Sir Ian Wood is on the hunt for a “Loch Ness Monster” for the north-east to give the region iconic tourism appeal.
The entrepreneur revealed yesterday there were a few ideas currently under discussion aimed at creating an attention-grabbing tourism attraction in the area.
Highlighting Nessie’s key role in luring many thousands of visitors to the Highlands annually, Sir Ian said the legendary creature had been a godsend for north tourism chiefs for years.
“It would be good to have such an iconic tourism attraction in the north-east, he said, adding: That would be helpful.”
Sir Ian, the billionaire former chairman of Wood Group and now chairman of economic development body Opportunity North East (One), said the Aberdeen area already had plenty of prize assets in its favour as One goes about trying to diversify the region’s economy beyond oil and gas.
Golf, an increase in cruise ships and the new £333million Aberdeen Conference and Exhibition Centre would all help to grow the tourism sector, he said adding an iconic attraction would be “the icing on the cake”.
One delivered an update on its progress to date at an event – Towards Economic Renaissance – at Aberdeen’s Chester Hotel last night.
Launched in December 2015, the group has moved quickly to try to secure the north-east’s post-oil future.
An investment of £1.4million in projects in its first year has secured match funding worth £1.6million from public sector and industry partners.
A further £5million investment over the next year, generating at least an additional £5million in match funding, aims to grow the region’s food, drink and agricultural sector, build the area’s life sciences industry, “evolve” tourism and maximise opportunities in North Sea oil and gas.
One chief executive Jennifer Craw said it was time for other industries to come out of the shadow of oil and gas, which has dominated the region’s economy for decades.
“We can channel investment into the region and get projects off the ground quicker,” she said, highlighting One’s leading role – through four sector boards – in invigorating an economy which, in Sir Ian’s words, has been “sleepwalking” for too long.
Mrs Craw said the new £180million Oil and Gas Technology Centre and One’s early work to support business growth through market opportunities, innovation and diversification were already helping to secure the region’s long-term economic future.
According to Sir Ian, declining growth and investment in the North Sea make the need for diversification in a “renaissance” for the local economy a no-brainer.
“There is no way of going back to 2012/13 (before the oil price slump),” the entrepreneur said, adding: “The oil and gas industry has changed fairly radically.
“There will be investment in it again, but nothing like a massive surge back to what we had before.”
One is backed by a five-year, £25million commitment from Sir Ian’s family charitable trust, The Wood Foundation.
It is also the private sector partner in the Aberdeen City Regional Deal, which has secured £250million of UK and Scottish government funding over 10 years, primarily for innovation projects.