From April to June, four themed workgroups reviewed the challenges facing Scottish tourism as it reeled from the impact of Covid-19. The scale of the challenge facing the sector - one of Scotland’s largest employers - was obvious from the first day of lockdown and, ultimately, more than 85% of personnel have been furloughed over the period.
In response, in March, Scottish Enterprise and Edinburgh Napier University, the partnership which runs the ground-breaking Destination Leaders Programme (DLP), acted to harness the experience and expertise of more than 120 DLP alumni, launching DLP Assembles to support a pathway to recovery.
“When we launched, the aim was to provide identified actions, outputs and outcomes to help recovery,” explains Professor Jane Ali-Knight of the Edinburgh Napier Business School. “Involvement was designed to ensure participation came under the acceptable category of professional training for ‘furloughed’ professionals, and we used the DLP alumni network to form the project groups to ensure a good mix of experience and expertise. We also matched the workgroups with mentors and professional support to guide participants on their themes and tasks.”
DLP alumni used their connections to bring together the network of professionals who considered each theme – guided by weekly discussions with mentors drawn from DLP alumni and Edinburgh Napier. Mentors helped focus each group’s actions around the Scottish tourism strategy, Scotland Outlook 2030, and provided regular updates on government funding and initiatives.
Aileen Lamb from Scottish Enterprise adds: “We wanted the programme to encourage innovative thinking across a range of themes, but most importantly we wanted to help maintain and extend participants’ professional skills, expertise and experience, and their networking during furlough.
“This project was built upon the alumni network of the Destination Leaders Programme. It is an excellent example of successful collaboration across academia, the public sector and the tourism industry. What Covid-19 has shown us, despite empty hotels, attractions and airports, is the passion, innovation and resilience of the people who work in this critical industry.”
Kenneth Wardrop, a fellow DLP founder, adds: “Using the DLP alumni we were able to act quickly and ensure we coordinated with groups such as Edinburgh Tourism Action Group and the Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group. Everyone involved is to be commended for the quality, professionalism and practical solutions identified. They will all be vital in adjusting business operations to post Covid-19 challenges, and the longer-term strategic planning for the recovery of the sector.”
The practical recommendations of each workgroup were presented in individual online sessions in June. An undoubted highlight has been an interactive toolkit for visitor attractions and experiences, which is now hosted on the VisitScotland website. The Toolkit includes case studies from across the world and suggests technological solutions to suit different budgets, as well as short, medium and long-term ideas.
“It covers everything from online ticketing and social distancing, to moving content online and creating your own podcast,” explains Thayanne Scardini, who volunteered to work on the Toolkit workgroup with fellow tourism professionals Karin Gidlund and Jemma Reid.
“We believe the Toolkit will be a great starting point for attractions and experiences who are looking into diversifying through technology, helping to prepare them for a safe reopening for both visitors and staff, whilst meeting visitors’ expectations and improving customer experience. It has many recommendations for applying technology that can also be helpful for other sectors as well.”
For Antony Carter, and his fellow participants on the Business Events workgroup, they quickly realised that – whether global chain or local venue – the priority going forward is to find ways to reassure clients that operations are safe.
“In the past, operational staff at events were meant to blend into the background; going forward clients and attendees will want to see the operational team front and centre – whether they are cleaning or managing movement around a venue. Our report recommends ways that venues can demonstrate how they have alleviated risk effectively, and that includes collaboration throughout the supply chain.”
For Colin Corson and the Whisky workgroup, ‘collaboration’ also became their watchword. “Whether you are a self-catering provider who wants to welcome guests with a fridge full of local produce, (and a local malt of course), or two attractions selling combined tickets online to avoid the need for queuing, collaboration is vital to future success. It can minimise congestion in local shops; help improve the experience for guests and local businesses; and help local communities – as well as visitors – feel safer as they move forward.”
From conception to conclusion, collaboration is the theme that sums up the ‘Pathway to Recovery’ project. Jane Ali-Knight adds: “The University is incredibly proud to have worked with Scottish Enterprise to lead and drive this project forward. We applaud the hard work of all the workgroup participants, against the backdrop of the many challenges of lockdown, and the professional uncertainty, anxiety and disruption. That hard work was marked by the presentation of Certificates of Participation to all group members on Friday 10th July.”