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Smooth sailing for Scotland’s tourism industry

By Cathy Craig - Posted on 18 December 2014

CalMac’s Commercial Director, Cathy Craig, explains why enhancing transport connections is crucial to the continued growth of Scotland’s economy.

Over the past 12 months, much has quite rightly been made of the fact that 2014 has been something of a landmark year for Scottish tourism.

With Glasgow staging a highly successful Commonwealth Games and European Music Awards, Gleneagles hosting Europe’s successful defence of golf’s Ryder Cup and Scotland as a whole welcoming ex-pats back for the Homecoming celebrations, our tourism industry has enjoyed a fantastic year.

And, of course, these world class events were the icing on a cake which already includes annual ingredients such as the Edinburgh International Festival, Celtic Connections and the T in the Park and Rock Ness music festivals.

Scotland is also blessed with a host of other more localised tourism events and CalMac supports many community-focused celebrations such as Bute Jazz Festival, the Cowal Games, the Tiree Music Festival, the Hebridean Celtic Festival and, of course, the Royal National Mod.

All of these, whether once-in-a generation occasions, annual events or local celebrations make an enormous contribution to Scotland’s economy and it’s fair to say that the communities we serve have enjoyed a significant uplift thanks to increased numbers of visitors coming to the UK.

Our backing for these and many other events takes a number of forms ranging from organisational support to marketing and promotional assistance.

But our primary role is, of course, as a transport provider.

The importance of the part which we and others in the transport sector play in ensuring the success of the country’s tourism sector should not be underestimated.

But with that comes a considerable degree of responsibility.

The logistics involved in these events, in moving thousands of people efficiently and effectively, are considerable and increasingly – and quite rightly – the travelling public and tourist visitors expect transport providers to take a joined-up approach.

Offering convenient connections between ferries, trains, planes, cars and bikes is absolutely essential if we’re to meet the demands of customers and, when it comes to the tourism sector, ensure that visitors to these shores want to come back.

That’s why we’re increasingly exploring ways to work with our partners in the transport sector to develop opportunities for integrated travel.

When you consider that we carry nearly five million passengers every year, many of whom will travel to or from our ports by public transport, it’s clearly essential that we do whatever we can to help offer the right connections which will make visiting Scotland as seamless as possible for the tourist traveller.

Just under half of those passengers are tourists or leisure travellers so we fully recognise the impact we can have on their perceptions of Scotland and its transport network.

We’re in regular discussion with key partners such as ScotRail and Citylink to identify ways to improve these connections and make it easier to enjoy the different attributes which Scotland has to offer.

The recent decision by Transport Scotland to award the next ScotRail franchise to Dutch passenger transport group Abellio creates new opportunities for us and we look forward to working with them as they come on track in the spring of 2015.

Developing strategies in collaboration with our partners which encourage repeat visits and which exploit the different options connecting our award-winning ferry services to rail, road and air is, therefore, a key objective.

And, of course, when our unpredictable winter climate starts to play a part, as it did when the so-called ‘weather bomb’ hit Scotland recently, it’s important that an equally joined up approach is taken to informing passengers about potential disruption and alternative travel options.

Social media has become increasingly important for the sector as a highly effective way of keeping passengers informed. That’s one reason why we’re introducing wi-fi technology on all our ships and in ports and launching a new operations centre to streamline the communications process with customers.

Providing such sophisticated communications technology at sea, often in remote areas, is a challenge but we recognise that it is a “must have” that will make a real difference to our customers.

Yes, 2014 has been fantastic, but we need to be conscious that this hasn't been a typical year and that Scotland and the UK can’t always rely on these big set-piece events to attract visitors.

The business community is working hard to assist the ongoing recovery of Scotland’s economy and, as a key player in the transport sector, we recognise how important our contribution and that of our transport partners is to helping that process.

Have you travelled to a new part of Scotland for the first time this year due to the country's busy events calendar?  What mode of transport did you use to get there and how was the experience?

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