How the South of Scotland can learn on the hoof from Iceland

The SSDA’s CEO, David Hope-Jones OBE has written and opinion piece which has been published in The Herald as SSDA Annual Conference is held in Dumfries.

Picture this: you’re finishing up at your desk, ready to clock off for some well-earned annual leave. As a final task, you pop on your out-of-office message, letting colleagues and clients know when to expect you back at the coalface.

The catch? The message you set reads something like: XRMESX^$%^BE 56$W$%% ^$FHHHTYJESX!. It’s not in English (or any known language), because it’s been composed by… an Icelandic pony.

I’m referring to the ingenious – and decidedly out there – destination marketing campaign “Outhorse Your Email”: brainchild of Visit Iceland, whose creativity and chutzpah have rightly won them international acclaim.

Using a beautifully filmed video starring their handsome equine workforce demonstrating the email-outhorsing process (basically, hoof-typing on a giant keyboard) against stunning Icelandic scenery, Visit Iceland conceived a globally award-winning campaign that made people laugh, highlighted the importance of properly switching off when on holiday and showcased Iceland’s beloved ponies and epic landscapes into the bargain.

Today Visit Iceland will be “outhorsing” their own emails and joining us in Dumfries at our third annual South of Scotland tourism conference, sharing insights into the secrets of their success and what they’ve learned about developing a year-round destination: one of our core goals for the South of Scotland.

While we may not have hot springs and volcanoes in common (we see their lava and geysers and raise them lochs and medieval abbeys), there’s much that we can learn from each other as off-the-beaten track destinations with lots to offer the world, whatever the season.

Iceland is not the only international show in town at the SSDA Annual Conference 2024, either. We’re very much looking forward to delegates hearing from the Vienna Tourist Board, whose innovative use of technology and AI helped them connect with local Viennese residents, inspiring them to rediscover their city’s attractions and restaurants post-pandemic.

This international knowledge-exchange and engagement is a no-brainer for an outward and forward-looking destination like ours. Accolades like making the Lonely Planet Best in Travel list for 2023 and National Geographic Cool List for 2024 (kudos to our incredible Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere) are testament to a growing global awareness of just how much relatively untapped potential the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway have as a world-class destination.

At the conference, with our partners, we are launching the game-changing, 10-year Responsible Tourism Strategy for the South of Scotland, which will increase our visitor economy by £1bn and support a further 6,000 jobs over the coming decade.  We will achieve this by extending our visitor season, attracting more higher-spending international visitors, and supporting local businesses to succeed.

We have big ambitions for this incredible part of Scotland and we’re working together to make great strides in the months and years to come.

The louder we shout about what the South of Scotland has to offer, the more visitors we can attract, the stronger our visitor economy and the more our communities can thrive and prosper.

Or, as Hekla Frá þorkellshóli, the Icelandic pony, might put it, GERNSGIEWN%£JG£GJS.

Published in The Herald

David Hope-Jones OBE is Chief Executive of the South of Scotland Destination Alliance, the strategic destination management and marketing organisation for the South of Scotland, comprising Dumfries & Galloway and the Scottish Borders.

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