Chamber Matters: Success to shout about
Published 29 Apr 2016Chamber Director Andrew Mackay, owner of The Caithness Collection of hotels, shares his vision for the future of tourism in Caithness.
Caithness’ reputation as a warm and welcoming location is a tale as old as time. Since Jan de Groot first launched his passenger vessel to Orkney from John O’Groats in 1496, Caithness has been renowned for its hospitality. Increased demand for accommodation led to the need for high-quality activities, paving the way for today’s 5 star attractions like the Castle of Mey and Caithness Horizons.
Our long heritage as a tourist destination has developed a culture of ‘Highland Hospitality’ with good practice becoming inherent. For this reason, perhaps, we Caithnesians have never been good at fanfare, quietly achieving instead of shouting from the rooftops and blowing the trumpets.
In many ways, this humble attitude does us little favour. Our recently awarded WorldHost Recognised Destination Status is a fantastic landmark achievement, not just for individual businesses involved but for the wider Caithness economy and we should be telling the world.
WorldHost recognition has proven what we already knew; that the warm Caithness welcome is in the very bones of what we do here. It reveals us in a fit-for-purpose position to increase the economic benefits tourism continues to bring to the county.
With the phenomenal launch of North Coast 500, and Venture North gaining momentum, the timing of this latest success is paramount to driving ourselves forward. The branding for both initiatives is clean, fresh and seductive. Brilliantly marketed, they draw visitors and locals alike off the beaten track, encouraging longer stays and higher spends.
It’s evident pride in tourism is bringing new energy here, promising investment and growth. My concern going forward is that we’ll be unable to tap the thriving online market of digital tourists attracted by such ventures unless we upgrade our connectivity.
4G connections enjoyed by our more central competitors would allow businesses to reach potential customers instantly: able to respond to messages and monitor our potential client base, while sharing high-quality content such as HD video clips and imagery. Securing 4G for Caithness would provide better connectivity not just to businesses in all industries but in our everyday lives, helping retain future generations of skilled workers in the area by both attracting new trade and providing better services for our community.
Modern tourism heavily features holidaymakers snapping selfies and sharing experiences over a plethora of social media platforms. All of these outlets are instant, reactive, and rely on excellent connectivity to perform well. Not only that, they rely on businesses being ready to develop and change to meet these exciting opportunities. The Chamber is taking steps to help businesses in Caithness and Sutherland boost their digital presence through their work with the Digital Tourism Scotland programme, for which I am acting as the local digital ambassador, and I would urge everyone in the tourism industry to get involved.
The North Highlands has a huge amount to offer, but without taking advantage of the new opportunities available in digital, we risk losing out on a whole new market. By working together, we can push for improved connectivity for the whole region and build a bright new digital future for tourism in the North Highlands.