Tourism

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 17th February 2000.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 9:30 am, 17th February 2000

The first item of business today is a debate on motion S1M-550, in the name of Alasdair Morrison, on tourism. There are two amendments to the motion.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

Yesterday, we published our new strategy for Scottish tourism. It sets out our vision of the way ahead for one of our most important industries, examines the changes that have taken place in Scottish tourism over the past 30 years, considers how the tourism market is changing and identifies the strengths of the Scottish tourism product and the opportunities that are opening up. However, it also identifies the industry's weaknesses, the threats that it faces and the barriers that must be overcome if our vision of a world-class industry is to be realised. Most important, our strategy takes account of the views that have been expressed by the industry itself—businesses at the sharp end that are involved in tourism day in, day out.

More than 600 individuals, businesses and support agencies responded to our invitation last autumn to tell us what needed to be in the strategy. As I said when we last debated the subject of tourism, we were happy to agree to a request from the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee to extend the time that people had to comment so that the consultation could be as inclusive and wide ranging as possible.

Henry McLeish and I have been out and about regularly meeting tourism businesses and their representative organisations, to find out at first hand what the particular problems are in different parts of Scotland. Between us, we have been to Shetland in the north and Dumfries in the south and many points in between. Uniquely, we discussed our detailed proposals last month with John Swinney and his colleagues on the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee. The comments that the committee made, which were useful, have been considered carefully and have been reflected in the final document.

This has been the most comprehensive consultation exercise about tourism that there has ever been in Scotland and we have listened carefully to what has been said. The actions that we are taking will tackle the concerns that people have about the future.

Last year, 1999, was a better year for tourism in Scotland than 1998. The Scottish Tourist Board expects total tourism spend in Scotland to have increased by 1 per cent in real terms over 1998. That means that spend will once again have exceeded £2.5 billion. That is a considerable achievement by the industry and has defied those who clamoured and predicted crises and who consistently forecast that 1999 would be worse than 1998.

The industry did well last year. We believe, however, that it has the capacity to do even better. We believe that the industry is capable of achieving increases in spend of over 3 per cent each year in the period to 2005. We want the annual value of tourism in Scotland to rise from today's figure of £2.5 billion to over £3 billion in five years' time.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

Our strategy identifies the markets where we believe potential exists for greatest future growth. These markets are the USA, Germany—

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

I see that Mr Ewing is eager this morning. I will give way if he will allow me a few more seconds to develop my point.

Those markets are the USA, Germany and France as well as the English and Scots markets. We are also setting targets for the industry to achieve in each of those key markets. Those targets are annual increases in spend of 5 per cent from the USA, 4 per cent from Germany, and 2 per cent from France. For the domestic market, the targets are annual increases in spend of 2.5 per cent by English visitors and 3 per cent by Scottish visitors.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The Scottish National party supports the setting of those targets but recognises that the anticipated growth in global tourism is 4 per cent, as the minister's paper states. If Scotland achieves only a 3 per cent rise in income from tourism, which is the minister's target, the loss of revenue will amount to £549 million between now and 2005. Does the minister acknowledge that the target that the Executive has set is lower than the percentage for international growth that is predicted for global tourism?

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

Fergus Ewing is absolutely right when he says that the projected increase in global tourism is around 4 per cent. However, it is widely recognised throughout the industry and across Scotland that the targets that we have set are ambitious but realistic. They have certainly been welcomed. Many in the industry have said that they are ambitious, but we are committed. The strategy will deliver, and we will achieve what we have realistically set out in that strategy.

The all-Scotland picture, however, obscures some substantial regional variations. That is a long-standing problem and was one of the main concerns that was mentioned by many of those who responded to the consultation exercise. The less accessible and less well-known areas—particularly some rural areas—are not enjoying the same benefits from tourism as other parts of Scotland. It certainly seems to be the case that more people are taking short breaks and looking for last-minute deals. The result is a greater focus on the cities, and on towns around our major transport routes.

We agree with the view that has been expressed by many in the industry, that the development and promotion of niche products is the best way in which to tackle that problem. We believe that there are opportunities for Scotland, through a growing trend towards, for example, green tourism, cultural tourism and holidays based around activities.

We are therefore asking the STB to pay urgent attention to the identification and marketing of niches that will benefit the whole of Scotland. We have asked the board to develop, during this year, proposals for golf, culture and genealogy-related tourism. The first of those—a golf tourism strategy—will be published this spring. Further niche markets will be developed next year, and will be part of an on-going effort.

Niche marketing is particularly important locally. Local areas, especially rural areas, have differing strengths. Sailing, as I know, is important along most of the western seaboard; bird-watching is important in the northern isles and the western isles; archaeology is an attraction in Angus and the north-east; winter sports help to attract visitors and lengthen the season in Lochaber, Strathspey and Grampian; and there are many attractions in Dumfries and the Borders. There are many other examples.

Our area tourist boards will, with STB support, identify the niche products that are appropriate to their area and will market them. I believe that that action will be most effective if area tourist boards work together, as niche products do not stop at ATB boundaries.

I am pleased to be able to tell members that the Edinburgh and Glasgow tourist boards have agreed to work together to develop city breaks. They will also draw up proposals to help to disperse visitors throughout Scotland, either as an add-on to a city holiday or through a repeat visit. That is exactly the co-operation that we need locally.

We are making available additional resources totalling £800,000 in the next financial year to help the national board and the area boards to develop niche marketing activities. Half that sum will be directed specifically to the area tourist boards to help the local effort.

The Scottish Tourist Board, the British Tourist Authority and the area tourist boards will do all that they can to help the marketing effort. Tourism businesses must market effectively their own products and services. However, businesses need knowledge if they are to market themselves successfully. They need information, for example, about the parts of the world from which their visitors are most likely to come, and about their likes and dislikes. We will make it easier for tourism businesses to get that information.

Information technology and the internet are setting the pace of change in the business environment throughout the world. Nowhere is that pace of change greater than in the tourism industry. Global tourism spend on the internet has increased sixfold in just two years.

The Scottish Tourist Board and its public and private sector partners have been developing an electronic database of Scotland's tourism products. That database is known as Ossian, and holds details of around 14,000 businesses, including all accommodation and visitor attractions in the membership of the STB's quality assurance scheme. Customers from anywhere in the world who have access to the internet can access that information. They can book accommodation directly with hotels, guest houses, bed and breakfasts and self-catering businesses, and can use the traditional methods of phone, fax and e-mail. Good progress has been made, but we need to move even more quickly to develop the system if we are to keep Scotland ahead of the game. Scottish tourism must not simply aspire to be part of the IT revolution, but lead it.

We are making available to the STB and the area tourist boards a total of £3.7 million in the next financial year to develop Ossian further and a further £250,000 is being made available in the current financial year, to maintain the momentum in developing Ossian. That commitment by the Executive demonstrates the importance that we attach to our tourism industry and also our faith in IT as the way forward.

The most immediate new development will be the introduction of the facility for customers to pay in advance for their accommodation by e-commerce, a facility that the STB will provide by June this year.

Of course, tourism businesses again must play their part and invest in the necessary IT equipment, and I am confident that they will do so. By 2005, we expect that 90 per cent of accommodation providers in this country will offer an e-commerce facility. The impact of the development of IT on the tourism industry in this country must not be underestimated. A study carried out for the STB estimated that Ossian will result in between 1,800 and 2,600 additional jobs by 2005. Visitor spend could increase by between £250 million and £360 million over the next five years.

Despite the rapid increase in the numbers of people using the internet, there will always be those who will want to access information about Scotland in more traditional ways, and we must also cater for them. Therefore, we intend to introduce a single telephone number that people can ring for information about Scotland. I hope that it will be possible for that to be in place for the 2001 season.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Does the minister accept that the bulk of responsibility for marketing Scotland abroad will lie with the British Tourist Authority? Does he think that there is anything untoward in the British Tourist Authority and the English Tourist Board sharing the same office address, telephone number and fax number? Is not that a conflict of interests?

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

I do not find anything untoward in people from Scotland sharing offices with people who represent and help to promote England in the British Tourist Authority. Mr MacAskill betrays some ludicrous prejudices.

Our strategy says that continuing investment will be required if Ossian is to realise its full potential. The additional funding that we have announced will enable the introduction of substantial developments over the next 15 months. However, a different approach will be required in the longer term. Therefore, we have asked the STB to work during 2000 to secure a long-term partnership with the private sector, to ensure that the Ossian system remains at the cutting edge of technology and that revenue to Scottish tourism businesses is maximised.

Another major area tackled by our strategy is quality. We are asking the STB to establish a team of quality advisers, who will provide advice on marketing, quality and training. In practice, that will double the number of quality advisers currently employed by the STB and we are making available £500,000 next financial year for that purpose. That field force will be up and running by this autumn.

An important aspect of quality is the provision of information to customers. We need to ensure that our customers know what they are getting for their money, so accommodation businesses will be required to make prices of rooms and of phone calls obvious and easy to understand.

Quality of service depends crucially on the skills and attitudes of those who work in the industry. There must be greater awareness of customer needs and how they can best be met. In particular, we must focus on the people who work in the industry and tackle the long-standing problems of recruitment and retention.

We are establishing a new skills body, which will be industry led, to tackle those issues. While we hope to announce more details about that new body shortly, it will have a key role in helping the industry achieve 5,000 individual learning accounts by 2002 and 1,000 modern apprenticeships by 2003. We also expect it to work to achieve centres of excellence for training in tourism.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I ask the minister to clarify a point that is raised in "A New Strategy for Scottish Tourism". The document suggests that training in relation to Ossian will be funded jointly by area tourist boards and local enterprise companies. Will the Scottish Executive and the STB issue guidance or—I hope—stiffer advice to local enterprise companies to fund that training in the hotel and visitor attraction sectors in Scotland? That would guarantee both that such training was carried out and that more people were involved in the use of systems such as Ossian, as individual participants in the industry might have gaps in their awareness of technology.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

I am delighted to give Mr Swinney that assurance. There will be plenty of assistance for website training and everything concerned with the internet. I will be happy to furnish the member with further detail.

I should now like to refer to a specific issue that has been causing concern in the industry—the funding arrangements for the area tourist boards. The great majority of local authorities—although, unfortunately, not all—have provided strong support to their ATBs. Local authorities are important partners at local level, and we want that partnership role to continue. We have, therefore, agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities a new approach that will provide area tourist boards with the stability that they require. ATBs have a key role to play in implementing our strategy, and they need to have confidence in the level and stability of their funding.

In future, councils will inform their ATB not later than 31 March in any financial year of the amount of funding for the next financial year. At the same time, they will provide guideline figures for the following two years and give a commitment that the actual grants for those years will be not less than the guideline figures, unless specific circumstances change in the interim. Those arrangements will be very closely monitored, to ensure that they are making a difference. Although we would prefer to continue with the existing partnership approach, if it is clear that the new system is not working in practice, we will look again—very seriously—at the case for central funding.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

Both Ewings are on form this morning. Do the funding and the three-year plan for area tourist boards that have been set out in the paper mean that the Scottish Executive will provide our local authorities with a clear definition of grant-aided expenditure, as that has major implications for their budgets?

