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Did Scotland Win At London 2012?

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Did Scotland Win At London 2012?

October 21
20:07 2013
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This article has been edited from its original version, which first appeared in CiS magazine June/July2012.

Beppo Buchanan-Smith is, he seems to think, in a minority. As co-proprietor of the award-winning, independent Isle of Eriska Hotel, Spa & Island in Benderloch, near Oban, he’s convinced the forthcoming Games can only be good for Scotland and that their legacy will ultimately help to make Britain great again. Despite being on the frontline of an arduous year for hospitality in Scotland – both occupancy and rooms yield have dipped in many areas of the country – Buchanan-Smith has considerable faith in the power of the Olympic brand to put the UK back near the top of must-visit global destinations once again: ‘We need these Games more than some people realise,’ he says. ‘Even though most of the activities will be taking place down south, they are providing a vital sense of unity in an otherwise disconnected country. ‘Aside from the obvious problems being caused by the threat of double-dip recessions and stagnant growth figures, here in Scotland we currently have our own challenge of persuading people we’re not yet independent. I don’t think we’ve put them off completely but we’re doing a great job of showcasing our insecurities to potential visitors, and the Olympics – particularly the torch’s journey around Britain – are definitely helping to bind us together again.’ And, in spite of the current political and financial climate, Buchanan-Smith claims emphatically that we should be concentrating on the bigger, longer-term picture: ‘There’s no doubt that in the last 15 years, tourists’ opinions of Britian have changed, and not necessarily for the better,’ he continues. ‘Our stature has declined and now we have to really push ourselves to compete with other destinations. The Games give us a unique chance to put Britain back on the world map. It’s not a fix-all, of course, but if it’s doing nothing else at least it’s raising our country’s profile on the world stage. There’s nothing negative about that.’ Elsewhere, the mood is more subdued, and a few hoteliers are less certain of the positive, shorter-term benefits to tourism that the Olympics will bring to Scotland. Willie Macleod, Executive Director of the British Hospitality Association (BHA) in Scotland, believes the Games are not quite as relevant here as some might hope: ‘Major events such as the Olympics tend to be location-specific, and visitors are unlikely to divert to other parts of the country,’ he explains. ‘I think the concerns expressed by some European tour operators earlier in the year – about avoiding London and, indeed, staying away from the UK full stop – are beginning to show real substance. The message I’m getting is that these companies are not marketing other parts of the UK to their customers and clients as they might normally do.’ Macleod believes that the tourists who will be in London for the Games themselves will not necessarily want to make separate trips to the rest of the UK: ‘They will be here primarily for the Olympics, and with the costs involved in attending – not to mention the unwelcome prospect of spending hours at England’s airports once they arrive – I suspect they will want to stay and concentrate on their principal reason for being here in the first place; that is, to watch world-class sporting competitions.’ Asked whether there could be – as hoped – a mass exodus of Londoners looking to escape the city for the quieter environs of Scotland, Macleod is hesitant to declare this as a foregone conclusion: ‘We may get a bit of that but it’s by no means certain, or indeed predictable,’ he explains. ‘Personally, with the less-than-clement weather we’ve had in the last few months, I think we might see a lot of people escaping to the Euro zones for a bit of sunshine this summer. ‘I’m not saying we’re going to lose out completely because of the Olympics this year but I don’t think they will bring any significant, tangible advantage to Scotland; not like 2014 will, anyway’. Slightly further south, there are also ominous – although as yet unsubstantiated – rumours emanating from Cumbria of falling tourism figures in the Lake District. ‘The signs are there that the area is systematically losing out on its bread-and-butter tours,’ concludes Macleod, ‘possibly because many of the tourists who would normally visit the area are now going to London for the Olympics. ‘If this turns out to be true, then it can’t be much better for Scotland; I mean, if people aren’t heading to the Lakes for a short countryside break, what are the chances of them pressing on further north to stay with us?’ Meanwhile, over in Argyll, Calum Ross shares some of his colleague’s scepticism. As chairman of the BHA in Scotland, and proprietor of the Loch Melfort Hotel & Restaurant, also near Oban, he too has noticed somewhat irregular reservation and occupancy levels of late: ‘We’ve had a much higher level of pre-bookings in April and May than we did in 2011, which is the good news,’ he says. ‘However, the bookings we have in hand for the three weeks over the Olympics are lower than they would be normally be at that time of year, and that I think is because of the inevitable draw from London. ‘We would normally expect to have 50% of our bookings by the start of the month, whereas this year we’ve had around 70% pre-bookings but then a struggle to fill the remaining 30% we need. ‘It’s a curious trend, and we’ve definitely noticed it’s proving more difficult to fill the last of the rooms we need in order to reach our targets for this time of year.’ Having enjoyed unusually buoyant levels of passing trade over the last couple of months, Calum is less enamoured with the unpredictability of what the future holds over the next few weeks: ‘I don’t think many people are going to be enjoying their usual short breaks in Scotland this summer if they’re planning on going to London for the Games. Events like the Jubilee and the Olympics are special because they are one-offs, so people will most probably invest their time and money in enjoying them while they can, rather than spreading themselves too thinly and trying to cram something in that they could otherwise put off for another time. ‘When the mayhem starts in July, for us it’s going to come down to what we get week by week. It’s hard to predict what will happen.’ And fresh from hosting a meeting with representation from some of the country’s most respected destinations and personalities in Scottish hospitality, Calum intimated that the general mood around the table was also one of cautious optimism: ‘Some of the evidence coming from Scotland’s tourist hubs indicates a slight slowdown on usual levels,’ he concludes. ‘There has been suggestion that several operators in the Edinburgh Festival have had to hand back bookings simply because the usual tour groups are staying away this year. ‘By and large, the events in London this summer seem to be distracting people from coming to Scotland. Although we hope there will be a considerable last-minute push the closer we get to July, there is no real evidence of any specific positive impact of the Games up here in Scotland. It could happen but we will just need to wait and see.’ Irrespective of the effect it will have on individual businesses in the hospitality sector, there’s no denying the London 2012 Festival will bring some of the Olympic spirit to Scotland. With dozens of cultural celebrations scheduled throughout the UK, events in our own locality include The Big Concert, kicking things off with a performance by The Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra in the shadow of Stirling Castle on 21st June. Earmarked by the Daily Telegraph as ‘one of the 10 events you must not miss,’ this and other events from Shetland to Selkirk will feature film, music, crafts, poetry, children’s theatre, literature and architectural attractions. From the perspective of the hospitality sector, this approach of developing Scotland as a cultural centre with an international reach is likely to be welcomed by many. Taking this opportunity to develop performance and street arts around the country, or raising the profile of the nation’s craft sector, suggests a development likely to encourage tourism long after the roar of the crowds at the 100 metres final has died down. And politicians are upbeat about what the Olympics will mean for Scotland. According to Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Fiona Hyslop MSP, ‘Scotland has a global reputation as a land of creativity and innovation, and the London 2012 Festival is a fantastic opportunity to showcase and celebrate our exceptional creative talent on the international stage. The programme features high quality events and projects the length and breadth of our nation and will be one of the highlights of the Year of Creative Scotland in 2012.’ That said, there is no doubt that, in terms of international media interest, the focus will be on the sporting events taking place in London. Consequently, other parts of the UK – in particular Scotland, one could argue, with the SNP’s ongoing campaign for independence – are likely to receive only marginal benefits of ‘Britain’ hosting the Olympics. So, while for many Scots the London in London 2012 weighs more heavily on the ear than the date – and one could be forgiven for treating the Olympics as an entirely ‘London’ event that is purely about sport – there is evidence to suggest that the many other activities planned may well attract tourists to our shores. Like a distant friend’s third wedding, many people in Scotland seem to feel that they should be excited about the forthcoming sporting extravaganza but – when it comes down to it – really they will have more important things to deal with; like making hay while the sun shines, maximising the amount of business they can do with the tourists who will be exploring outside the hot, overcrowded confines of the capital, and ultimately taking full advantage of the fact the Games are coming to Great Britain at all. Whether those tourists stay long enough and spend sufficiently high levels of capital to support the Scottish hospitality industry at traditionally its busiest period, only time will tell.

This article has been edited from its original version. For the complete feature, please see Catering in Scotland magazine June/July2012.


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CiS investigated what the 2012 Olympic Games meant for the hospitality industry in Scotland…

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