Scotland’s largest city, noting that over 250 different architectural projects will be completed by 2025.

The New York Times also drew attention to the Clydeside Distillery, a $12.3 million (£9 million) project which will see the construction of the city’s first large-scale whisky distillery in 100 years.

Indeed, food and drink has featured heavily in discussions concerning the expansion of Scotland’s tourist industry in recent years, and the strides Glasgow has made on this front are apparent. The article praised the originality of “Glasgow’s exciting, wallet-friendly restaurants” and the diversity of the city’s “international flavours”, while gastronomical tour operator Glasgow Food Company was also given an honourable mention.

Elsewhere, American broadcaster CNN listed Dundee as one of 7 global cities to watch in 2018 alongside others such as Toronto, Tokyo, and Paris. The news comes only three months after another publication based in the U.S., The Wall Street Journal, included Dundee in its list of the top-10 ‘must see’ destinations in 2018.

Dundee – or ‘the cultural comeback kid’, as CNN affectionately names it – has equally been undergoing significant redevelopment, with the construction of the V&A Museum of Design leading the way.

CNN pays tribute to the “ambitious” city-wide regeneration project which also includes the Dundee Waterfront Scheme and the European Capital of Culture Bid, which was only recently blocked as a result of the U.K.’s impending exit from the EU.

But, naturally, the focus is on the V&A. The opening of the museum – the construction of which has cost somewhere in the region of £80 million – will, according to CNN, place Dundee “firmly on the international art map”.

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Scotland: The place to be at Christmas

As temperatures drop and the nights grow darker, Scotland’s towns and cities spring into life with markets, parties, and concerts. Here, we take a look at the holiday festivals which make Scotland an ideal Winter destination:

1.The Torchlight Procession

Every year between Christmas and New Year, Scotland’s capital is illuminated by the flames of torchbearers walking the length of its most historic street.

From Edinburgh Castle at its summit to Holyrood Palace at its foot, thirty thousand participants – including torchbearers, pipe bands, spectators, and traditional Viking associations – parade along the Royal Mile, marking the end of the year with a spectacular display of light and music.

2. Hogmanay Street Party, Edinburgh

Recently listed by The Discovery Channel as one of the ‘Top 25 World Travel Experiences’, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay street party consistently attracts thousands of visitors from around the world.

The event coincides with The Concert in the Gardens – a showcase of musical talent in Princes Street Gardens – and saw 70,000 people descend into Edinburgh’s streets to celebrate the arrival of 2017. As the clock strikes midnight, those in the gardens and in the streets are treated to a firework display from the historic Edinburgh Castle.

3. Glasgow Loves Christmas

As well as Glasgow’s extended European-style Christmas markets, Scotland’s largest city is home to a number of unique festive traditions. To celebrate December’s arrival, Glasgow’s Style Mile – a popular shopping district in the city centre adorned with Christmas lights – plays host to the Style Mile Carnival, a one-off procession of music-playing, costume-wearing festive characters through the city’s streets.

In addition, each year visitors and residents are openly invited to attend the Blessing of the Crib in George Square, a ceremony designed to mark the beginning of the season of Advent which sees the city’s Lord Provost joined by a chorus of singers underneath the Christmas lights.

4. Red Hot Highland Fling, Inverness

Further north, the city of Inverness offers an open invitation to the Red Hot Highland Fling – the ‘largest free Hogmanay Party in Scotland’.

Last year, 10,000 people gathered to celebrate the New Year, accompanied by some of the country’s most successful Celtic and Folk artists. As in Edinburgh, the night culminates with an impressive firework display, and provides the opportunity for visitors to try local food and drink.

5. Oban Winter Festival

Far removed from the urban settlements of the central belt, the picturesque seaside town of Oban is home to the Oban Winter Festival, an award-winning celebration of local and national culture which takes place in the last two weeks of November.

A huge variety of events are organised for residents and visitors, including a Victorian market, Ceilidhs (Scottish country dancing), storytelling, and whisky tasting.


Image: Robbie Shade/ Wikimedia Commons – Fireworks on Hogamany from Calton Hill, Edinburgh. 

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The Growth of Adventure Tourism

Launched in 2012, Tourism Scotland 2020 (TS2020) put forward an ambitious project to grow visitor spending in Scotland by £1bn by the year 2020. The publication highlights a number of areas with the potential for growth across the proposed eight-year timeline, including expanding Scotland’s reach to such markets as India and Brazil, improving technological accessibility, and the adventure tourism sector.

