Scotland’s year-round programme of cultural events attracts huge numbers of international visitors, but it takes careful strategic planning and continuous improvement, says Stuart Turner.
Last year 2.7 million international visitors came to Scotland, a 6% increase on the previous year, and while here they spent £1.9bn, an increase of 9% on 2015. While their reasons for visiting are many, our international and national events play an important role in attracting people from every part of the globe.
At the heart of these are our signature events that form the backbone of our national events strategy, Scotland the Perfect Stage. Nothing better reflects Scotland’s signature events than Edinburgh’s 11 festivals, which this year celebrate 70 years.
Visitors are becoming more and more demanding about every aspect of the experience we offer
Since the first three festivals were held in 1947 (Edinburgh International Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Edinburgh International Film Festival), the Edinburgh Festivals have grown to offer a year-round programme of events that in 2015 was worth £313m to the Scottish economy, an increase of 24% since 2010 and primarily benefitting tourism businesses.
While our existing signature events are the backbone, our Themed Years have been running since 2009, giving Scottish tourism an edge and galvanising partners to work across boundaries to create a strong collaborative platform to promote Scotland and its people.
Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016 was the platform for a host of events showcasing the country’s flare for creativity from Spectra in Aberdeen to Kathy Hinde’s Luminous Birds across Dumfries, Glasgow and Dundee. Over 150 funded and partner events took place, with more than 1.5 million people attending the events.
This year, we celebrate the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, providing us with the opportunity to showcase our vibrant cultural traditions – the Edinburgh Festivals’ seventieth anniversary is just one of the key themes.
Events of all sizes
While the financial impact of visitors to Scotland’s signature events is plain to see, it is just as important to note the power of the visitor economy for smaller and newer arts events around the country.
EventScotland is committed to supporting events of all shapes and sizes. We are a dedicated team within the Events Directorate of VisitScotland. We give support to the tourism industry and seek to bring sustainable tourism growth to Scotland. To do that we work closely with event producers and organisers across the country to ensure they have a compelling offer for visitors.
Attracting international visitors to our events and festivals has always been a hugely important part of the cultural life of Scotland. Many of our events would simply not function were it not for the support and enthusiasm of participants and audiences travelling from other parts of Scotland, elsewhere in the UK, and internationally.
As access to public funds become more challenging for organisations, maximising income from visitors, participants and other partners will become more and more important.
That said, we are always at pains to point out that we should never take the visitor for granted. In fact, visitors are becoming more and more demanding about every aspect of the experience we offer and it’s not simply a matter of offering a great end-product any more. We need to deliver an end-to-end experience that is world class.
From the moment a visitor first hears about an event, as they research how to buy tickets to plan their visit, and as they travel to it, we need to make sure each step is simple, engaging and high quality. Otherwise there is no shortage of other destinations and other events waiting to step in and compete for their attention.
But Scotland has not developed this expertise by accident. We have built it through years of hosting many cultural and sporting events here, but most of all from never settling and always looking for ways to improve what we offer. Whether through developing our signature events, the Themed Years or collaborating with our partners around rising to the challenge of changing visitor expectations, building a vibrant events sector that attracts visitors is a big part of building a thriving cultural sector.
Stuart Turner is Head of EventScotland.