Five big 2023 wins for destination South of Scotland!

As we look back on 2023 there is much to celebrate, with five fantastic wins for the South of Scotland as a leading tourism destination.


Thistle Awards records smashed:

For the first time ever, the South of Scotland won more national Thistle Awards than any other region.  In total we took home six prestigious national Thistle Awards (the ‘Oscars’ of the tourism and hospitality industries), doubling our previous best-ever year from back in 1996.  This unprecedented national success built on success at a regional level, when we hosted the inaugural South of Scotland Thistle Awards in October.

Thanks to VisitScotland’s media partnership with News Scotland, our South of Scotland winners are being promoted nationally in The Times, The Sunday Times and The Scottish Sun.

We have no intention of 2023 being an outlier year.  We want the South to continue to triumph at the Thistles, so it’s crucial we support quality and excellence, developing further award-winning entries.  Book your place on our 7th March masterclass on how to write a winning application.

Our thanks to VisitScotland for all the support and encouragement given to the South of Scotland over the last year.


Double-time Covid recovery:

When the SSDA was formally established in 2020, at the start of the Covid pandemic, we set two hugely ambitious headline targets for our first five years.  We wanted to supercharge a covid-recovery, increasing the number of tourism jobs by 6,500 and growing the South of Scotland’s visitor economy to £750m by 2030.   We are delighted to see that the latest Scottish Tourism Economic Assessment Monitor (STEAM) data, independently conducted by Global Tourism Solutions, shows that both these targets were exceeded by the end of 2023.

It is a huge collective achievement for the South of Scotland to have achieved our five-year Covid-recovery targets in half the allotted time  – two and a half years early!


Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel’:

At the start of the year it was a huge honour for the South of Scotland to be named Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2023: one of only two UK destinations and 30 worldwide to make the annual list.

The South of Scotland was championed in the ‘Learn’ category of the Lonely Planet list, with the region’s history and culture highlighted as making it the ideal place for delving into the past to learn more about iconic figures such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott.

It is a fantastic global accolade for the South of Scotland and has helped us draw considerable attention for the south from the media, travel trade and consumers.


Cycling success:

2023 has been the year of the bike for the South of Scotland, with: the digital launch of our new 250-mile on road Kirkpatrick Coast to Coast cycle route; the ambitious South of Scotland Cycling Strategy getting into swing; the south hosting three of the UCI World Championship events (contributing millions to the local economy); the Galloway Forest fast becoming the UK’s leading gravel destination, with the success of Raiders Gravel and The Gralloch; and then the South of Scotland being named a coveted, world-leading ‘Bike Region’ by cycling’s world governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).


National Geographic’s ‘Cool list’!:

It was a fantastic year for the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere following their tenth anniversary, first by almost doubling in size to 5,200km2 and then being named by National Geographic Traveller (UK) as the only Scottish destination in their prestigious global ‘Cool List’ for 2024.  National Geographic highlighted the “windswept slopes to dense forests threaded with streams” which visitors could enjoy.  It is a huge endorsement for the South of Scotland.


As 2023 comes to close, it’s fantastic to look back and celebrate these five big wins for tourism in the South of Scotland.  There have, of course, also been significant challenges through the year which the sector has had to navigate, not just in the south but Scotland and UK-wide.  Cost of living (and doing business), increasing regulation, workforce challenges, and re-opened international markets post-Covid have all added difficulties in 2023.  The SSDA will continue to do everything it can to support businesses as they navigate these challenges, representing their interests at the highest levels and ensuring the forthcoming Responsible Tourism Strategy sets in place the right support and development for the coming chapter.


David Hope-Jones OBE, CEO of the SSDA, said:

“In time, I think we will look at 2023 as tide-turning moment for tourism in the South of Scotland.  There has been a fantastic ‘Team South’ approach, with close collaboration between all the key partner agencies, including VisitScotland, SOSE and both local authorities.

Together, we have achieved things which, even a few years ago, would have been unthinkable and we have captured the attention of the industry.  People are now looking south, seeing our region as Scotland’s next big growth destination.  We need to harness the energy and positivity that our collective wins in 2023 have given us, to look with game-changing ambition to 2024 and beyond. 

With enough passion, energy and leadership, anything is possible for the next chapter of the South of Scotland.  Scotland Starts Here.”


We’re looking forward to 2024, which will start with a bang, with exciting news about the SSDA’s evolving membership proposition and the launch of the ten-year South of Scotland Responsible Tourism Strategy.


Leave a Reply