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

I am delighted to see that Mrs Ewing is in fine form this morning. The specific issue that she raises will be considered in the context of the various reviews that will continue over the next few months. Come May this year, we will have a definitive position.

Much of the comment that we received from the industry focused on the public sector structures. Businesses see the work of the support agencies as crucial. That is understandable—in a highly disparate industry such as tourism, it is essential that we get the structures right.

I have spoken about the area tourist boards and the action that we are taking to help them. I also draw members' attention to Henry McLeish's recent announcement of a review of enterprise networks. The Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee is also, of course, examining the local enterprise companies. We are determined that tourism will become, and remain, part of the economic mainstream in Scotland. That means that the economic development agencies—Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the local enterprise companies—must make tourism a priority and keep it at the forefront of their thinking.

We will not stop there. No one is immune to change. The enterprise networks are already involved in tourism, and any changes there will impact on the STB and ATBs. We need to ensure that all agencies, including the STB and the ATBs, remain responsive, effective and appropriate to the task of supporting the industry as it moves into the 21st century.

We can and will do what we can to ensure that support for the industry is appropriate and meets its needs. However, the public sector can do only so much. Any strategy for tourism will succeed only if it is whole-heartedly embraced by the industry itself. Tourism businesses, like all others, must learn, invest and modernise if they are to remain competitive. I am confident that they will.

Throughout the strategy, we have identified targets for the industry to achieve. I mentioned some of them earlier in my remarks. The targets relate to volume and value of visitors, and to quality of product.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

I am about to close.

As I said at the outset, the targets are tough and ambitious, but we believe that they are realistic. We will monitor progress carefully and report annually on how the industry is doing.

This is a strategy for the 21st century, which is appropriate to our industry's needs. I ask colleagues to support the motion and to welcome the Government's proposals.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication by the Scottish Executive of the New Strategy for Scottish Tourism and commends this as the way to achieve a modern tourist industry in touch with its customers, a skilled and enterprising industry that has embraced the culture of lifelong learning, and an industry that provides the high quality of service our visitors demand.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 9:49 am, 17th February 2000

I welcome much of what Alasdair Morrison has said this morning. I hope that this will be a lively and controversial debate, but we should accept that there are many aspects of the consultation paper that all of us can welcome.

I would like to start by identifying some of the proposals to which we can extend a welcome. They include the extension of niche marketing—Rhona Brankin mentioned this in her speech on 22 September—in areas such as golf, walking, sailing, and perhaps also culture. I believe that Celtic Connections should receive more help.

We also welcome the setting of targets. That is useful, but it is easier to set a target than to achieve it. I emphasise that it is disappointing that the headline target is that our tourism industry should achieve a growth rate that is less than what the rest of the world will achieve. That is especially disappointing because, as the paper recognises, Scotland has strength and depth in the areas in which greatest growth can be expected, such as eco-tourism—green tourism—and tourism for those seeking something different from a break in the sun. Surely Scotland should aim for a higher target than the rest of the world expects to achieve. It is disappointing that we have curtailed our ambition.

I welcome the approach that has been taken by John Swinney and the other members of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee in working with the Executive on the matter. I also welcome the telephone line, although I am puzzled as to why it will not be available this year. I know that British Telecommunications can sometimes be criticised for the time that it takes to obtain a telephone line, but to take more than 12 months is slow by any standards.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish Labour

The reason for the delay is that we will create a multilingual call centre. Even Fergus Ewing will agree that such a facility requires preparation and a longer time scale. Great urgency is attached to the establishment of the call centre, because it will be vital for the marketing of tourism.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am grateful for that helpful information. I am sure that we can call on a telephone man in every country in Europe to help us with the translation that is required.

We agree with the vision that is set out in the document. It states:

"Scotland has the assets to be a world class tourism destination. It has magnificent scenery; a pristine natural environment; cultural and historical richness; world famous sporting attractions; and beautiful and vibrant cities. These assets have helped to make Scotland an important tourist destination already, and to make tourism an important industry for Scotland."

Our amendment recognises that vision, but differs on the ways that are set out in the paper to achieve it.

I will offer a positive suggestion, which is not meant to be frivolous. We have set targets for Scotland and for the industry. The Parliament could set targets for itself. We should not ignore the fact that this Parliament has been reconvened after a rather long absence. The proceedings of this Parliament might just be of interest to visitors. I hope that organisations will consider including the Scottish Parliament in their lists of places to visit for people coming from throughout the world—perhaps many from the diaspora returning to see Scotland. Even when I am at the lectern, there might be passing interest—I hope that that is an inducement and not a deterrent.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Mr Ewing referred to ancient monuments; is that an example?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Far be it from me to criticise Lord Russell-Johnston, but I recall that he was described in that way—I say that in all fondness. Perhaps some people already think that I am an ancient monument, although that might just be my idea.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I suggest that we apply these targets to ourselves. Important business conferences are held in Scotland all the time. Ministers attend such functions regularly, and members might volunteer to attend them to welcome visitors coming to this country for international conferences. Why not? We can agree a code of conduct so that we are relatively impartial and non-political on such occasions. I make those suggestions seriously because everyone in Scotland has a part to play in tourism in Scotland, which is wide ranging, disparate and unlike any other industry.

We all have our part to play. Litter in the streets, for example, is a major problem that puts off visitors. If everyone who throws away rubbish decided to stop doing that, it would help to change the image of Scotland. The approach that we adopt towards visitors should be friendly, and largely is so. In my experience, underneath a sometimes forbidding Presbyterian surface there lurk friendly and welcoming personalities.

We welcome the consultation, but have a number of criticisms. It should have included the structure of bodies in the industry; although the remit did not include that, it did not deter the 556 people who responded in writing from commenting on that structure. I read over 160 of the responses and there was a great deal of concern about the roles of the bodies involved. I say that not because I wish to make specific criticisms of them but because that must be recognised as a problem which should not be ignored and is partly related to the difficulties of ATBs as membership organisations. That is a source of controversy and has not been grasped in the initiative. Non-members will not be entitled to access to Ossian, even on payment of a fee. That is a serious problem; many hoteliers feel that they know better than any bureaucrat from any organisation how to run their business, and who are we to tell them differently?

The consultation attracted a very large response, but have we really listened to what was said? Having read some of the contributions made, I do not think so. I will give some examples of contributions by individuals who responded, putting forward ideas that they hope the Parliament will take seriously. Mr Fallows from Newtonmore pointed out that Ireland already has a digital channel to advertise tourism, called Tara. Why cannot we have something similar for Scottish tourism? That seems a sensible idea, especially as digital TV will soon be upon us—although not, perhaps, in the Highlands, where we might have blank screens.

Highland Airways suggested that there is considerable growth in the market for private pilots—a niche market that did not find its way into the paper. Perhaps the Executive is considering it. I will conclude with a suggestion from Mr Baldwin of Wigtown, although I have 20 or 30 other examples of interesting ideas. He suggests that we should stock waters in the south of Scotland with fish, as is done in England. He gives detailed attention to the idea, and his comment at the end of the letter says a great deal. He says that

"despondency creeps in here. No doubt I will get an acknowledgement which in effect is a brush off as usual. Never mind, it's always worth a stamp. No need for further elaboration at the moment. I doubt you will ever consider it. It is too simple and cheap for Scottish bureaucracy to grasp and latch on to."

That is one individual out of hundreds who contributed.

In our amendment, we focus on the need to listen to the widest-ranging consultation that there has ever been, as Henry McLeish said on the radio yesterday morning. Where is the analysis of the contributions, prepared by the civil servants? I have not seen it; all I have seen is a list of respondents' names, which is not even in alphabetical order.

On page 13 of the strategy document—unhelpfully, page 13 is not numbered—there is a first for this Parliament, a strengths and weaknesses analysis. One of the weaknesses is "Price compared to competitors". I think that I am known in this Parliament for commenting on facts, such as that Scotland has the highest fuel tax and fuel costs in the world, the second highest VAT rate in Europe and higher business rates than England; it is also being damaged by the strong pound.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am receiving help—I say sincerely that our mothers are always there when we want them.

I am pleased, with familial help, to acknowledge for the first time that the Executive has recognised the serious problem of the effect of London policies on Scottish industry. The document identifies as a weakness of the Scottish tourism industry our prices compared with those of our competitors. I thought that there might have been some market resistance from the Liberal-Labour Government benches—I do not say the Executive, Sir David, as it is the Liberal-Labour Government that we are describing. However, there is a recognition that the policies of London are not helping tourism.

I would like to comment on some of the submissions that have been made. The Scottish Council Development and Industry points out that, in the 18-month period between September 1996 and February 1998, the value of sterling rose against the European currency unit by 21 per cent. Since that submission, there has been a rise of 31 per cent. That puts Scotland at a serious competitive disadvantage.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Is not it the case that that situation is caused not just by the strength of the pound, but by the weakness of the euro, which is not soundly based?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I thought that Phil might have got that point in somewhere, and I was not disappointed. The Scottish Tourist Forum points out that price competitiveness of alternative destinations combined with the strength of the pound make purchases of Scottish holidays increasingly uncompetitive.

That point is underscored more fully by the British Hospitality Association, which points out that Scotland is in danger of acquiring a global reputation as an expensive destination. I mention that because not to do so in the face of 10 or 15 business submissions to the consultation exercise would be a dereliction of duty. I hope that during the rest of the debate, those remarks are not taken as talking Scotland down in any way.

There is a problem, which has been recognised by the business organisations that have contributed to the debate. I am pleased that the Executive has acknowledged that for the first time in its own document, and I hope that it will take action to deal with it.

The Scottish National party amendment states that we should be willing to listen to and learn from not only the industry and the Scottish people, but our friends and competitors abroad, especially in Ireland. My colleagues will expand on that argument in more detail.

I welcome the Executive's approach and its willingness to listen, but it must do more to show that that approach is more than a form of words. I hope that, in the coming months, a serious and wide-ranging debate will begin about all that must be done to allow the Scottish tourism industry to achieve the huge potential that we all believe it has.

I move amendment S1M-550.2, to leave out from "publication" to end and insert:

"vision for Scottish tourism set out in the New Strategy for Scottish Tourism, but believes that this vision will not be achieved unless effective action is taken by the Scottish Executive and Her Majesty's Government to tackle the problem facing the industry in Scotland of relative competitive disadvantage; calls upon the Scottish Executive to give further careful consideration to the responses to the consultation paper and to provide, as a focus for a wide ranging public debate, an analysis of the responses, thereby demonstrating that it takes seriously the submissions made by the industry, and further believes that Scotland should be ready and willing to learn from its competitors, such as Ireland, in order to promote best practice in the home tourist industry."

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 10:03 am, 17th February 2000

In speaking to my amendment on behalf of the Conservative party, I want to make it clear to the minister—before he leaves the chamber, that is—that parts of his document are welcome.

