Frazzled north-east tourism chiefs are “cracking on” with selling the region to potential visitors from UK and overseas markets.
It comes after a torrid couple of years for the industry, while those trying to woo visitors are still facing uncertainty in the market due to soaring inflation and the Ukraine crisis.
Looking back on “pain” felt by the sector during the pandemic, VisitAberdeenshire chief executive Chris Foy said promotional activity and priorities had to change at the outset.
He added: “While it was dispiriting for me and for my team to be cancelling activity and losing all the momentum we had built in market since 2018, our challenges were nothing compared to the existential crisis faced by so many local businesses who lost all of their trade.”
A full recovery may not come until 2024 but VisitAberdeenshire is ramping up its work now, Mr Foy said.
The budget for this “should all be sorted within the next week or so”, he added.
VisitAberdeenshire is funded by Opportunity North East, Aberdeenshire Council and Aberdeen City Council.
People in the rest of Scotland and elsewhere in the UK are being targeted for visits during 2022.
And tour operators based overseas are being wooed with a view to building inbound visits from abroad in 2023 and beyond.
VisitAberdeenshire is also focusing on the region’s potential for more adventure tourism – and an abundance of places to get away from the crowds.
It is using events such as the Tour of Britain cycling race, which will return to Aberdeen this autumn, to promote the area as an ideal destination for a range of outdoor pursuits.
Meanwhile, efforts are being ramped up to attract more conferences to Aberdeen city and shire as far out as 2024-25.
Our job is to bang the drum for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.”
Chris Foy, chief executive, VisitAberdeenshire.
The mission to boost tourism across the north-east has started with a campaign to encourage people from the area itself to Make a Day of It”.
Supported by the VisitScotland Destination & Sector Marketing Fund, the multimedia campaign highlights the variety the area offers.
It shows how locals can enjoy a great day out wherever they turn, with “world-class” experiences only a short journey away.
Mr Foy said: “They can enjoy new experiences they possibly weren’t aware of and help support the tourism sector at the same time.”
People throughout the UK are looking at options, he said, adding: “We have an opportunity to attract people to our part of Scotland, where we can give them an authentic Scottish experience.
“The challenge is to build awareness of what we have in the north-east. Our job is to bang the drum for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.”
On the longer-term ambition, Mr Foy said: “We have to have an ambitious agenda to drive a recovery in the tourism and hospitality sector, and reignite customer confidence.
A new tourism blueprint for the region is taking shape, he said, adding: “We have been assessing where we are as we come out of lockdowns and the pandemic
“We can’t just sit and wait for the recovery to happen. We are cracking on with our planning.”
Work on the new tourism strategy for the region is expected to be completed over the summer.
Visitors from overseas are not expected to arrive in any great number until next year but work is going on behind the scenes to sell the north-east into key markets abroad.
Aberdeen will host the UKinbound annual convention in September and Mr Foy said the event would be the “crowning glory” for the north-east tourism industry this year.
It will bring in business from all over the world, he said, adding: “It’s a bit of a coup for us and there will be a lot of focus on it.”
Business conferences are “the big one” for the region, helping to fill hotels and restaurants, VisitAberdeenshire’s boss said.
He added: “Aberdeen is attracting big names, all enhancing the credentials of the city. and can host big events very well.
“Bids are being made for conferences into next year and beyond. Even some of the smaller ones could be worth half a million pounds to the city.”
The Queen’s platinum jubilee will put Deeside and the surrounding area in the spotlight this year, while Scotland’s “year of stories” will help visitors find out more about the north-east, Mr Foy said.
He also cited the redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens, a revamped art gallery and plans for the beachfront as reasons for more people to visit Aberdeen, while the new Greyhope Bay dolphin visitor centre “will be another great addition”.
Decent transport links by air and rail to other parts of the UK are also in the city’s favour, he said.
“We have relatively good connections and creating an electric vehicle charging infrastructure is going to be important too,” he added.
VisitAberdeenshire is funded by Aberdeen city and shire councils, and economic development partnership Opportunity North East.
Mr Foy said: “Nothing would be possible without their support.
“It helps to give us that competitive advantage and reach more people with enticing reasons to visit.
“It all helps to support our struggling businesses – that’s an absolutely critical part of our agenda.
“There has been a lot of pain for the sector over the past two years, but we now have a lot of opportunities to recover, while also supporting jobs and businesses in the region.”