All aboard and full steam ahead

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Exciting times lie ahead for the west coast of Scotland with an innovative collaboration in place and specifically geared up to make the most of 2020 Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters – with a lasting legacy.

Eighteen DMO’s and marketing organisations from across the West Coast have each volunteered funding support from £500 to £2,500 for an ambitious marketing campaign aimed at encouraging people from across Scotland and the UK to make 2020 the year they experience the West Coast and get on – if not in – the water.

The collaboration which spans from Lewis and Wester Ross to Arran and Cumbrae came together late in 2017, initially to scope out what the marine tourism offer actually looks like on the West Coast.  This scoping was undertaken by a team of local development agents coordinated by Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative and funded by HIE. A steering group has provided governance with representation from Calmac, VisitScotland, SailScotland, HIE, UHI WHC  and council partners.

This produced an extensive inventory of 300 hubs where people can get on and off the water – and importantly, set out what experiences are available and if the hub could be categorised as ‘2020-ready’.

One hundred of the hubs give access to a seafood experience, 120 give access to a castle or heritage attraction, 44 to a distillery open to the public and 106 offer excellent marine wildlife spotting opportunities. And there are in the region of 500 operators and clubs providing marine experiences. The results from the scoping were fascinating and highlighted that the opportunity to grow marine tourism across the west coast through collaboration is massive.

A summit event in Oban in January 2019 presented these findings and explored a number of different project ideas.  A steering group meeting then took place in February and some very exciting project ideas are now being developed and funding applications submitted.

The first is to VisitScotland for a growth fund award for the campaign, and if successful will create a budget of £80k. Match funding is in place from the individual DMO partners, Argyll & Bute Council, Lochaber Chamber of Commerce and WildScotland, and a written commitment is in place with SailScotland for ongoing partnership working and mutual support for their campaign activity which will specifically focus on the sailing offer across Scotland. The collaboration represents in excess of 2,000 business interests.

Other projects are being developed by the collaboration to celebrate the Year of Coasts and Waters including a baton relay, a challenge event, a tourist route connecting the islands and the mainland and interpretation of the incredible maritime heritage of the west coast – the Coast that Shaped the World.

Iain Jurgensen, chairman of AITC said: ‘We have been coordinating this collaboration since November 2017 and we have been completely blown away by the buy in  at a pan west coast level. The financial commitment to the proposed campaign is significant in itself. When the scoping project concluded with such a rich understanding of the scale of opportunity to grow marine tourism across the West Coast we could immediately see that 2020 offered us all scope to do something really special that would have a lasting legacy.  We are very excited about what lies ahead for the West Coast, and sharing these plans as they develop.’

David Adams McGilp, VisitScotland regional director and lead on marine tourism said: ‘We welcomed the chance to get involved in this project at the earliest opportunity, especially during the planning cycle for Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020; but also as a multi-destination collaborative effort to realise the extraordinary potential of the maritime environment up and down the country.

‘With so many industry-based groups already involved, the WCMTC proposes an unprecedented level of innovative activity with the capacity to remodel marine and coastal tourism development in ways that protect such a precious resource.’

Anna Miller, head of tourism for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: ‘The Year of Coasts and Waters (YCW2020) is an opportunity to shine a spotlight, celebrate and promote opportunities to experience and enjoy the Highlands and Islands’ unrivalled coasts and waters while encouraging responsible engagement and enjoyment from visitors and the people of Scotland.  The scale of industry engagement and collaboration through the WCMTC initiative has really captured the imagination and the opportunities this will create for businesses and communities in the West Coast is to be strongly welcomed.’

Daniel Steel, chief executive officer of Sail Scotland, added: ‘With extensive coast lines and beautiful scenery, it is little surprise that marine tourism delivers benefits to rural businesses and communities especially on the west coast of Scotland. Having been involved in the WCMTC Steering Group for the past 18 months since inception, it has been great to see the industry on the west coast coming together to collaborate, and to think collectively and with ambition about how to grow marine tourism. Bringing destination groups from the Clyde to Ullapool and all the islands together for a joint marketing campaign is a great achievement and we are really excited about continuing to work with all the WCMTC partners to realise the opportunities of Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters in 2020, and the legacies that will no doubt follow.’

The pace of action is considerable and regular updates will be provided as work progresses.