Unlike my colleague Mr Ewing, I do not want to talk Scotland down. I want to use this opportunity to talk about where the Executive might have gone and will, I hope, eventually go. Today's debate is about tourism, and I am reminded by many in the industry that that should be coupled with leisure and hospitality, which cover the facilities for use by home Scots in their communities.

Fergus Ewing touched on the conference business, which I was disappointed that the minister did not mention. The conference business is something that we can get a hold of. The document contains a fleeting reference to business tourism, but that is a growth market and we need to be in there. I was disappointed to learn that recently a conference was not taken to the north-east of Scotland because there was no facility there with adequate disabled access. The minister should consider how best we can improve such facilities. As well as affecting the convenience of individuals, that is a marketing issue.

There were elements of realism in what the minister said, which encouraged me. However, I am disappointed if he thinks that golf holidays are new. We have been providing them for more than a century. We need to come up with something more than golf. There are sailing, walking and other opportunities. It would be good if he and his staff considered them.

I was pleased with the minister's comments on quality advisers because, despite what Mr Ewing said about the price of coming to Scotland, we have a quality product and that product can get better. It can become more accessible, and we must encourage, wherever we can, improvements in quality, so that we stand out above the rest as a holiday destination.

I am not sure about the comments that were made about targets. Targets are nebulous things. Ministers write them down, go to committee meetings and say, "We have set a target; we have got it right," but targets must be delivered. I disagree with Fergus on whether the targets are accurate, because that is not the point. The point is that targets should be agreed by the industry, because it is the industry that must buy into them.

We share an understanding not only of the importance of tourism, but of its potential Heineken effect—it can reach parts of Scotland that other economic drivers cannot. I was pleased to note that ATBs are at the centre of the minister's plan, because that is vital. Section 5 of the Executive's document lists who does what. I found it interesting to note that of the groups listed—the British Tourist Authority, the Scottish Tourist Board, area tourist boards and local enterprise companies—there was no mention of local councils.

I remain unshaken in my belief that the minister and his colleagues have failed to grasp an opportunity to be radical about the structure and funding of tourism support in Scotland. He has succumbed to the pressures of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—indeed, he made reference to it—in failing to create a stable funding platform for area tourist boards. The minister stated that councils would inform ATBs what their funding would be one year in advance and would give guideline figures for years two and three. So far so good. However, by giving councils a get-out clause, he destroyed any stability and removed the ability of ATBs to move to longer-term planning. The minister has failed to listen to the industry, the tourist boards and even the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, which has made clear the need for stable funding, on which the industry can plan in the long term.

If the minister were in regular contact with the Minister for Finance and the Deputy Minister for Local Government, he would know that tourism is not necessarily at the top of Scottish councils' agendas. Indeed, many have stated that they cannot maintain ATB support at current levels during this time of economic squeeze by the Executive. The only solution to the problem of providing stable funding to enable strategic planning is to publicly fund ATBs through the Scottish Tourist Board. In ATB areas in which several councils operate, the problem of a council's inability to agree common agendas with others is serious. The minister's stated vision talks up long-term planning, which I suspect includes planning for infrastructure and training, so why will he not be more decisive and remove the dead hand of councils' short-term decision making from ATB operations?

Under this Executive, councils have their minds elsewhere—on coming to terms with their settlements and on how to deliver and improve core services. However, local councils have a direct role in assisting tourism and the minister would do better to push for that to be delivered. I am talking about the basic infrastructure that is the responsibility of our councils, for example, public toilets, litter management—to which Mr Ewing alluded—road signage, parking opportunities and picnic sites.

The provision of wet-weather facilities—which is obviously important in Scotland—such as the opening of school sport facilities out of school hours, would also benefit the community and would provide schools with an income stream. Councils also administer licensing, public health and consumer controls. There should be a review of rating relief for rural and remote tourism businesses. We have had a start with rural post offices, pharmacies and filling stations, but we need to go further—that was not mentioned in the paper.

In Denmark, popular but remote visitor spots and car parks are served by portable and stand-alone toilet facilities, which are easily transported by lorry. The provision of that service could be put out to tender to specialist contractors that are willing to provide the capital required.

I should tell Mr Morrison that the Conservatives do not knock everything. We like Ossian and we are pleased at the strategy's multilingual approach. Unlike Fergus Ewing, I would rather employ the linguists here in Scotland—our universities produce some very good ones—than put the work out to other countries.

We support the use of e-commerce, but the minister did not mention any money to encourage small businesses to adopt it. That is a failing. It is fine to expect organisations to use e-commerce, but assistance is needed at least to give businesses advice on how to do it, what to buy and where to get training. Will Mr Morrison join us in thwarting the dotcom raiders—the pirates who are preventing communities from setting up their local tourism websites? That is a legal issue, about which he may be able to intercede at Westminster, as it is a reserved matter.

The Conservatives agree with the minister about the provision of training opportunities. We welcome the new national training group; I trust that it will not be another talking shop, as we need positive action. I recall asking in our previous tourism debate for more support to be focused on distance-learning packages and for on-site training, in which staff are given a regular slot, possibly every day, in their place of work. In many small tourism businesses, people do not have the time to go away to Inverness, or wherever, to get training. We must make more use of e-training wherever possible.

Like Mr Morrison, I get around. Last weekend, I was touring in Aberdeenshire. I was impressed by the number and diversity of signs relating to tourism, but that also brought home the fragmentation in the industry. The industry needs clear and unambiguous focus and leadership. That leadership must incorporate the vision of the industry, not only the vision of the Executive.

"A New Strategy for Scottish Tourism" states:

"As part of that review, we will examine the role of the Enterprise Networks in supporting tourism . . . and provide the required leadership for the industry at national and local level".

In other words, the Executive has openly declared that it has not yet thought the matter out. It is time that it caught up.

The Conservatives believe that the industry should have its own minister—we asked for that last year and our position has not changed. Tourism is a vital business, with great potential for Scotland. It requires full-time, hands-on management in the Executive.

The STB should have a more focused remit and should be in charge of channelling funding to the area tourist boards. It should engage further in tourism strategy development, encompassing all those who take part in the industry.

I agree with Fergus Ewing that continued dialogue with all those involved is vital for moving the industry forward. I accept that the absent Henry McLeish will chair a new focus group, but he must remember that each tourist board must be free to deliver local solutions to suit an area's needs; the tourist boards must not be run by prescription from the centre.

As well as the stability of funding, other key issues must be addressed, such as usable and affordable transport with through ticketing and a freeze—we have something in common with the SNP on this—on fuel duty and on taxation on transport.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

We knew when to stop. Unfortunately, Labour did not.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

The point is that most tourist traffic is road borne, as Mr Morrison must admit. The cost of driving is expensive and hits people tremendously.

We must consider the Executive's access proposals. We need to manage rigorously visitors to our fragile rural areas. Frankly, landowners cannot afford to put in the managed access schemes that are required. I would have thought that the minister would have addressed that.

The Scottish National party is not offering a lot in its motion; it is having a wee bit of a moan. I was particularly concerned about some of the xenophobic comments—we are part of the UK economy and we need a chance to share in the benefits of selling the UK abroad.

In conclusion, if we are to grow the industry, we must encourage new entrants to provide quality and innovative services. We must encourage partnerships or ventures at local or at national level. Most of all, we must encourage a sustainable industry, which will improve employment prospects for all, and the sharing of opportunity to all parts of Scotland.

I move amendment S1M-550.1, to leave out from "welcomes" to end and insert:

"notes the publication by the Scottish Executive of the New Strategy for Scottish Tourism and regrets that it fails to address the need for a restructuring of responsibilities and fails to clarify and confirm the essential funding of Area Tourist Boards."

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 10:16 am, 17th February 2000

It is interesting to hear Fergus Ewing describe himself as an ancient monument. What does that say about his mother? Is what he said the reason she has left the chamber?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

No doubt.

I welcome the publication of the tourism strategy document; it demonstrates that tourism is for the first time being brought to the centre stage in Scotland and it recognises the importance of the industry to the Scottish economy.

The industry is important not just to Scotland generally, but to rural Scotland in particular. In the places where tourism thrives in rural Scotland, the industry provides jobs and economic activity where there are precious few alternatives. It must be nurtured and helped to grow. In the area covered by my ATB, Argyll, Lomond, Stirling and the Trossachs—ATB is easier to get off the tongue—tourism provides 14,400 jobs: 10 per cent of total employment. Most important, the industry exploits our natural resources of wonderful scenery, spectacular environment and superb hospitality. We need to build on those advantages, as this strategy will attempt to do.

We have to acknowledge the way in which the minister and the Executive have worked with the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee. The committee has had substantial input into the strategy document; the Executive recognised the concerns that were expressed on a genuine cross-party basis and the majority of the committee's recommendations have been taken on board.

David Davidson rightly highlights the issue of structures. However, today and in other forums, the Executive has undertaken a review of the structures as part of the enterprise network review—that should be welcomed.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

Does Mr Lyon agree that this would have been the right time to consider structures?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Given that the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee is midway through an in-depth study of the whole enterprise network, it would have been ridiculous if the minister had made any proposals at the moment. As a committee, we would have rejected that. I welcome the Executive's approach; I say that on behalf of all members of the committee.

However, I highlight a number of genuine concerns about the document and some of the wider problems that might face the tourism industry. The paper provided by the Scottish Parliament information centre demonstrates one of those problems. In the figures for tourist trips into Scotland made by UK residents who decide to holiday in the UK, there is a reduction of 4 per cent. However, England, Northern Ireland and Wales all show significant growth. Why is Scotland showing a trend line that has levelled off and even gone down over the past two years? Let us be very clear: Northern Ireland, England and Wales face the same challenges as us. The difficulty of being a high-cost destination—because of the exchange rate and fuel prices—is exactly the same for other parts of the UK. Perhaps we should consider the problem more carefully to understand why Scotland is missing out when the rest of the UK seems to be bucking the trend.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am surprised to hear George Lyon say that Scotland faces the same challenges as the rest of the UK. As a fellow member representing a Highland constituency, does he not recognise that the higher cost of fuel means that the Highlands face additional challenges?

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat

Fergus is right in saying that we face a greater challenge in the Highlands and Islands. However, back in November, I spent some time in southern Ireland with colleagues from Northern Ireland, Wales and rural England who expressed the same sentiments—they have high fuel prices in their rural areas. The point that I am trying to make is that we must ask why those other parts of the UK are managing to buck the trend when we are experiencing a fall in visitor numbers. I would like the minister to monitor closely the situation and to consider whether there are fundamental problems that we may have missed.

On international marketing in Scotland, we have heard that the BTA is currently responsible for marketing Scotland abroad. The new tourism strategy document says that the Executive is considering bringing in Locate in Scotland and Scottish Trade International. What role will those organisations play in marketing Scotland? Will the marketing strategy remain focused on selling Scotland as an add-on to London? In other words, will we continue to encourage people to visit London and then try to get them up the road?

