Full programme details announced for ‘must-attend’ South of Scotland Destination Alliance Conference

A packed programme of topical talks, breakout sessions and networking opportunities has been unveiled for the South of Scotland Destination Alliance’s (SSDA) second annual conference being held at Peebles Hydro next month, for which tickets are already being snapped up.

Appropriately for 2023, when the region will come under the spotlight as home to one of the UK’s newest and longest cycling routes when the 250-mile Coast to Coast is launched this summer, the keynote speech at the 14 March event will be delivered by international cycling expert and influencer Markus Stitz.

Conference Agenda

The day’s agenda will get under way with an address by the SSDA’s new Chief Executive Officer, David Hope-Jones, showcasing success stories from 2022 and highlighting insights and opportunities for South of Scotland tourism and hospitality businesses in 2023 and beyond.

A focus on marketing will then examine the latest trends in tourism promotion, including working with influencers, social media and podcasts in a session led by Kathi Kamleitner of WatchMeSee.

Next on the agenda, Emma Guy of SCOTO (Scottish Community Tourism), will talk about inspiring visitors to be temporary locals, after which Jade-Louise Black from Netherurd Garden House accessible apartments in Blyth Bridge will give a presentation about Experiences for Everyone – Inclusive and Accessible Tourism. The final pre-lunch session will be led by Lyn Donnelly of VisitScotland, focusing on Responsible Tourism.

Breakout sessions

Three breakout sessions after lunch will allow attendees to discuss and explore various aspects of sustainable tourism development, such as: food and drink / agritourism (with Caroline Millar, Sector Lead at Scottish Agritourism); accommodation (with Fiona Campbell, Chief Executive at the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers); and attractions and experiences (with Gordon Morrison, Chief Executive of the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions).

Paula Ward of South of Scotland Enterprise (SoSE) will outline the South of Scotland Cycling Strategy, along with an exciting update about the new coast to coast route, prior to Markus Stitz’ keynote speech and a Q&A session on cycling and cycle tourism. The daytime programme will conclude with an impactful session by Dr Martin Valenti, SoSE’s NetZero Director, entitled Building Better Business – to Net Zero.

The SSDA held its first, very well-received annual conference in March 2022 at Dumfries’s Crichton Campus, with a keynote speech by travel expert, writer and broadcaster Simon Calder.

New for this year

New for 2023, the conference programme continues into the evening, starting with an unmissable networking drinks reception hosted by Peebles Hydro’s 1881 Gin Distillery & Gin School. Following a delicious three-course dinner, guests will be entertained by speeches from double world record-holding adventurer and author of Blue ScotlandMollie Hughes, as well as Marc Crothall MBE, Chief Executive Officer of the Scottish Tourism Alliance since 2012.

Another new addition for conference-goers this year is a specially-arranged ‘fam’ (familiarisation) trip to visit local businesses in the area and share ideas and experiences. This will be held on Wednesday 15 March.


SSDA Chief Executive David Hope-Jones said: “I’m very much looking forward to my first SSDA conference next month, which promises to be a must-attend event for our members and anyone eager to get the latest insights into the challenges and opportunities facing our industries in the south of Scotland. It will be a fantastic networking opportunity for everyone taking part and I’m keen to chat to as many attendees as possible: getting to know members and finding out how the SSDA can work with and support their businesses.

“As one of the Lonely Planet’s top 30 Best in Travel destinations for 2023, this is a momentous year for the south of Scotland region. Plans are well under way to launch the new Coast to Coast 250-mile on-road cycle route this summer, one of the longest routes of its kind in the UK, and not long after that goes live we’ll be in the global spotlight again as host to many of the exciting UCI World Championship cycling events.

“Of course, our superb cycling landscape is just one of countless reasons to visit and spend time in this incredible part of the world and we’re working on really showcasing all the amazing things the region has to offer, from history and heritage to food and drink and unforgettable experiences, so that visitors are inspired to return time and time again.”

Keynote speaker Markus Stitz said: “I’m really excited to be speaking at the SSDA conference in March. The south of Scotland, home of the pedal-driven bicycle invented by Kirkpatrick Macmillan, is one of the beautiful parts of the country, with endless opportunities for bike-based adventures.  “The south of Scotland inspired me to move from Germany to Scotland. I was attracted here by the huge variety of off-road tracks, quiet roads, unique scenery, amazing forests, clean air and dark skies; and as the south of Scotland is a natural destination for cyclists, it was here that I mapped my first bikepacking route, the Capital Trail.“Cycling and active travel is a key part of the region’s tourism offer and I look forward to working with the SSDA and its members to bring new, two-wheeled visitors to the south.”

Nic Oldham, Head of Customer and Commercial at Crieff Hydro Family of Hotels, said: “It’s a real honour for us to host the SSDA’s annual conference and evening dinner reception at Peebles Hydro and we are really looking forward to welcoming so many key representatives of our region’s tourism and hospitality sector for the event. The SSDA is leading the way in championing this vital industry for the south of Scotland and we’re proud to be playing our part in helping to shape the future of the local visitor economy by hosting the conference.”

Tickets are on sale on the SSDA’s website, along with more information about the conference speakers.

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