The success of the latter, understood as activities featuring the natural environment as their focal point, has grown exponentially since the TS2020’s publication. Comprising activities like mountain biking, walking, wildlife watching, and snow sports, the global adventure tourism sector rose in value by 195% to $263bn from 2010 to 2013, while the value of British adventure tourism is expected to increase in value to £3.5bn over the next three years.

In Scotland, too, adventure tourism already provides over 3,000 full-time equivalent jobs, and is one of the most dynamic offshoots of the country’s world-leading tourist industry. Only recently, Lochaber Chamber of Commerce and the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) announced the signing of a new agreement with four European partners designed to promote the growth of the sector in Scotland and Europe, while plans are underway in Aberdeenshire to invest £10m into the construction of a multi-activity mountain bike park.

Both projects will focus on promoting the sustainable development of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ adventure tourism, building solid structural foundations to enhance the sector’s potential for longevity. It is to this end that the Adventure Tourism Innovation Partnerships Projects (AVIP) signed by Lochaber Chamber of Commerce and UHI – linking Scotland with relevant authorities in Ireland, Estonia, Bulgaria, and Denmark – seeks to train and educate those wishing to work in the sector.

Adventure tourism is also recognised as a key player in the industry’s effort to promote the ecological expansion of tourism into smaller regional areas. At present, Scotland’s main adventure tourist hubs are Aviemore and Fort William, Oban, Blairgowrie, and Ballater, among others. Given that the sector depends so heavily on the quality of the country’s natural assets, investing in environmentally sustainable practices is in the interests of tour operators and activity providers. As the only ISO14001 certified DMC in the UK, this particular mission is one which Experience Scotland is especially passionate about.

Coming off the back of a record-breaking year for Historic Scotland and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the accelerated progress of adventure tourism provides further cause for optimism, and is an encouraging sign that, moving into 2018, Scotland’s tourism industry can continue to perform at the highest level.

Image: Pixabay: Sunrise in the Scottish Highlands


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Edinburgh’s Gastronomical Renaissance

Renown French newspaper Le Monde has praised the quality of Edinburgh’s restaurants in a lengthy piece published in its cultural offshoot, M le Mag. Debunking common misconceptions around Scottish cuisine, the author points out that outside of London, Edinburgh is home to the most Michelin-star restaurants in the UK.

Indeed, the city’s growing potential is outlined by reputable French chef Jérome Henry, who has just opened his own restaurant in the Scottish capital, Le Roi Fou on Forth Street. Henry, who was once head chef at the prestigious Mosimann’s Private Dining Club in London, declares that the city is fast becoming one of the most ‘dynamic’ centres of gastronomy in Europe. A number of household names are cited, such as Leith’s The Kitchin by Tom Kitchin and Martin Wishart’s Restaurant Martin Wishart. Attention is equally paid to the recent development of St Andrew Square, which has seen the opening of such names as The Ivy, Dishoom, Vapiano, Gaucho, and The Refinery.

But it’s not just Edinburgh that’s making waves on the global food scene. Food and drink has always been an important part of Scotland’s tourist package, with a marked emphasis on the whisky variety of the latter. The growth of Scotland’s gastronomical sector – with the development of the so-called ‘gin trail’, the rise in popularity of microbreweries, and the increased sales of Scottish fish to European countries – will please tourism bosses who, since 2015, have highlighted food and drink as a target for growth.

Experiencing Scottish cuisine is also integral to the incentives and trips which Experience Scotland organises. This year, our team arranged for a surprise cookery demonstration of freshly-caught Pollack by a kilted chef for twenty Chinese VIPs on Durness Beach, while a recent fam trip with Destinations saw guests sampling a diverse range of dishes, many of which blended traditional Scottish cuisine with more contemporary culinary tastes.

Image: WalkersSk, Creative Commons (Edinburgh seen from Regent Road)


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Experience Scotland and Destinations: A Case Study

[Fam Trip, Scotland, October 2017]

The Client: A group of American VIPs travelling with Destinations to Scotland for a fam trip.