When I visited Prestwick airport with the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, we discussed the number of visitors using international flights into Prestwick and other airports in Scotland. The manager told me that for every 100 passengers who used the direct services into Prestwick, 80 were Scottish residents—only 20 were foreign nationals visiting Scotland. There is an issue about how we market Scotland and make use of the capacity that we have. The Scottish Airports Authority report highlights the key issue for marketing Scotland abroad: of the 22 million seats on direct flights out of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen last year, 32 per cent were empty. That is a big challenge. We have the flights, but we must do more to attract foreign nationals to travel directly to Scotland.

If Locate in Scotland and Scottish Trade International are to become involved with the BTA in marketing Scotland abroad, a consistent and cohesive strategy must be established across the three organisations. The last thing that we want is for every organisation to do its own thing. The Scottish Airports Authority report states that Scotland's real challenge is to fill the 7.2 million empty seats. I hope that the minister will tell us how the new strategy will deliver that.

All of us who have been involved in the tourist industry know that quality is the most important issue facing Scotland. I welcome the announcement that the number of quality assurance advisers is to double. That is a big step forward. I hope that that will drive up standards in Scotland.

I ask the minister how we can guarantee that standards are applied more widely to include businesses that are not part of the Scottish Tourist Board scheme. In its submission to the consultation, the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board estimated that as much as 60 per cent of tourist accommodation in its area is unregistered. How does the strategy tackle that? How are we to bring that accommodation into the scheme so that quality is consistent across the country? The issue is not the level of quality of that accommodation; the issue is that the accommodation should be inspected so that people know exactly what a rating of one, two, three or four stars means. That will happen if everyone is in the same scheme.

Every bad experience for a visitor undermines the integrity and the image of Scotland. We must try to bring those businesses into the Scottish Tourist Board scheme, so that a minimum required level of quality is established throughout the market.

We welcome the increase of £11 million to the tourism industry that was announced by Henry McLeish. However, I am concerned about the funding arrangements for area tourist boards. I recognise that the Executive has responded to some of the criticisms that were made by the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee on that issue. Stability of funding is crucial in developing our industry. When speaking to representatives of some of the area tourist boards yesterday, I learned that they still have concerns about stability and about the guarantees for the three-year budgeting exercise. Although guarantees have been given, I question whether they are robust enough. I ask the minister to consider moving towards direct funding as quickly as possible.

I am glad that funding levels are being maintained or even increased over the coming years. In Ireland—one of our competitor countries—Goodbody Stockbrokers has done an analysis of the Irish Government's national economic plan, which includes proposals to cut spending on tourism by 44 per cent over the next six years. It is to be welcomed that here in Scotland it is recognised that spending has to continue at the same levels. We will, I hope, see the levels increase over the next few years.

I welcome the publication of the Scottish tourism strategy document. It demonstrates that the Scottish Executive's commitment to bringing tourism into the economic main stream is real. That has to be welcomed. I would appreciate it if the minister could address some of the concerns that I have outlined.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

We now move to the open part of the debate.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour 10:28 am, 17th February 2000

Like most members, I welcome the publication of the tourism strategy document by the Scottish Executive. As we have heard, tourism plays a vital role in the Scottish economy. In his opening statement, the minister made it clear that the opportunities to modernise the tourism industry rely on the development of effective partnerships between the Scottish Tourist Board, area tourist boards, local authorities and the industry.

It is important that quality plays a key role in the development of tourism. Unfortunately, as George Lyon said, in recent years quality has not always been of the highest. The industry must drive standards up if we are to achieve a quality product.

I also echo George Lyon's questions about consistency and quality assurance. The scheme operated by the Scottish Tourist Board must provide a clear indication of what the tourist can expect and what the industry should be delivering. An expansion of schemes such as Ossian and the modern apprenticeships would go a long way towards ensuring that the product that is offered in Scotland is of good quality.

I am very fortunate to represent an area in Fife that relies extensively on the tourist industry. However, it has yet—like many areas in Scotland—to reach its full potential. Although the town of Dunfermline has an excellent opportunity to launch a tourism strategy—it is the burial place of 12 Scottish kings, including Robert Bruce, and has a world-renowned abbey—far too often people on their way from Edinburgh to the Highlands merely zoom up the M90 and do not think about the great effect that they could have in Fife. That situation is duplicated throughout Scotland. The central belt has many things to offer, but too often tourists are offered only the package of the city of Edinburgh and the scenic Highlands.

If we are serious about attracting tourists to Scotland, we should be attracting them to the whole of Scotland, not just to the tourist destinations that have been promoted in the past. George Lyon mentioned the number of empty passenger seats on aeroplanes. If we want Scotland to be a tourist destination, it should not just be an add-on, however important that might be to visitors to London; people should be having the Scottish experience for itself.

People talk about the success of other areas, particularly the Republic of Ireland, where some of us regularly have holidays. We can learn some lessons from Ireland about attracting people to our part of the world. If we work together effectively in the partnership that the minister outlined, we could make the tourist destination of Scotland a lot better for everyone.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 10:31 am, 17th February 2000

I will contribute to the debate in my capacity as convener of the Parliament's Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, to reflect on the committee's role in the development of this strategy.

I am very sorry that Mr Henry McLeish is not in the chamber just now, because, having watched "Newsnight Scotland" last night, I would have enjoyed embarrassing him. Mr Ian Jenkins, who is probably one of Mr McLeish's neighbours in Peebles, was waxing lyrical about how marvellous Mr McLeish was, and the reporter had to bring to an end a meeting of what she described as the McLeish fan club from Peebles. Christine Grahame tells me that only three of them were there. However, bearing in mind the events of the past couple of weeks, it makes a change for Government ministers to be so admired by "Newsnight Scotland".

The publication of the tourism strategy document has been welcomed across the chamber; it has many strong aspects and gives a new direction to the tourism industry in Scotland. However, as I said, I will comment on how we have arrived at this position and the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee's role in doing so.

In his opening speech, Alasdair Morrison recorded the point that the committee, as a result of its deliberations and discussions with ministers over the summer, requested an extension to the consultation period. I am happy to acknowledge that ministers agreed to that request, which gave a welcome indication to the industry that its views were going to taken seriously in the process.

At George Lyon's suggestion, the committee asked for the opportunity to input into the Government's thinking in the review, but not in the aftermath of the publication of the glossy strategy document. It is all too often the case in these exercises that the Government publishes its position in the glossy document, which means that there can be no further purposeful dialogue on the issue.

Ministers agreed to our request for input prior to publication; and I am happy to acknowledge the fact that ministers made available to the committee a pre-publication strategy, which was discussed by the committee, Alasdair Morrison and senior officials of the Scottish Tourist Board and the enterprise and lifelong learning department of the Scottish Executive. What emerged from those discussions was a very detailed set of views which the committee sent to ministers, and the Government has taken on board many of our proposals. I should stress that the committee arrived at its conclusions unanimously after discussion with the minister and other officials.

That process demonstrates that parliamentary committees can have a purposeful role in the development of policy. Committees can put forward views that certain members have formulated, either because of the areas that they represent or because they have taken the trouble to examine submissions from individual organisations to the tourism strategy review.

Committees are now involved in that process, but I would like to see that innovation being used earlier in the process. The only constraint on the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee in the tourism debate was that the debate was conducted in private, although I understand why that was required at the time. As we go through the committee cycle, and as members reflect on the role of committees, there will, I hope, be more examples of initiatives on which ministers are prepared to think out loud in front of committees. I also hope that committees will, on a cross-party basis, make strong representations to ministers on the ways in which issues can be tackled or proposals brought forward.

A number of points have been made about the fact that structures were not tackled in the review. On behalf of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, I would like to say that if the minister had said something definitive about tourism structures at a local level, he would have had to deal with the irritation of the members of that committee. I am happy to acknowledge—I hope that I have picked this up correctly in the past 48 hours—that ministers are encouraging the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee to expand our inquiry on local economic development. They want the committee to examine the ways in which tourism services are delivered at local level.

In my experience there is, at constituency level, a lack of synergy, cohesion and co-operation between the local enterprise companies and area tourist boards. That is important. If it can resolve some of the issues at local level—which we are determined to do in wider economic development, as is shown by our inquiry—the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee will be happy to do that.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

I am delighted to offer some clarification to Mr Swinney. The Executive hopes that the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee will extend the remit of its investigation to examination in depth of the role of ATBs.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for that. The committee can continue to discuss such issues with the minister when he appears before the committee in a couple of weeks.

To conclude, a number of issues have not—as I am sure ministers will accept—been resolved absolutely by the tourism review. The Government has made new proposals on area tourist board funding and the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee will have to monitor the effectiveness of those proposals to guarantee that we respond to the concerns that ATBs have expressed. We must examine the targets that the Government has set and we must establish a monitoring framework, which I am sure the minister will say more about.

Information technology is important. If we want to revolutionise the industry using IT, we must equip the industry with the wherewithal for that. It is fundamental that IT support is given to individual participants in the industry so that we can guarantee that we do not create another form of exclusion. We must be as inclusive as possible.

I would like to make a final point about quality. The Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee got bogged down in discussion of how we could evangelise about quality. That is not some religious issue that the minister should go back to his constituency to reflect on. There is a need for evangelism about quality and the Government has brought forward some proposals on that, proposals that the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee will test.

I welcome the dialogue between the committee and ministers on those important issues and I look forward, on behalf of the committee, to pressing the Government further to implement the tourism strategy.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 10:39 am, 17th February 2000

I thank the Executive for the opportunity to debate the strategy that it announced yesterday. I represent the Highlands and Islands and the importance of tourism to that area cannot be overestimated. We benefit from some of the most outstanding scenery in the world. It is a major selling point and it attracts visitors from all over the world. Unfortunately, it no longer attracts enough visitors from the rest of the UK and, as the minister said, the overseas market could be developed further. The right tourism strategy for the Highlands will ensure a shop window for the skills, abilities and produce of those who work in the Highlands. It is crucial that there is a focused tourism strategy, as has been announced. We need something more than the hope that the tourists, like the swallows, will always arrive.

As other members have mentioned, there are infrastructure problems in the Highlands. Air links between Heathrow and Inverness are lacking. We also need to promote direct charter flights from Europe to Inverness. Those crucial issues must be addressed if our potential is to be developed. We have campaigned for a long time to have the Heathrow link restored. The announcement last Thursday about the possibility of a transport authority for the Highlands and Islands will, I hope, help to ensure that strategies are devised that will promote new ideas for public transport to make rural areas more easily and more cheaply accessible.

The strategy also identifies niche marketing as a major priority. There is a lot of scope for such marketing in the Highlands, promoting wildlife holidays, culture and sport and short or long breaks. Project Ossian has shown how the tourism industry can benefit from cutting-edge IT. Tourism and IT can be married together in a very up-to-date way, I hope, with continuing investment.

Like other members, I believe that achieving quality is the most important aspect of the strategy. Quality, above all, is what will attract visitors; word-of-mouth marketing is perhaps the best way to advertise the Highlands. When people visit the Highlands, and elsewhere in Scotland, the best thing that we can do is to offer top-quality, fast and efficient service. Visitors expect no less. That is what they get in other countries; we must give it to them here too. However, achieving quality requires the investment of time and money and the commitment of the whole industry.

