Speakers at the 2024 South of Scotland Destination Alliance Conference include clockwise from top left: Richard Lochhead MSP;  Mary Jane Brett, Johnnie Walker Princes Street Experience ; Dr Martin Valenti, Director of Net Zero, SOSE;  Paul Ralph, Partners in Access;  Bruce Fummey, Comedian and Tour Guide; Carron Tobin, Executive Director with SCOTO

SSDA Annual Conference will unveil 10-year Responsible Tourism Strategy for the region

TICKETS are selling fast for the South of Scotland Destination Alliance’s (SSDA) third annual conference, a key annual gathering for tourism and hospitality in the South of Scotland with a packed programme of inspiring speakers, stimulating breakout sessions, unmissable networking opportunities and entertainment.

Kicking things off at The Crichton’s Easterbrook Hall in Dumfries on 20 March 2024 will be the SSDA’s CEO David Hope-Jones OBE with a focus on strategy development and collective ambitions for the region over the next decade.

As well as an address by Scotland’s Tourism Minister Richard Lochhead, influential speakers will include sustainability expert Dr Martin Valenti, Carron Tobin, Executive Director with SCOTO, accessibility and inclusive tourism specialist Paul Ralph and Mary Jane Brett of the Johnnie Walker Princes Street experience. The event will conclude on an uplifting and light-hearted note with a finale delivered by Scottish comedian, tour guide and Burns aficionado Bruce Fummey.

The centrepiece of the 2024 Conference will be the official launch of the comprehensive new South of Scotland Responsible Tourism Strategy. This ten-year plan has been developed jointly by the SSDA, South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE), Scottish Borders Council, Dumfries & Galloway Council and VisitScotland with input from dozens of regional tourism and hospitality businesses and local and national stakeholders.

The Strategy consists of four main strands: Inspire, Develop, Support and Act Responsibly, and the Conference agenda will revolve around these, with the aim of sharing experience, learning and building new local collaborations between businesses. The Responsible Tourism Strategy will underpin all agency work in the South of Scotland over the next decade.


Goal to increase visitor economy to £1 billion

David Hope-Jones, Chief Executive of the South of Scotland Destination Alliance, said: “Our third annual gathering of tourism and hospitality businesses from across the South of Scotland promises to be bigger and better than ever.  Tourism in the South of Scotland is enjoying significant success, with ambitious economic and job creation targets hit two years early and, for the first time ever, the South winning more national Thistle Awards than any other region. 

“Now is the time to come together and map out the next ten years: how we’re going to increase our visitor economy by £1billion.”

Professor Russel Griggs, SOSE Chair, said: “Tourism and hospitality is critical to the South of Scotland, and the SSDA Conference is another excellent opportunity for local businesses in this sector to connect, network, learn and collaborate.

“There will be a chance to hear some inspirational speakers, while the Conference will also unveil the South of Scotland Responsible Tourism Strategy, a really important partnership document which aims to deliver the best for our visitors, businesses, people, communities and environment.”

SSDA Annual Conference 2024 agenda highlights



Melanie Allen, Chair of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere’s Partnership Board, will focus on the value of leveraging designations and accolades to tourism in the South of Scotland following the Biosphere making National Geographic’s influential ‘Cool List’ for 2024. Mary Jane Brett, Customer Development Manager at Johnnie Walker Princes Street, will then examine the importance of attracting international visitors.


Growth and development hubs, visitor information and infrastructure and inward investment will be among the topics covered, featuring talks from Destination Tweed Project Director Luke Fisher and marketing specialist Vanessa Wegstein of the SSDA.


Featuring discussion of collaboration between businesses and tourism boards, as well as support for businesses, development of the tourism workforce, data sharing and representation, with speakers including John King from Dumfries and Galloway Council and Eva Milroy from Dumfries and Galloway College.

Act Responsibly

Dr Martin Valenti, award-winning sustainability practitioner and Director of Net Zero, Nature and Entrepreneurship at South of Scotland Enterprise, will provide insight into how the region’s tourism industry can play its part in the South of Scotland’s transition to a Net Zero economy. Carron Tobin, Exec Director with SCOTO, will follow this with a speech on embracing community-led tourism before Paul Ralph of Partners in Access discusses the importance of accessible and inclusive tourism.

After a concluding Q&A session chaired by David Hope-Jones, Scottish history comedian and Burns enthusiast Bruce Fummey will bring the Conference to an entertaining close.

Find out more and book tickets on the SSDA’s website.

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