The Request: To experience first-hand Scotland’s growing reputation as a world-leading incentive travel destination. Given that the guests were due to spend a relatively short period of time in Scotland, a very particular programme was put together in order to showcase the best of the country’s gastronomy, accommodation, and cultural traditions.

The Task: To offer a rich and diverse taste of Scotland in order to maximise our guests’ time with us.

The Delivery: Turning first to accommodation, the group were offered some of central and southern Scotland’s most renown hotels as part of their package. After touching down at Edinburgh Airport, a transfer was arranged to take the guests directly to Gleneagles Hotel, host of the 2014 Ryder Cup, where the Health Club facilities were at their disposal after a long flight. The next stop was the home of golf at the Fairmont St. Andrews, with its breath-taking views of the rocky shoreline and iconic Swilken Bridge on the course’s 18th hole. From here, the guests headed towards Edinburgh via Andy Murray’s Cromlix House Hotel for lunch, before settling into their final stop at the Sheraton Grand Hotel.

Along the way, a number of different activities were arranged, with each designed to expose our guests to the various elements of both traditional and contemporary Scottish culture. From a guided tour of the Famous Grouse distillery, to a private visit of the ancient seat of power at Stirling Castle, to the opportunity to play golf on the PGA-certified course at Gleneagles, our guests were given the freedom to sample the diverse elements of Scotland’s colourful cultural tapestry. Appropriately enough, to mark the end of a five-day tour of Scotland, a private viewing of Edinburgh Castle’s Crown Jewels was arranged, followed by drinks and canapés, with each guest proudly wearing their own fitted kilt.

The Result: Working to maximise the fam trip experience was not an easy job. But, both Destinations Inc. and our guests left delighted with their trip, having created some lasting memories from their tour of Scotland.

Image: Josh Sutton

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Dundee named among top 10 must-see destinations for 2018

The city of Dundee has been named among the top 10 ‘hot’ destinations for 2018 by The Wall Street Journal alongside the likes of Madagascar, Shanghai, and Minneapolis.

The poll marks the latest stage in the growth of Dundee’s reputation in the global tourist industry. Once branded ‘the coolest little city in the UK’ by GQ, it was recognised as the country’s first UNESCO City of Design in 2014.

Indeed, one significant cause for enthusiasm cited by the American publication is the city’s celebration of its heritage in this particular field, in the shape of the V&A Museum of Design. Due to open in 2018 and envisaged by prolific Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, it will be the first centre of its kind open to the public in Scotland. The museum will work in tandem with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, ‘the world’s leading museum of art and design’.

But the V&A is just one of a number of notable ongoing developments rejuvenating the city of jute, jam, and journalism. The building’s construction is part of a wider £1.5 billion redevelopment of Dundee’s waterfront area, which includes a new marina, shops, bars, restaurants, and the City Quay complex.

The city is also in the running to be named European Capital of Culture 2023, and today sent off its official bid to the committee amidst celebrations in the City Square.

Image: Tay Bridge, Conner395

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World’s first floating wind farm opens in Scotland

The world’s first floating wind farm has been officially opened by Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Located 15 miles from Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, Hywind Scotland has already begun delivering electricity to the Scottish grid network. In time, it is estimated that it will produce enough electricity to power 20,000 homes across the country.

The project has been ongoing for fifteen years and was managed by Statoil, a Norwegian firm which specialises in finding alternatives to carbon-based fuels in the energy sector.

The advantage of a floating wind farm – where the bottom of the turbine is anchored to the seabed with specially constructed cables – is the depth which individual turbines can reach. The project off the Aberdeenshire coast reaches a depth of 129 metres, while conventional wind farms tend to reach a depth of around fifty metres. What’s more, wind speeds are generally higher and more predictable offshore than on land, making for ideal conditions to meet the high-energy needs of coastal towns – a particularly pertinent advantage in Scotland, Europe’s ‘windiest country’.

Coming just months after the opening of the Queensferry Crossing, the project is also an impressive engineering feat. The First Minister noted on twitter that each turbine is four times the height of Edinburgh’s Scott Monument, or three times the height of New York’s Statue of Liberty.

After visiting Hywind, Ms Sturgeon commented that the project affirms the viability of Scotland’s offshore energy resources, and puts the country “at the forefront of the global race to develop the next generation of offshore wind technologies”. Indeed, sustainability is equally of importance to Experience Scotland. Alongside our continuing partnership with WeForest, we are the only DMC in the UK to be ISO14001 certified – a leading international recognition of ecological corporate practice. Investing in renewable energy sources such as Hywind is therefore not merely a symbolic gesture, but a necessary step towards safeguarding the health of Scotland’s environment.