The first aspect of quality is the quality of hotels, bed and breakfasts and other places of accommodation. Proposals for quality advisers, for the clear display of prices and charges and for a national transport timetable are all welcome, but I urge the Executive to consider a universal ratings system. Tourists would then be able to see the services available in a particular hotel or guest house and how those services are judged. There is, however, the question of whether such a ratings system should be compulsory. I believe that there should be different criteria for small, medium and large hotels and for various sizes of bed and breakfasts. Tourists could then make their choice accordingly.

The second aspect of quality is service, in which training plays an important part. There is no doubt that, in the past, the industry has had a bad image. We must get away from the idea that service is somehow servile. That mindset must change if the tourism industry is to thrive. I welcome the news that there is to be a tourism skills body, which will promote the uptake of 1,000 modern apprenticeships and 5,000 individual learning accounts and will develop centres of training excellence. At the moment, many training programmes are inadequate. Good training is often undermined by bad practice by employers.

I am particularly concerned to ensure that those employed in the service sector in general and in tourism in particular are well paid, have good working conditions and are offered incentives to consider the tourism industry as a career, rather than as a stopgap. Higher wages would boost the image of the industry and show that it is a rewarding area in which to work, which values its workers. That is not always the case at present.

A major problem in the Highlands is seasonality. It is difficult to build a career in an industry that closes for half of the year. As the report outlines, we must ensure that the season is extended, particularly in the more remote areas. I hope that focused marketing to attract Scots to take winter breaks in the Highlands will be successful. We can offer peace and quiet or wild ceilidhs, whichever people prefer.

Many of the issues facing the tourism industry are of long standing and will not be solved overnight. However, tackling the issues of quality and training, together with focus marketing, will help to put the tourism industry on the right basis to grow in the 21st century.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 10:44 am, 17th February 2000

I want to make two general observations. First, the deputy minister made a vision statement that tourism is at the heart of Scotland's economy. I would like him to view tourism in its diversity too. Tourism is complementary to other policy areas, such as investment in indigenous industries, high-quality crafts, education and transport.

The deputy minister made another comment about raising the profile of tourism. Touching on what Maureen Macmillan said about that, I believe that he has also to raise the status of tourism. There is still a them-and-us syndrome: it is seen as somehow menial to work in providing services for tourists. That is reflected in and fostered by the low wages and poor working conditions in sectors of the industry. That raises the question of the derisory 10p increase to the minimum wage, which the deputy minister may want to address. Both perception and practice have to be changed, through education, skilling upwards, decent wages and proper investment across policy areas.

I want to focus on integration, training and transport, as illustrated in the context of the Scottish Borders. The minister referred in particular to disadvantaged rural areas, and the Borders is a beautiful area, undersold and often displaced by the Highlands and Islands.

First, on integration, I referred to indigenous industries. There is nothing more synonymous with the Borders than its textile and woollen mills. In the past three years of new Labour, however, 2,000 jobs have been lost there. Soon, there may only be working museums to show how the wool and textile production once dominated the contours of the Tweed. Investment in those core indigenous world-renowned industries is essential in itself, and would augment the potential for tourism. The same can be said for smaller production units, the best example of which is Selkirk Glass. It combines production of high-quality paperweights with a successful restaurant overlooking the glass production.

Secondly, on training, we must raise the skills, status and quality, which George Lyon referred to. I refer members to the recently founded chefs school at Borders College, located at Galashiels and at the college's satellite units. The school will have an estimated 50 students by the financial year 2000-01. It is offering a whole range of courses at different levels, but its main focus will be to update skills. It offers a high-skill master class in all catering disciplines. That reflects the reputation and demand for Scottish chefs. It is not detached from tourism, but is integral to it. Other courses that Borders College provides range from horse management to aromatherapy to gamekeeping—I will return to the gamekeepers later. All those have tourism potential.

On page 35 of "A New Strategy for Scottish Tourism", the University of the Highlands and Islands is referred to in the context of developing centres of training and excellence. Here is my pitch: I know that the Borders College has in hand an initial proposal for a Scottish school of tourism studies, possibly in partnership with Napier University. Why not give that location consideration for a change? The Borders greatly requires such an economic boost.

Thirdly, on transport, the A68 and A7 provide poor road access. Page 31 of the tourism strategy document says:

"Many of those responding to our consultation mentioned accessibility".

"Accessibility" is not the first word that leaps to mind when thinking of the Scottish Borders. However, pages 10 and 11 of the feasibility study for the Borders railway rather dismiss the impact of the reinstated railway on tourism, even for activity holidays. I do not accept that. What about a cycle track, to run adjacent to the line? What about bridle-paths in parallel? They have been investigated: they are feasible. What about railway holidays? It is time for lateral as well as linear thinking by the Executive.

Borders people, despite enormous recent setbacks, are full of resolve. I will give two examples.

Ogilvie Jackson, a hill farmer, facing catastrophic sheep prices, has, with his wife, diversified into letting two quality finished cottages, renovated by local tradesmen with local material with the aid of European grants and a website, which brings jaded southerners to the comfort and peace of the Borders hills.

Secondly, there are the gamekeepers who populate the Borders College Italian course, an example of the multilingual approach. Why? So that they can say, "Ci sono dei pesci in quel laghetto," or, "There are fish in that pool." That is Borders enterprise for you. It is time that the Executive matched it.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I will swim with the fishes, yes.

I wish to start by paying tribute to the deputy minister and his team for the inclusive manner in which they have approached the development of the tourism strategy. The consultation has been described, properly, as the largest and most inclusive that has ever been conducted on tourism in Scotland.

As George Lyon and John Swinney, fellow members of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, have done, I want to mention in particular the prior consultation that took place between the committee and the deputy minister, Alasdair Morrison. That has added considerable value to the final product. I point out to David Davidson, although he is no longer in the chamber, and to Ben Wallace that that consultation included the issue of the stability of ATB funding. Perhaps, as John Swinney said, the consultation has set the scene for other committees in their future work. I do not know, but I suppose that we live in hope.

Several facets of the strategy jump out for greater emphasis, such as Project Ossian, mentioned by the minister, and the establishment of an e-commerce booking system with a target of 30 per cent of all accommodation business trading by 2002 and 90 per cent by 2005.

E-commerce, which we will debate again next week—that is something to look forward to—will generate up to £360 million in revenue and create 2,500 jobs in the tourism industry. That is the future of the industry and the strategy document has grasped that nettle. The internet is a global shop and should be seen in that context. In tourism terms, Scotland must be prominent in that shop window if we are to market ourselves effectively.

As the strategy document says, our tourism assets are literally world class. Our scenery, our culture, our heritage and our environment—each provides us with a natural advantage. Not all potential visitors will reach Scotland by surfing on the super-highway, but they will all expect a certain standard of service and quality of operation, which some in the industry fail to provide.

The targets that are set out in the document to improve on quality and provision of service are both realisable and necessary if the industry is to grow. Niche marketing remains the key to reaching those targets. Arguably, we do not go to Munich for the weather; we go for the beer. [Laughter.] Well, some of us do, although that caused a laugh on the Liberal benches. The same might be said for Dublin and its general hospitality. Both are niche markets in regions and countries that offer a huge, diverse political and other culture, but both also have a more populist appeal.

France has long since mastered the concept of niche marketing. Last night, I talked to a colleague's researcher, who was going abroad for a couple of days—not to France, but to Bordeaux with all its essentially liquid connotations. To continue David Davidson's Heineken analogy, we too have our liquid cultural heritage and a hospitality trail, or whisky trail, to pioneer.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I see that Margaret agrees.

How better should we emphasise the importance of the tourism industry than by linking it to, and building on the economic success of, one of Scotland's major economic mainstays?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am loth to interrupt an excellent travelogue, and I agree about the importance of technology, in particular Ossian, but does the member agree that the cost of access to Ossian by small bed-and-breakfast establishments, such as those mentioned by Maureen Macmillan, is a serious problem? Is there a danger that such establishments may well be priced out of the market and, if so, what should be done?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

That point has exercised the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee and we will debate it again. We need to drive up standards and quality. If people want to be part of the quality club, they pay their membership subscription. As a union man, I know all about paying dues to get the protection that the wider organisation brings.

I do not disagree with the general thrust of the debate, but I want to stress, as the strategy does, the many other examples of niche marketing. Some of those examples, such as sailing, are particularly relevant to my constituency. Niche marketing and successful marketing abroad are crucial to the strategy, but so is marketing within the UK. We already have considerable success on which to build, despite some of the siren voices in the SNP— [Interruption.] In terms of visits from abroad, that is the case. Visitor numbers from within the UK—Scotland's most important market—have, however, remained static. I saw Fergus on the telly last night—very telegenic he was too—talking about high fuel duties, VAT and exchange rates. As George Lyon pointed out, those problems also impact on the market in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but they have still increased their share of the market.

Nationalists carp about being under the heel of the English, but what about the nationalists who thought it was funny to support Germany's bid for the 2006 world cup as opposed to England's? The owners of Scotland's empty bed and breakfasts were not laughing. Our largest market, for tourism and our other industries, is the rest of the UK. We talk down Scotland and its place in the union at our economic peril and at the expense of our tourism industry.

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat 10:56 am, 17th February 2000

I am delighted at the tone of today's debate, which has been constructive. I am also delighted to acknowledge John Swinney's comments about the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee's role in the consultation process, which is a model for future work in the Parliament.

I am altogether happy this morning. I am happy to welcome the minister's strategy, with its emphasis on niche marketing, e-commerce, skills training and quality assurance. I am pleased that the document recognises tourism's place at the heart of the national economy and at the heart of the economy of the Borders, my area, which is one of the rural areas to which the minister referred.

I look forward to a day in the not-too-distant future when a tourist from anywhere in the world who is coming, say, to the Edinburgh festival will be able to use Ossian to book his ticket for the opera—perhaps "Lucia di Lammermoor", based on the novel by Sir Walter Scott. I hope that he will then be able to book a ticket on the newest railway line in Britain, the Waverley line, to go to the central Borders to visit Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford and Melrose abbey, where Robert the Bruce's heart is buried.

That tourist might then go to one of the Borders finest restaurants and be served with fine-quality Borders produce. Before he completes his cultural experience, I hope that he will visit one of the finest woollen mills in the world and buy some Borders cashmere and, better still, stay one or two nights before leaving the area. Those examples of niche marketing will have been organised and staffed by young people who have attended a centre of training excellence to gain the qualifications that they need to be able to stay in the Borders.

"A New Strategy for Scottish Tourism" is a good document. As John Swinney pointed out, it was welcomed by people in the tourist industry in Peebles on "Newsnight Scotland". However, I seek clarification on one or two points. Will the minister confirm that area tourist boards, which I consider to be crucial, will have a key role to play in relation to Ossian, niche marketing and business development?

I ask the minister to give us more details about the operation of the new tourism skills body that will be set up in April with a welcome £6 million budget. Does he envisage the organisation having a permanent base? Where will that be, who will serve on it and how will the funds be distributed to allow tourism businesses to benefit from the initiative? How will the investment get to the front line?

