Tourist chiefs have been accused of overlooking huge swathes of the north-east as they prioritise selling the bright lights of Aberdeen to the world.
VisitAberdeenshire’s efforts to promote the Banffshire coast and its many attractions have been dismissed by dismayed business leaders and Banff councillor John Cox.
He is calling for an urgent summit to ensure his home town and the surrounding area do not become an afterthought.
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Leading visitor attractions, retailers and publicans have all been called to a “brainstorming” meeting in two weeks’ time.
Mr Cox fears the loss of the dedicated local tourism body he helped found – the Banffshire Coast Tourism Partnership, which was wound up in 2017 and merged into VisitAberdeenshire – has hampered the area’s ability to promote itself.
VisitAberdeenshire has said it was fully committed to promoting and developing the “fantastic visitor experiences on offer on the Banffshire coast”.
The organisation is involved in the marketing of Banffshire’s most prestigious event, the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy.
It attracts participants from around the world each year and in excess of 16,000 spectators.
Mr Cox, however, wants more done to entice visitors into places like historic Duff House, the Macduff Marine Aquarium, the village of Pennan – made famous by Local Hero – into its beautiful harbours and onto its stunning coastal paths.
He believes the destination management organisation is too focused on projects like cruise ships landing at Aberdeen Harbour and the £333 million The Event Complex Aberdeen (Teca).
The councillor said: “I’m not being critical because of course VisitAberdeenshire has a job to do.
“But they seem to be more focused on the bigger things such as the cruise ships coming into Aberdeen and the new exhibition centre, which will draw people away from this area.
“We want to do the reverse of that and say ‘if you are coming to Aberdeen, we are short distance away and we have so much to offer’.”
Mr Cox hopes to bring the community together at a meeting in the next fortnight in the belief it will prove useful to have ideas from those operating businesses in the area.
“I will be having a meeting of a few folk with some brainstorming and I’m sure we will have some good ideas,” he said.
“What we want to do is raise the profile of this and get everyone behind the potential of tourism in this area.
“Everybody has got a part to play and even if this meeting is just a sounding board for Visit Aberdeenshire, everybody has got to be singing from the same hymn sheet.”
Banff-based entrepreneur Des Cheyne said he will be going along to the gathering and believes now is the time to give tourism in Banffshire a boost.
He said: “It is my intention to attend because it is important to keep the Banffshire coast on the tourism map.
“It is definitely the right time to reinvent ourselves as a place for tourists to come to and it is good of Mr Cox to do something like this.”
Chris Foy, chief executive of VisitAberdeenshire, believes the organisation is working for the benefit of Banffshire.
He said, “We are committed to promoting and developing tourism assets across the whole of Aberdeenshire.
“We fully recognise the fantastic visitor experiences on offer on the Banffshire coast, from great accommodation, to heritage attractions, wonderful food and drink and unique events.
“Our campaigns encourage visitors to go a little further to explore the north-east, and our team work very closely with businesses based throughout the region to help connect them to visitors and tour operators.
“We have a dedicated resource for the north of Aberdeenshire.”
What the Banffshire Coast has to offer
The Banffshire Coast boasts an array of tourist attractions, including stately homes, fascinating fishing villages and celebrations of its nautical links.
Duff House, Banff – This Georgian estate mansion and its grounds were once home to the Duff family. The building has also been a hotel, a sanatorium and was even bombed by the Nazis during the Second World War while Allied troops were stationed there. It houses a celebrated collection of paintings.
Macduff Marine Aquarium – It provides a home-from-home for some of the marine wildlife that can be found in the nearby Moray Firth.
Pennan – The tiny coastal community will forever be a draw for film fans after featuring in 1983 Burt Lancaster hit Local Hero.
Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy – Thousands of visitors flock to the village every summer for the two-day celebration of its maritime links.
Cullen Skink – A trip to Banffshire would not be complete without sampling one of the region’s famous dishes. The soup consists of smoked haddock, potatoes, onion and milk or cream.
Sandend beach – This is one of the most popular surfing beaches in Scotland and has been hailed as the sport’s “jewel in the crown”.