Image: Middelgrunden offshore wind farm, Kim Hansen 



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Scotland and Brexit: In the midst of uncertainty, Scottish tourism thrives

On June 23rd 2016, the UK voted to leave the European Union. In the wake of the surprise result, many in Scottish tourism expressed concern over the future of the industry. Foremost among their worries was the way in which the vote’s rejection of the EU would adversely impact European visitors’ perception of, and willingness to travel to, the UK – regardless of Scotland’s profoundly pro-EU sentiment.

Fast-forward 18 months and the initial anxiety over a downturn in performance has yet to be realised. Indeed, the immediate effect of the Brexit result was to inject further vitality into an already expanding industry in Scotland. The Scotch Whisky Association reported that 2016 saw 1.7 million visitors travel to distilleries across the five whisky-producing regions, an increase of 8% on the previous year. This is accompanied by Historic Environment Scotland’s record-breaking figures for 2017, and the unprecedented success of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Rather than merely surviving Brexit, Scottish tourism has thrived. Much of this can be attributed to the weakening of the pound relative to the euro after the referendum. In practical terms, this led to an increased number of tourists choosing Scotland as a destination, as well as a significant increase in the spending figures of those same tourists during their visit. Indeed, of those 1.7 million visitors to the country’s whisky distilleries, spending came in at an average of £31 – itself rising 13% from the figures collected in 2015.

More tourists, higher spending: these have been the short-term impacts of the Brexit vote thus far on the Scottish tourism sector. Naturally, the future remains uncertain, and the Scottish Tourism Alliance has been critical in recent days of the UK government’s proposed timeline. However, with almost two thirds of Scottish tourism businesses confident about their trading prospects from now until 2020, the future looks bright – and the resilience of the industry should once again be applauded.

Image: PixaBay

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Record-breaking summer for Scotland’s historic sites

It has been revealed that historic sites across Scotland recorded their most successful summer season on record. Historic Environment Scotland’s 70 sites across the country collectively saw a 20% rise in visitor numbers from April to September this year, making 2017 the busiest year on record.

HES noted that it saw a particular increase in the number of visitors welcomed by sites which feature in the hit US show ‘Outlander’, recently branded the new ‘Braveheart’ of Scottish tourism by Visit Scotland. Compared to last year, Blackness Castle saw a 44% increase in visitor numbers, while Doune Castle noted a 42% increase in footfall.

Meanwhile, the staples of historical tourism in Scotland also continued to improve their performance. Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, and Urquhart Castle all enjoyed their best summer season to date, with Edinburgh Castle alone attracting almost 1.5 million tourists.

In total, 3.8 million visitors visited HES sites across Scotland. Indeed, the momentum generated during the spring months carried into the summer, with August attracting 870,000 visitors to historic sites, making it the busiest individual month on record.


Image: PixaBay

2017 ‘greenest year ever’

The National Grid has hailed 2017 as the ‘greenest year ever’ as it revealed figures showing the UK broke 13 clean energy records across the course of the year.

As the UK’s greenest DMC, the news is welcomed by Experience Scotland as a sign that the fight to protect our environment is beginning to take shape. June marked the first time that wind, nuclear, and solar power generated more power than coal and gas combined, while in April the UK was able to generate enough power without using any coal for a full 24 hours for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

There was further encouragement in another report released by MyGridGB. Figures revealed that British wind farms produced more electricity than coal plants for 75% of the year. It also found that renewable energy sources produced more power than coal for 90% of 2017.

For Scotland, too, 2017 proved to be a breakthrough year for the transition away from traditional energy sources. The year saw two notable developments in particular: the opening of the world’s first floating wind farm and the government’s commitment to ensuring that renewable energy constitutes 50% of Scotland’s energy by 2030.

There are further plans in place for expansion of Scotland’s renewable energy programme. In the Outer Moray Firth, the £2.6bn Beatrice project is already underway, with a focus on the development of hydrogen energy and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

Let us hope that the progress shown by Scotland and the UK is built upon as we move into 2018.

Image: Windmills and Ailsa Craig – John. R/ Wikimedia Commons