It’s been a gruelling, white-knuckle ride on the rollercoaster of pandemic lockdown, and it’s still not completely over – but there’s an undoubted sea change.
The ending of the most severe anti-Covid restrictions has facilitated a return to something resembling normality. There are some encouraging economic signals and wealth creators are back in business.
They should be aware there is a new opportunity opening to entrepreneurship, a former niche market that is now likely to expand considerably.
People emerging from lockdown have often had no chance to spend disposable income during the past 18 months and are now eager to do so. After the constraints of lockdown, they want to pamper themselves a bit and they have the cash available.
Promising times ahead
In the north-east, despite the effects of the pandemic on business, conditions look promising for a post-lockdown spending spree that will help regenerate the local economy.
Recent figures show the average household income in Aberdeenshire is £37,853, significantly above the Scottish figure of £30,666 and even the UK average of £33,124.
Of the 62 towns and villages in Aberdeenshire, 40 have average household incomes above the Scottish and UK levels. Clearly, there is potential for a boom in industries such as hospitality and luxury goods. Fortunately, the north-east is well-equipped to cater for those markets.
North-east offers plenty in hospitality and luxury goods
For sheer self-indulgence, Aberdeen-based chocolate manufacturer Cocoa Ooze does a mouthwatering line in hampers of uniquely designed luxury chocolates, also providing corporate gifts and experiences.
For larger sustenance, Best of Aberdeenshire or bespoke hampers can be ordered from Castleton Farm, near Fordoun, selling quality jams and fruit products, ready meals and home baking, based on responsible farming methods guaranteeing sustainability.
After the confinement of lockdown, a lot of people will want to refresh themselves by venturing into the great outdoors. There are plenty of local enterprises that will cater for their needs.
The 30,000-acre Glen Dye Estate, near Banchory, surrounded by forest and moorland, offers a selection of well-appointed cabins and cottages, as well as a wood-fired sauna and a pub.
Similarly, Boutique Farm Bothies, based at Drumblade, near Huntly, provides individually designed bothies on a family farm.
Companies such as Buchan-based Aden Caravan and Camping have glamping pods for rent at moderate rates, and Wood Leisure, at Deeside Holiday Park, supplies accommodation in glamping pods, with all mod cons.
Tourism sector developing
It’s all part of the increasingly popular concept of “experience” tourism – a worldwide trend reflecting consumers’ preference to reject leisure investment in retail products, in favour of travel, cuisine and cultural activities that furnish them with a memorable experience. It’s a hugely important development in the tourism and leisure sector.
But the recent pandemic has given a sharper edge to one prevailing tendency. In 2019 a Trends Paper published by VisitScotland identified the health-conscious phenomenon of “wellness tourism” as a growing global trend.
As early as 2017, on average, international wellness tourists spent 53% more per trip than other tourists. In the domestic tourism market, wellness tourists spent 178% more than ordinary tourists.
Wellness tourism holds opportunities
The recent confining experience of lockdown under pandemic conditions is likely to give a further boost to wellness tourism, and its strong performance in the domestic market will allow it to flourish despite travel restrictions.
The north-east is custom-built to cater for this market. Considering that 2021 is the Year of Coasts and Waters, visitors seeking healthy outdoor recreation can explore the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail, observe North Sea wildlife from a boat, visit the seal colony at Newburgh beach, or enjoy watersports such as white water rafting in the Cairngorms National Park.
Spas and retreats have multiplied in the region, ranging from high-end hotels to more modest but well-equipped establishments, all well-placed to service and benefit from the wellness economy.
Wellness is increasingly linked with cultural festivals and Aberdeenshire has 10 such events. We also have 55 golf courses, five ski centres, eight distilleries and 79 “Taste our Best” restaurants.
That vast range of attractions is an obvious magnet for drawing wellness and other tourists, as well as local residents, seeking to put the pandemic nightmare behind them. It’s up to local entrepreneurs to seize this opportunity to contribute to reinvigorating the north-east economy.
Martin Gilbert is a co-founder and former chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management.