SSDA announces new Chief Executive and marketing platform to drive bold ambitions and vision for the South of Scotland

The South of Scotland Destination Alliance (SSDA), today announced the organisation’s first major steps to making the South a world-class destination and supporting the region’s economic recovery from the impact of Covid-19, with the appointment of their inaugural Chief Executive and the unveiling of a new look Scotland Starts Here campaign.

Ross McAuley, a Scot with more than 20 years international commercial, entrepreneurial and marketing experience, will take on the leadership role in May. In addition to driving forward the SSDA’s ambitious destination development plans, which include increasing tourism spend in the region to £1bn by 2030 and creating 6,500 new jobs, he will oversee the SSDA’s commitment to enabling the region’s tourism and hospitality industry to recover and flourish in the wake of Covid-19.

Ross McAuley, newly appointed CEO of SSDA

Ross has a strong track record in destination management and tourism having previously led ground-breaking global tourism initiatives in the Middle East including nine years at luxury hospitality brand Jumeirah Group, followed by building a successful global travel and tourism consultancy business. His experience in challenging the status quo, developing insights into regional and cultural behaviour, promoting destinations and increasing visitor market share will help SSDA develop the South of Scotland as a new destination for visitors far and wide.

He joins the SSDA team, led by Project Manager Jemma Reid, who today brought together Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders as one destination through Scotland Starts Here, a marketing campaign and information hub for all those looking to discover the very best the South of Scotland has to offer. Now featuring over 1000-member businesses, travel inspiration and experience finders, this campaign signals a pivotal phase of SSDA’s marketing and product development activity.

Commenting on today’s announcement, Ross said: “The South is the hidden gem of Scotland, overlooked in the past as a destination but with a proud history, stunning landscape, great people and enormous potential to engage and inspire. By bringing Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders together, we’re creating a new destination with the scale to bring tourism spend to local communities, and that really excites me.

“Clearly, the impact of Covid-19 has been felt far and wide through local businesses and communities while at the same time completely disrupting the travel market. However, I believe that tourism will bounce back strongly – I can’t wait to join the team and help develop a sustainable tourism strategy in a way that leads to opportunities for both businesses and communities as well as attracting investment. Scotland Starts Here is our first step on that journey taking the South of Scotland to new audiences.”

Stretching from coast to coast across the spectacular region, Scotland Starts Here comprises a website and app that will be supported by digital marketing activity including podcasts, eBooks, videos, blogs, social media channels and advertising campaigns. It will showcase to local communities and visitors, that Scotland’s identity and soul were born in the South – not only in location, but also as an area that has shaped the nation’s history and culture for centuries.

By promoting the South of Scotland as a new destination for visitors to discover and explore, Scotland Starts Here puts a spotlight on authentic local experiences and award-winning products and businesses. It will increase visitor awareness of what the area has to offer while inspiring more day visits, short breaks and holidays. The website also includes a Travel Partners section designed to help Travel Trade Agents build trip itineraries and access marketing information.

Alongside the marketing activity, SSDA will also be running a year-long business engagement and product development programme, aimed at helping members through the recovery period, upskilling them and inspiring their own future business development. Amongst many areas, this will include digitalisation, business collaborations, developing bookable products and experiences, agritourism, supply chain partnerships, education and skills and travel trade training and sale.

David Ibbotson, Chair of SSDA, commented: “This is an exciting time for SSDA. With our members and region preparing for reopening later in the Spring, we’re delighted to have Ross at the helm as we embark on our next stage. Since forming last year, we’ve already undertaken a busy six-month programme of business events and training, putting in place a solid foundation from where we can work with members and build the right recovery programme for the South of Scotland. We’ve been so encouraged by business and member feedback and the support of our partners, and that has all come together through the new Scotland Starts Here campaign. The South has always been the poor relation in terms of awareness and visitor numbers, but now we can’t wait to show Scotland and the world the magical region we have on our doorstep!”

Professor Russel Griggs OBE, Chair of South of Scotland Enterprise said: “I am delighted to welcome Ross as  CEO of the SSDA.  Ross brings with him a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience which aligns with our bold ambitions and huge vision for the South of Scotland. When we announced our investment of £2.7m in the SSDA just four months after going live as SOSE, we made it clear that it was confirming our commitment at a crucial time – to look beyond Covid-19 to the future growth and sustainability of the economy of the South of Scotland.

“Our collective aim is to make the region a world-class visitor destination attracting people to live, work, visit and invest in the area for many years to come, and whilst we could never have anticipated the unprecedented challenge that COVID-19 has brought to our economy – we must focus on an optimistic future and one which makes our economy stronger than ever. Having SSDA now in place and now announcing the appointment of its hugely experienced and passionate leader marks significant steps forward for the region. This, combined with the appointment of our own new permanent CEO in Jane Morrison-Ross who joined us in February, provides us with two new, very experienced leaders who will provide part of an ambitious future for both organisations.  These two strong leaders of both SOSE and SSDA will form part of an important partnership across the South of Scotland which is vital for our recovery and we look forward to working with Ross and the team at SSDA to make it happen.”

VisitScotland Chief Executive Malcolm Roughead said:We’re delighted to welcome Ross McAuley as the inaugural CEO of the South of Scotland Destination Alliance. His appointment comes at an important time for tourism in the South of Scotland, as the industry faces the difficult challenge of recovering from the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“After a year of job losses and business closures, it will take time, significant investment, funding support and strong leadership to rebuild this vital part of Scotland’s economy. With the right support and partnership working between agencies and industry, tourism and events can lead the economic recovery and boost inward investment where it is needed most.

“There has been a renewed commitment to the South of Scotland in the past three years and the SSDA now has the opportunity to build on this activity with the launch of the new-look Scotland Starts Here campaign and promote the wealth of experiences on offer across the region.

“Tourism is a force for good and if managed responsibly, sustains communities in every corner of Scotland, creating jobs, tackling depopulation and improving the wellbeing of everyone who experiences it.

“We look forward to working together with Ross and the SSDA to support the recovery of this vital part of Scotland’s economy.”




Leave a Reply