South of Scotland aims to become Scotland’s “Fastest Growing Visitor Economy by 2034” as Partners unveil New Responsible Tourism Strategy

Launching the South of Scotland Responsible Tourism Strategy, left to right:  Steve Rogers, Head of Economy and Development, Dumfries and Galloway Council; Scottish Borders Council Leader Euan Jardine; Councillor Scott Hamilton, Scottish Borders Council’s Executive Member for Community and Business Development; David Hope-Jones, Chief Executive of the South of Scotland Destination Alliance; Tourism Minister Richard Lochhead; Karen Jackson, SOSE’s Director of Strategy, Partnerships and Engagement; Mark Rowley, SOSE Strategy Manager – Tourism; and Gordon Smith, VisitScotland Destination Development Director – South of Scotland.

The South of Scotland Responsible Tourism Strategy and action plan, which sets out radical plans for tourism in the region between now and 2034,was formally unveiled at the South of Scotland Destination Alliance (SSDA)’s third Annual Conference today.

 Hundreds of delegates from across the Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway and beyond packed into The Crichton’s Easterbrook Hall for a day of knowledge-sharing and networking, with inspiring speakers including Tourism Minister Richard Lochhead MSP, incoming head of Visit Iceland Oddný Arnarsdóttir, accessible travel specialist Paul Ralph and Melanie Allen of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere. The headline sponsor for the Conference was Dumfries and Galloway Council with Business Gateway.

Input into strategy from across the region

Co-developed by five major organisations – the SSDA, South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE), VisitScotland, Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Borders Council – with input from hundreds of businesses, organisations and communities, the new Responsible Tourism Strategy succeeds the region’s five-year post-pandemic recovery plan, whose aims were achieved two years early.

The South of Scotland set itself a Covid recovery plan for 2020-2025, aiming to establish a £750m visitor economy and increase the associated number of jobs by 6,500. It successfully exceeded these targets two years ahead of schedule, signalling the visitor economy’s resilience and potential for growth.

As agreed in the Delivery Plan of the South of Scotland’s Regional Economic Strategy (RES), all key agencies in the region came together in 2023 to develop and agree a single Responsible Tourism Strategy for the South of Scotland, with a clear Action Plan for successful delivery.

Core aims of strategy

With core aims to:

  • grow tourism spend in the South of Scotland by £1 billion to £1.76bn by 2034; and
  • support a further 6,000 jobs in the sector to 20,000 FTE by 2034,

the new 10-year Strategy sets out an inspiring vision and rallying call for the South of Scotland over the coming decade:

“We will make the South of Scotland a thriving, responsible destination; leveraging our unique geography, culture, history and landscape to create Scotland’s fastest growing visitor economy, attracting international visitors, creating employment and powering community prosperity.”

Mennock Pass | Dumfries & Galloway

The Strategy will promote the region as a ‘rural escape’ for the 14 million people within two to four hours’ travel time, as well as emphasising the appeal of the South of Scotland as an unmissable ‘go-to’ rather than ‘go-through’ destination.

It also aims to grow the number of higher-spending, longer-staying international visitors holidaying in the South of Scotland.

Priority areas for action

The Strategy sets out 22 priority areas for action, spread across four strategic objectives:

  • Inspire visitors to come to the South of Scotland
  • Develop the visitor experience with a focus on quality
  • Support business to succeed; and
  • Act responsibly for long-term collective benefit

The first of three three-year Action Plans (2024-2027) was also shared at the Conference, identifying 109 tangible actions which all public agencies hold themselves accountable for and will publicly report quarterly on the delivery of.