While I welcome the decision to ask local authorities to provide area tourist boards with a three-year funding programme, I ask that we recognise that the issues of ring fencing and local government funding need to be addressed. Local authorities must be resourced in a way that allows them to honour their obligations as regards tourism without damaging core services.

I welcome the report, and I note that those who are involved in the Borders tourist industry—both the board and the local hoteliers, whose opinions I have heard in the past day or so—have taken a positive view of it. That helps me to be optimistic about the future of that vital industry. I hope that, one day, the minister and as many of his colleagues as I can gather together will be able to join me on the Waverley line as I take them on a rewarding cultural tour of the central Borders.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 11:00 am, 17th February 2000

It is difficult to follow that advertising promotion for the Borders. I congratulate Ian Jenkins. He certainly takes advantage of every opportunity.

There is much to welcome in this report. Having been involved in the consultation process, I was pleased to see that many of the concerns had been addressed. I was slightly concerned when I read Scotland on Sunday, as I wondered whether that was another leak to the papers that was possibly all wrong. However, the article pretty well covers everything in the document. I register my concern that we received the document only yesterday, although the article that was printed on Sunday seemed to spell out its contents. If that is the chosen way in which to leak such documents to the press, that is fine; however, I question whether we need glossy documents as well.

Another concern that has been expressed today is the loss of confidence in the Scottish Tourist Board and the area tourist boards, although I can talk only about the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board. That serious loss of confidence must be addressed. Yesterday, when I faxed the summary to a few of the tourist operators and asked them to respond, I received a fairly cynical response. One tourist operator in the Highlands said:

"Reading between the lines it would seem almost as though the Tourist Board has been caught on the hop by the success of the internet and that many members, like ourselves, are gathering more business from that source."

They continued:

"I feel that it has just dawned on the Tourist Board that if they do not make a move soon with the internet they are going to find that people like us no longer need them".

There has been a haemorrhaging of members from the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board, and I am pleased that the matter is being considered. It is a good partnership, but we must address the loss of confidence.

The second issue that I want to raise is Ossian. The project is already more than a year late, although it is essential to the industry, and has already cost more than £5 million. We heard today that another £3.7 million, and a further £0.25 million, is needed to maintain it. Last week, in the e-commerce debate, David Mundell spoke of the Egg internet banking service. It took 50 days to progress from the idea of the bank to its being up and running.

Why does it take years, and more and more money, to get Ossian right? I regard Ossian as the right tool for the industry, but we should be careful about the way in which the money is spent. Are we getting value for money? Is the money being spent wisely? Are we spending it on the right things? Why is the project so late, and why must we keep pumping millions of pounds into it?

I welcome the golf strategy. However, when I heard that Tom Buncle was phoning round tourist operators in the Highlands to set up a new working group, I wondered whether he was aware that a two-year Scottish golf working group, which involved all the relevant organisations, had already been established, but had been pretty much abandoned after 18 months. There is also a Highland golf development strategy. Resources are scarce; therefore, I ask that we do not try to reinvent the wheel. This is an excellent strategy, as was the working group that produced an excellent document, supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Highland Council.

Members have already mentioned the fact that the Executive has not addressed the way in which it will shake up the Scottish Tourist Board. There is genuine concern over the fact that, although it is a marketing organisation with a budget of £60 million, only £5 million—12 per cent of its budget—is spent on marketing. We must question that. The remainder is spent on courses, expense accounts, salaries and offices. If the STB is a marketing organisation, the role of which is to market and sell Scotland, we must consider increasing the share of its budget that is spent on marketing.

When we compare Scotland with England, Wales, London and so on, we must not miss the point that the amount of one's budget that is spent on fuel during a holiday in the Highlands is significantly more than the minimal amount that would be spent during a city break. We should take into account the fact that fuel duty is a large consideration for people thinking about travelling to a rural area.

I was quite surprised by the total spend figure of £2.5 billion, as we should remind ourselves that £1 billion of that amount is spent by the English, who are our main market. I am pleased to note that there is some emphasis in the strategy on the English, but we must not forget that they are the biggest spenders and our biggest market.

While it is excellent that the strategy provides indicators, today we still do not have the figures on the origins of tourists from last summer. We must find ways of getting the information earlier, to be able to act on it. When I phoned Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board yesterday, I was amazed to learn that it still does not know where its tourists from last summer came from.

Finally, I wish to take this marketing opportunity to ask members to consider coming to the Highlands and Islands for their next break.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 11:06 am, 17th February 2000

We all agree that Scotland has something special to offer the world. Perhaps the rest of the world does not need more convincing about that, given that there has been an increase in the number of overseas visitors, but there has been a decrease in the number of UK visitors.

It is clear that tourism is the umbrella industry for numerous Government departments, such as those that deal with transport, enterprise and culture, and that it is vital to the success of the Scottish economy and our reputation as a nation. Successive Administrations have said how important the industry is to the economy, but until now the approach has been half-hearted. I do not believe that we have yet grasped the issues that will make a difference to the way in which we market Scotland and its attractions, although the strategy that has been outlined this morning will go some way to addressing those issues.

If we are to reappraise how we might achieve better marketing of Scotland, it is clear that we need a more sophisticated analysis of where we are. We should be talking about two clusters of the tourism industry—while there has been a lot of discussion about rural tourism, it is also important to highlight the importance of urban tourism.

We are all getting the meaning of niche marketing this morning—it has given us an opportunity to highlight our own little niches and to say something about our constituencies. We are all getting the message about what is expected of us, minister. Why should I be any different? My constituency covers—

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I will take a brief point.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Rather than make a pitch for a particular constituency interest, I wish to identify of a niche market that has yet to be promoted—the genealogy-family history market. We should be proud of our bones, our graveyards and our great wealth of records. We could make much greater play of the tremendous records that are maintained in Edinburgh and that exist throughout the country in each registry area. There are drawbacks to do with costs—

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Will the member give way? [Laughter.]

If that was an attempt to stop me talking about Glasgow Kelvin, it will not work. However, I take on board Brian Adam's point and, to address it, the document says that genealogy is a priority.

Tourism plays a major role in the economy, the cultural life and the everyday experiences of many people who live in Glasgow Kelvin. Some say that there already are many attractions in its boundaries, as it has the highest concentration of MSPs and journalists in Scotland—perhaps the city life and the long licensing hours attract them to this tourist spot. New bars and restaurants open up every other week. Harden's top UK restaurant guide names Glasgow as the best provincial dining city, and in the October 1999 edition of Traveller magazine, Glasgow was voted the second best UK city for nightlife value for money.

It is important to make the case for Glasgow; it has not been made so far in the two debates we have had on tourism. Last week, the chief executive of Greater Glasgow and Clyde Valley Tourist Board was able to tell me that the area now receives more than 2 million visitors. The industry is worth £394 million to Glasgow and sustains 47,000 jobs. I welcome the Scottish Executive's tourism strategy as it is important to the economy of the constituency I represent.

I want to say something about our structural strategy. I support what the document says about our area tourist boards, which ties in with what Labour members believe about local democratic accountability. I welcome the comments about providing area tourist boards with stability. I listened very carefully to David Davidson's demand for a tourism minister—the idea is worthy of consideration—but given the importance he ascribes to enterprise and business in the tourism industry, it makes perfect sense that responsibility for tourism should reside with Henry McLeish.

A lot has been said this morning about the importance of business assistance. I would like to say something about the industry's work force, to which Christine Grahame has already alluded. It is very important that we get this strategy right, because tourism has the lowest-paid work force of any industry. That is not helped by the attitude of some employers, and we need to encourage them to change. It is very important that we work in partnership with the UK Government on this, because we need to change the law to improve employment practices and eradicate the shift patterns that exist in the industry.

Such conditions do not encourage young people to stay in the industry or give credibility to its management, and they are one of the main reasons the tourism industry does not have a proper dedicated work force. If we want to achieve a truly vibrant industry, we must address the problems of the work force as well as the concerns of business. If we do not get that right, the strategy will fail.

I welcome the strategy and think that this has been a good debate so far. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to speak this morning.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent 11:12 am, 17th February 2000

I support what Pauline McNeill said about the wonders of Glasgow, although I would like to see the booklet she mentioned that calls Glasgow provincial. There is nothing provincial about Glasgow.

One fault that I find in the strategy is the use of the word Ossian. We get the classical connection, but will a tourist get it? Can we call it something simple, such as "Scottish this", "Scotland's that" or "T for tourist"?

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent

No, Brian Adam's reference to bones is definitely out—I do not like bones.

This document is incredibly lavish and I would like to know how much taxpayers' money it cost. It is, after all, a Government document. I want to see humble-pie Government documents—hair-shirt stuff run off on a photocopier would do just as well and save taxpayers' money. Several landladies could have renovated their boarding-houses for the price of this document. Look at the spin here—look at how it is padded out. What do we have here, but a map of Canada. That will help me find Crianlarich on a wet Sunday. I want the Scottish Tourist Board to provide beautiful works, and it does. However, the Executive is just trying to lure us, although we are parliamentarians and know it only too well.

I have a particular interest in tourism and take some satisfaction in kick-starting the study into reopening the Waverley line by appealing direct to Richard Branson. I also fought—and, thank goodness, won—the £30 million campaign for new trains and carriages for the Glasgow to Aberdeen line. Members may wonder why it was left to someone who was, at that time, a member of the press to do that. The Government needs to be far more vigilant in spotting what tourists and folk in Scotland are suffering in overcrowded trains. One has to trawl through those trains to find out what is happening.

Any contribution to the Scottish tourism budget is always welcome, but this one is long overdue, and £3 million or £12 million—the figures are not clear to many of us—is a drop in the ocean compared with the flood tide of cash the Irish Republic spends. We are having niche speeches today, so I will concentrate briefly on the money that is invested in tourism in the Irish Republic. The Irish have a banquet of a budget and enjoy cordon bleu cuisine while the Scots are at the other end of the table having mushy peas and vinegar. Even after this increase we will still have a mushy-peas-and-vinegar budget.

I realise that, because we are funded differently, an exact comparison with Ireland cannot be made. Some people say that the amount spent on tourism there is three times as much as is spent here; others say that it is seven times as much—certainly it is massively more. The Irish Government gave £31 million a year directly to its tourist board when we gave £19 million to £20 million to the Scottish Tourist Board. Total investment in Irish tourism is £700 million over five years. Even with this new money, we cannot compete with that.

The Irish began to plan tourism properly 10 years ago, and that planning is now paying off. In 1998, tourism in Scotland was down, but tourism in Ireland was up by 7 per cent. Indeed, the number of visitors to Ireland from Scotland and England was up by 12 per cent in 1998. We have to ask why many people from Scotland forsook the costas to visit a country with similar weather problems. We get the same rain—they shift it over to us, they shift it back to us. Ireland has a smaller population than Scotland, but its massive investment is—as the trade describes it—putting a roof over the country by providing off-peak and leisure facilities. We should not be defeatist; not everyone wants to go to the costas.

