Oban gets its comeback show on the road

Improvements in town centre access have still to be completed.

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Eyes will be on Oban getting ready to roll out a major new Covid comeback initiative – marketing itself as a festival town.

Visitor numbers and ticket sales will shoot skywards if a business plan now being drawn up by organisers from the town’s hit events can secure the funding it needs.

Big funders to be approached will include Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Argyll and Bute Council and the Oban Common Good Fund, with BID4Oban supporting.

If funding is secured, a festival hub will be set up in the town centre as a one-stop shop for events to receive A-Z marketing support – from deciding a best date to sourcing funding.

Establishing a hub like this is something other towns should be copying as a way back from Covid, said Breege Smyth, Highlands and Islands Music and Dance Festival chairperson, who was instrumental in getting like-minded event and festival organisers together to work on the plan.

Help with advertising and getting advice on event management technicalities such as data protection would also be on the job-spec of a paid co-ordinator, possibly a role for two people, that would help lift the pressure and burden off  organisers who ‘just want to get on with’ the joy of putting on an event, said Mrs Smyth.

With a dedicated website marketing Oban far and wide as a festival town, the new hub would also double up as a booking system. And with that infrastructure in place, the town would be in a strong position to put out tenders to bring in other festivals like the Celtic Media Festival. It would also be in a good position to put in a big funding application to VisitScotland, added Mrs Smyth.

‘We are proceeding now with the plan to employ somebody, possibly two people, to set up the hub. We’re looking possibly at a two-year contract to market the town. It’s a great initiative and it is something other towns should be copying as a way of recovering from the impact of Covid. We are getting great support from the council,’ she said.

‘The sooner the initiative can start, the better. We’d hope to be marketing 2022 now. We want people sitting at home to know they do have something to look forward. With this organisation and paid staff in place we could also even tender for festivals to come here – that would be very exciting,’ she added.

A second meeting of event and festival organisers has now been held via Zoom to bring back bustling visitor numbers and reboost the economy.

BID4Oban chief executive Andrew Spence is compiling a wishlist of needs and requests from those who were at the think-tank meeting, to help shape up the initiative’s business plan and be passed  on to Argyll and Bute Council to see what support  can be offered.

Oban councillor Elaine Robertson said she was delighted by the meeting’s enthusiasm and willingness to work together.

‘Festivals and events are, as we know, of huge importance to the town’s economy. I think we are ahead of the game in looking towards 2022 and not just bemoaning the fact that we can’t do much in 2021,’ she said.

Although a number of Oban events for 2021 have already been cancelled, some are still going ahead in a virtual-world while organisers of this year’s 150th Argyllshire Gathering are planning as if the event is on – but a firm decision will be made in May.