Overwhelming support for strategy

The draft text of the Strategy was shared with businesses and communities in January as the final part of the extensive consultation, receiving overwhelming support:

    • 84% felt there had been an inclusive, transparent and fair consultation in the development of this strategy
    • 93% of respondents who inputted to the consultation felt their views are represented in the strategy
    • 95% saw themselves being involved in the delivery of the strategy somehow
    • 97% saw themselves benefitting from the strategy

David Hope-Jones OBE, South of Scotland Destination Alliance CEO, said: “This is a game changing moment for tourism in the South of Scotland. The private, public and third sector have come together and, with one voice, have set out a plan with unprecedented ambition for the South, outlining how we will increase our visitor economy by £1bn.

 “There is such a palpable sense of energy, excitement and ambition right across the region and our new Responsible Tourism Strategy lays down a clear marker of where we want to be by 2034 – namely, Scotland’s fastest growing visitor economy.

 “I am hugely grateful for all who fed into and helped develop the strategy across dozens of public meetings over the last year.

 “By pulling together to make this ambitious blueprint a reality we’ve already demonstrated how effectively the key agencies work together with local businesses and stakeholders as Team South. That same cohesive, mutually supportive approach will help us make the South of Scotland the most sustainable, talked about, successful, energetic and coveted destination in Scotland. Scotland truly does start here.”

Tourism Minister Richard Lochhead at the launch of the Responsible Tourism Strategy at today’s SSDA 2024 Conference in Dumfries.
Picture Phil Wilkinson / SSDA

Tourism Minister Richard Lochhead said: “Tourism is vital to our country, creating jobs, sustaining communities and contributing significantly to the economy. 

“This is especially true for more rural areas like the South of Scotland, which is the gateway to our nation with so much for visitors to see and do – from the Great Tapestry of Scotland in Galashiels to the picturesque Port Logan beach near Stranraer.

“The Scottish Government’s national tourism strategy Outlook 2030 contains responsible and sustainable goals for Scotland to be a world leader in 21st century tourism.

“The South of Scotland Tourism Strategy aligns with our national ambitions and puts in place the bedrock foundation of looking after the communities, the culture and the amazing natural heritage in this part of the country, to ensure they are here for generations to come.”

Partners committed to strategy

Professor Russel Griggs, Chair of both South of Scotland Regional Economic Partnership and South of Scotland Enterprise, said: “Developing a long-term, ambitious tourism strategy was a key priority for the Regional Economic Partnership, and I am delighted to see public, private and third sector work together to shape what is a crucial document for the future of the South’s economy.

“All the partners are absolutely committed to the new South of Scotland Responsible Tourism Strategy, which will deliver the best for our visitors, our businesses, our people, our communities and our environment.”

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland said: “This is a hugely important piece of work and shows the strength of ambition in our partners in the South of Scotland to create a responsible tourism destination for the region.

“Dumfries and Galloway, and the Scottish Borders create a truly incredible visitor destination. The strategy presents an opportunity for the region to raise its profile to the world and grow visitor demand in line with the needs of businesses and local communities.

“Our vision is for Scotland to be one of the most economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable destinations in the world. We look forward to working with our partners to deliver this bold new approach for the South of Scotland.”

Eildon Hills | Scottish Borders

Local authorities welcome strategy

Chair of Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Economy and Resources Committee, Councillor Ian Carruthers, said: “This is a very useful document to enable us to plan our way forward. All too often visitors to our region pass through, and we need this plan to encourage them to stay. It would be to our mutual benefit; helping our economy and allowing tourists to enjoy the spectacular scenery Dumfries and Galloway has to offer.”

Vice Chair of Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Economy and Resources Committee, Councillor David Inglis, went on to say: “I welcome this strategy and it is a good example of partnership working where we have a common vision. It is an ambitious goal, but one that we will tackle together for the benefit of our visitors and our economy.”

Councillor Scott Hamilton, Scottish Borders Council’s Executive Member for Community and Business Development, said: “Our region has so much to offer visitors and we have to continue to build on the efforts across the partners, and within the tourism sector itself, to maximise the benefits for the whole of the South of Scotland. I am really excited by this ambitious new strategy and the development of the action plans, which have the potential to be transformative for our economy.”

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