Ireland has a proper network of regional airports, while Scotland, with only three airports of considerable size, is barely in the aviation age. We must be the jet set, not the tiger moth set. Twenty new hotels were built in Dublin last year, and 20 were built the year before. Not even Edinburgh can compete with that. The Borders has been devastated economically—it is the only borderland in Europe that has been devastated economically. It is unacceptable that the Borders has no railway stations.

Proper investment in tourism has made a huge contribution to the revolution in Ireland's fortunes. Ten years ago, net emigration from Ireland was 40,000 a year. The old Irish tragedy is now gone—for ever, I hope. Last year, 25,000 extra people came into Ireland. At present, 1,000 people a week are queuing up to live and work in Ireland. That is what should happen in Scotland. Unfortunately we are shackled to the boring, dreary old London system, which holds back tourism and every other area of the economy in Scotland.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 11:18 am, 17th February 2000

I thought for a moment that Dorothy-Grace Elder was going to call for legislation against glossy documents—and certainly for legislation against London.

I welcome this opportunity to debate tourism, which is a hugely important industry for Scotland generally and for rural Scotland in particular. There is no doubt that much still needs to be done, and I welcome the document. In particular, I welcome the £3.75 million funding for the Ossian initiative. I want to focus on funding for the industry. The present system of funding is inadequate and I urge the Executive to consider direct funding for the industry. I was pleased to hear Alasdair Morrison say that the Executive would be prepared to re-examine that issue.

Nobody questions the essential need to fund tourist boards properly. I will give an example from the area that I represent—West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine. The tourism industry in Deeside, Donside and Kincardineshire is vital for jobs and wealth creation. It needs a proper system of funding to be successful. I am convinced that Aberdeen and Grampian Tourist Board cannot function properly under current financial arrangements.

Aberdeenshire Council is responsible for part-funding Aberdeen and Grampian Tourist Board. Despite the Executive's worthwhile efforts, if we rely on cash-strapped councils to fund tourist boards we will not progress very far. Aberdeenshire Council is facing a budget cut of £13 million and the front page of today's edition of The Press and Journal says that 251 council jobs are on the line. I would be the first to criticise the council if it pumped money that is essential for council services into the tourist board. If I had to choose between compulsory redundancy for teachers or increased funding for tourism I know which I would choose.

We cannot go on asking councils to provide what they already provide, never mind more. I do not want to speak for long on this issue. It is important and I want to be short and sharp. Direct funding for tourist boards is very necessary.

I welcome the Executive's willingness to re-examine this matter in the future—I hope sooner rather than later.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 11:21 am, 17th February 2000

I do not think I can follow Allan Wilson on niche marketing. I want to say to Scott Barrie that tourists journeying from Edinburgh to the Highlands often stop off at Stirling.

I welcome the debate and commend the Scottish Executive for the extensive consultation and the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee for the part it has played. Tourism is a key aspect of the economy, particularly in the area I represent, which will be affected by the bill on the national park for Loch Lomond and Trossachs. I have had discussions with Jim Fraser, the chief executive of my local tourist board, which has the rather long name of Argyll and the Isles, Loch Lomond, Stirling and Trossachs Tourist Board.

I would like briefly to outline several of the issues that arose in those discussions, which are also addressed in the strategy document. They include future markets, marketing in general and the need for research on tourism. The decline in the number of Scots holidaying in Scotland has been mentioned, as has the new market in international travellers from the USA and Germany. We need to think about how we can attract more visitors from those sectors and about how we can extend the tourism season, particularly in rural areas.

Some of the solutions suggested in the strategy document are to be welcomed. The industry website, by June 2000, will present relevant market research and allow individual marketing plans to be tailored to niche markets, such as golf and culture, which are very important in my constituency. An on-line booking system is addressed, as is e-commerce, not only for booking accommodation—the target is 90 per cent by 2005—but for events and transport.

One of the main points I was going to make, about low pay, has already been made by Pauline McNeill. My local area tourist board raised quality as a vital issue and I am sure it is true generally. We must work to improve and maintain quality. Also mentioned in the report are the quality adviser's role, best practice, training for managers and improving training and skills generally. The tourism skills board, which will bring in modern apprenticeships, individual learning accounts and the rest, is also mentioned. Centres of training excellence and mentoring systems can also all be very useful. The University of Stirling is setting up a chair in tourism—it may already have done so; I am not sure. That is a much-needed approach to research and marketing.

A lot has been said about boosting tourism in rural areas, but the importance of signposting has not been mentioned. I hope that the minister will take that on board. I do not know whether the problem of inadequate signposting affects only my area, but I could offer long quotations about signposting, particularly on trunk roads.

I reinforce what George Lyon and others have said about finance. The three-year programme that has been suggested must be monitored by the Scottish Executive and local authorities. The area tourist boards have grave concerns and feel that direct funding from a central source might eventually be the answer.

I do not agree entirely with the view that there are no structures in the report. It mentions the importance of involvement at all levels of government—by the Scottish Parliament, by Westminster and by MEPs—but there must also be involvement at local level. There must be a review of how local enterprise companies can work with the tourist boards, and I welcome what the minister said about the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee undertaking that work.

I am interested in sustainability, and I welcome the report's mention of green tourism. In considering tourism we must balance social, economic and environmental concerns. As members know, those concerns will affect our debate on the national park.

The document contains some good points; it is a good start, but funding must be monitored. We must decide in which areas we should go further to ensure that we have the necessary skills and the necessary research facilities to build on what has been done so far.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 11:27 am, 17th February 2000

This is an important debate and it takes place against the background of tourism being the fastest growing industry in the world economy. As such, it has almost unlimited possibilities for creating jobs that are vital to our economy. The background is also that our performance in recent times has been disappointing. There are a number of reasons for that—the unfavourable exchange rate, fuel costs and the fact that Scotland is generally seen as an expensive place to have a holiday.

We can address a number of issues that are not addressed in the document. There is a compelling case for considering the restructuring of tourist boards at area and national level, because they are not performing in some respects. At present, they are almost totally reactive, but we cannot afford that. They must be proactive, realise that things change and anticipate change and perform accordingly.

There is a case for co-operation. It is pleasing that the old rivalries between Glasgow and Edinburgh have been subsumed for the common good. There is a clear case for co-operation in the Highlands and Islands and in other rural parts of Scotland. There is also a case for closer co-operation between LECs and the local authorities.

As has been said, the tourist boards are not cohesive and do not work in a way that achieves results. How can they be cohesive when the funding is uncertain? Local authorities may decide, for perfectly sound reasons, to limit their contributions to their area tourist boards, particularly when their own payments and grants have been limited by the Executive.

I would like to mention urban tourism. I do not want to detract in any way from the importance of tourism to rural communities, but I feel that urban tourism may be the key to solving some of our problems. Glasgow and Edinburgh have recently pursued vigorous strategies designed to provide the necessary infrastructure to compete in the new world economy of tourism. Inevitably, there will be a spin-off for the rest of the country. It is important for those cities, not only because manufacturing jobs are now at a premium, but because of the spin-offs elsewhere. As Scott Barrie said, it is important that people are attracted to visit every part of Scotland. Frankly, unless we can get them to come to the cities, albeit for short stays such as conferences, we will not get them to visit other parts of Scotland to the extent that we would wish.

The short-stay, big-spend trip is to be encouraged. Conferences provide that sort of trip, and Glasgow has been successful in that area. We attracted the American Society of Travel Agents conference a couple of years ago, and the spin-off from that will be considerable. However, the big-spend trip is not necessarily the answer in the longer term. As I walk the streets of continental cities, I am often intrigued, and frankly jealous, when I see so many young people wandering around, obviously visiting from America and other worldwide destinations. We do not see that in our cities. We are not attracting the younger tourists. If they come once, we hope that they will come three or four times in their lifetime, whereas the retired Americans doing Europe will come only once. Welcome though they are, we are looking for continuity of visits.

There are a number of aspects that we should address, but which are missing from the Executive's paper. The central belt cities are uniquely positioned to provide an injection of tourism into the Scottish economy as a whole. That matter should be addressed, but we have to get the tourism infrastructure right. At present, there is a plethora of organisations, none of which can say, hand on heart, that they are making the difference that we want. Bureaucracy must be cut. While we welcome Ossian, we cannot become too hung-up on technology. It is not the entire answer, helpful though it may be.

There is much to be welcomed in the paper, but I urge the minister in his summing up to address the terms of our amendment, because he would find it acceptable. It would add to the paper, and be beneficial to Scottish tourism.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I call Dr Elaine Murray. You have lashings of time.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 11:32 am, 17th February 2000

I am pleased to hear it. As we have lots of time, I want to congratulate Mr Ewing on his new spectacles. They are very nice.

It does not seem all that long ago that we last debated tourism. I hope that that is not a facet of my age, or Mr Lyon might be inclined to make rude remarks about my parents as well.

Considering stress-busting holidays and breaks that allow re-connection with the self is particularly attractive at this time of year. I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate tourism once again. I do not know how many members saw the hotelier, Mr John Sloggie, on the "Newsnight" opt-out last night. He was enthusiastic about the Executive's plans because he had made a number of points to the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning and he felt that the minister had addressed them.

I am a member of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee and I feel a bit like Mr Sloggie. When I read this document, I saw that some of the points we made to Mr Morrison had been taken on board. That shows how the Parliament and its committee system can liaise with people and that the Executive is listening to what people are saying. Apart from anything else, the document made me feel quite useful as a member of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee.

I am pleased to see that the report sets firm targets. We made the point that there should be targets. I appreciate that Fergus does not feel that the targets are hard enough but, as he said, it is easy to set targets; achieving them is difficult. Our targets must be achievable. It is also important to identify the mechanisms by which the aims will be achieved. It is a bit like going on holiday: we do not need to know only where we want to go; we need to know how to get there, how long it will take, and how much it will cost. The mechanisms that are referred to in the document are important.

I welcome the approach to niche marketing. I know that all members will make a play for their constituencies on that one. We need to appreciate that different areas and regions have particular strengths. When I saw cultural tourism and genealogy listed in the document, I could see markets to be exploited in Dumfries and Galloway to the local benefit.

Opportunities exist throughout Scotland, in the form of local attractions and events. Better marketing of arts festivals and other events will benefit our tourism industry. As in many matters, we must identify what we do well and build on that.

The connection that was made between lifelong learning and the tourism industry is important. Quality can improve only if tourism is seen as a worthwhile career with recognised qualifications and—as Pauline McNeill said—decent wages, conditions and career development opportunities.

I also welcome the developments in Ossian. It may be a bit late, but it is a vital development that will transform the tourism industry. I am pleased that the Executive recognises in the document that Scotland needs to be a leader in the information technology revolution in this sector. Many of us would say that Scotland needs to be a leader in the information technology revolution and information and communications technology revolution in many sectors. It is good that the document recognises that.

Many people do not use the internet and prefer to use more traditional methods to search for information, so the development of a call centre approach and single number access to all information on Scottish tourism is welcome. I was pleased to hear Mr Morrison say that it is to be a multilingual centre. That is good, because Scotland—like the rest of the UK—has a reputation for not being very good at speaking other languages. A multilingual centre will send out a good message.

John Swinney referred to the fact that we are reviewing the enterprise networks. It is to be welcomed by all members of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee that the review is to be extended to consider tourism support and development.

I was involved in the study group that went to Prestwick airport with the Ayrshire Economic Forum. We have heard from other economic forums at the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee. I was astonished to discover that the area tourist board is not part of some economic forums, yet tourism is such an important business in many areas of Scotland. The enterprise network and the tourism network must work more closely together.

I am not always impressed by glossy publications, but I am impressed by "A New Strategy for Scottish Tourism". It has both style and content—the content is more important.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 11:37 am, 17th February 2000

I will talk about two issues—first, airports and air links as economic resources and secondly, how Scotland is marketed abroad.

Airports are economic resources and should be a conduit to boost business and tourism. It seems absurd that tourists should fly into London for a few weeks in Edinburgh or Glasgow when they could fly there directly. We should fly our visitors in directly, rather than have them packaged up for a weekend from London.

Why do American and other tourists fly into London for golfing holidays in Scotland? They pay an additional cost, and our hoteliers and other businesses lose extra income. Direct flights would bring in more tourists. It would reduce their travel costs and increase their capital spend when they are here. It would make Scotland a more popular destination, by making it easier and cheaper to come here. Unless we get the punter in, we are more likely to lose out on the amount that he will spend.

Justice must be done and be seen to be done. I am not referring to recent appointments to the shrieval or judicial bench—I am dealing with how Scotland's marketing strategy should be addressed.

I tried to work out why the direct air links to Scotland are so poor. I have been going round asking why we have so few direct air links and why so many tourists fly into London and are sent up here on a hub and a spur. I asked Scottish Airports Ltd, which said, "It's not us." I asked the airlines, which said, "It's not us." They said that it was down to marketing and how Scotland is sold abroad, so I asked the STB, which said, "It's not us, because we are not in charge of marketing—that is done by the BTA." I therefore decided to investigate the British Tourist Authority and its relationship with the Scottish Tourist Board. I told the minister earlier that it is unhealthy that the BTA and the English Tourist Board share the same address, the same telephone number and the same fax number. The only reason why I do not know whether they share the same e-mail address is that the BTA does not have an e-mail address in the civil service directory, but the ETB does.

The minister may think that that represents prejudice against the English on the part of myself or one of my colleagues, but I say that it is absurd, and that it would not be replicated in a Franco-Belgian alliance or a Canada-USA alliance. Any such alliance would think that there is something fundamentally wrong when the BTA and the ETB appear to be synonymous. Indeed, when my researcher phoned the BTA yesterday and asked to be put through to the English Tourist Board, it was done immediately. That would not be replicated north of the border. It smacks of cronyism.

Having looked at the civil service directory to find out who was who and how matters compared and contrasted, I decided to investigate the make-up of the board of the British Tourist Authority. I found out some interesting things. We do have a Scottish representative—I think that Lord Gordon is here today—but who else is on the board? It is not just in the case of Lord Hardie that we are seeing new Labour cronyism.

First, sitting on the board of the British Tourist Authority, which represents the marketing abroad of Scotland's interests, we have none other than Mr Bob Ayling: friend of new Labour, chairman of British Airways and chairman of the New Millennium Experience Company—in other words, the London dome—since 1997.

Mr Des Wilson, the director of corporate and public affairs at the British Airports Authority, sits on the board of the British Tourist Authority. The chairman of the BTA is Mr David Quarmby. If the minister wishes, I can provide him with details from the Scottish Parliament information centre's copy of "Who's Who?" According to "Who's Who?" Mr Quarmby has been chairman of the BTA and the English Tourist Board since 1996. Along with Mr Bob Ayling, he is a director of the New Millennium Experience Company, a position that he has held since 1997. Since 1996, he has been a chairman of South London Business Leadership, and since 1998, a director of London First. He has been deputy chair of the South London Economic Development Alliance since 1999.

Scotland is marketed abroad by an organisation that has on its board a representative of an airline that masquerades as a national airline, but is predicated upon flying people into Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted. There are representatives on the board from the British Airports Authority, which owns Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted. On the board of the British Tourist Authority are representatives of various organisations, including the new millennium dome, which has been seen as the great new thing to take Britain into the 21st century. The board includes people who have an interest in using their planes to fly people to London, with the cash that is generated from that going to their organisations and boosting their economic development down in London. Meanwhile, we lose out.

Is it little wonder that Scotland is marketed so badly abroad, when we are represented by people who are concerned with looking after interests south of the border? It smacks of new Labour cronyism. This is not about representing Scotland the brand; it is more about a skit out of "Scotland the What?"

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative 11:43 am, 17th February 2000

During my absence from the chamber, I spoke to the chief executive of Dumfries and Galloway Tourist Board, Mrs Norma Hart, about the strategy. In broad terms, I welcome the strategy, but one of the issues that she and other people in the industry want to raise is the training organisation that is to be set up and how it will relate to the area tourist boards. The tourism industry generally is looking for the minister to put more flesh on the bones of what he proposes for training and for schools.

I have to get my breath back—I cannot run up the street any more. I need to go on a niche marketing physical fitness holiday.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

Skibo castle, if the member is offering.

We have to have co-ordination between our schools. Many young people work in the tourism industry on a part-time basis. There has been much discussion today about people being encouraged to go into the tourism industry and about the tourism industry providing some attractive jobs. Many members have mentioned that they are struck by the fact that working in the tourism industry abroad is regarded as a good career, rather than as something to fill in time between school and university. We must develop the career structure in the tourism industry.

I welcome the minister's approach. I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet him, along with my colleague Alex Fergusson, to discuss a topic dear to our hearts—Dumfries and Galloway and its many attributes. Dumfries and Galloway has been described as the gap on the map and the part of Scotland that is often forgotten. People tend to think of the Borders as somehow stretching to the M74 and of Ayrshire running down to the coast. However, there, in the south-west corner, is the gem that is Dumfries and Galloway. It is important to demonstrate Scotland's full range of assets when we encourage visitors.

Particularly exciting in Dumfries and Galloway is the prospect of green tourism and the fact that that encourages visitors. People who visit the area for that reason might be prepared to spend up to £500 a day, compared with those who pass through and spend £1—or 50p in the best value cafes—on a cup of coffee. We must encourage visitors who spend a reasonable amount of money. There are significant opportunities for green tourism in areas such as Dumfries and Galloway.

In the culture debate, I spoke about Burns and the Burns heritage. Robert Burns must be one of the least utilised assets that any country could have. In a recent survey, I saw that Burns was to be the Scot of the millennium. However, the way in which we approach Burns and the tourism opportunities that he presents is amateurish. I have travelled in the United States, where someone, whom no one has heard of and who was president from 1862 to 1866, has a whole state panoply around him—everything is there. However, we have a Scot who is famous around the world and we do not exploit that asset.

I generally welcome the strategy. There is a need to address the funding of area tourist boards. I do not believe that they should be funded from councils. Councils and area tourist boards should work in partnership, but if the council is the paymaster, that relationship will be changed for the worse. I ask the minister to address the career and training issues. I hope that he will think about exploiting our assets to the full.

I encourage everyone listening to the debate to visit Dumfries and Galloway to sample its many delights.

I undertake to embark on some niche tourism of my own to increase my fitness and reduce my breathlessness.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Thanks to Mr Mundell, we are now back on schedule.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 11:49 am, 17th February 2000

I will not offer any opportunities to exercise in the north-east—if members want to visit north-east Scotland, that is well and good. I want to pick up some of the points made by other members.

We have talked a little about the various partners that are involved in tourism; I am not sure that we have got the partnership arrangements right as yet. In particular, I would suggest that the National Trust for Scotland might be a more active partner in helping to extend the season. Many of its properties close just at the time of year when the season might be extended. Some encouragement for the National Trust to open, as an experiment, at least some of its facilities, perhaps on a rotational basis, might well help to extend the season.

I note from The Press and Journal yesterday that one of the National Trust's properties, at Culloden, has suffered significantly in the past year, and will suffer a little more this coming year, because of the high value of the pound. The manager of the visitor centre at Culloden said that the strong pound was keeping foreign visitors away and was encouraging the British to holiday abroad. Some German tour operators have cancelled visits, and that might have had a significant effect on the visitor numbers at Culloden. That is a direct result of the strong pound.

Whether the problem is the strong pound or the weak euro is a matter for debate, but there has been a direct effect on the tourism industry in Scotland. That effect has been especially significant in the Highlands and Islands.

If members will forgive another reference to graveyards, the facility at Culloden is actually at the graveyard. I have made the point before—partly in a jocular way, I hope, but in a serious way as well—that I am not convinced that the assets that we wish to exploit, as David Mundell so rightly put it, are being exploited properly.

I am not sure that the approach is integrated. I am well aware that the Registrar General for Scotland makes available through the internet some of the records that are held in Edinburgh. But are there any links from that site to the many local family history societies? Are there links to the Scottish Tourist Board? I appreciate that there is a grey area and that some might question whether it is appropriate for such an august site to have direct commercial links, but surely the whole point of the internet is to have links. The success of e-commerce is based on the fact that one can have direct commercial links.

Project Ossian will succeed or fail depending on whether it has good links. It is not just a question of whether bed-and-breakfast places can afford to be involved; it is a question of whether someone who is surfing the net can find all the information that they want.

I believe that there is a market out there for tourism that is associated with an interest in family history.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party

Would the member be interested in the Tel Aviv museum of the diaspora of the Jewish people, which is one of the most visited places in Israel? Anyone interested in tracing their family can get answers from a computer. I have urged people in all parts of the Highlands to have such a facility. It would be a great tourist attraction, and it is high time that we had one.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

I whole-heartedly agree. The Culloden graveyard site is a very important part of the history of our country, and people today are searching for family links. The internet provides an opportunity for links to related sites. There is an opportunity for a niche tourist market, but that will work only if there are integrated links and if the partners work together. We will have to consider closely the way in which we can build those links, even if that means, from time to time, having a commercial arrangement associated with public bodies.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 11:55 am, 17th February 2000

I welcome the Parliament's recognition of the importance of tourism to the economy and well-being of Scotland. However, I hope that the Parliament will be able to encourage the Scottish Executive to be more generous and flexible in funding local authorities to support tourism.

We cannot have a viable and vibrant tourist industry unless we are able to attract increasing numbers of tourists to Scotland. Scotland has much that tourists can appreciate and enjoy, and the country can offer them an excellent holiday experience.

However, there are many obstacles to the success of tourism, not least the high cost of the pound against our competitors; the high rate of VAT; high petrol prices, airport taxes and business rates; and Skye bridge tolls. Such factors discriminate against the aims and objectives of the people involved in the tourist industry.

As Kenny MacAskill pointed out, if we are to attract tourists, we need to promote a programme of educating the major tour operators on where exactly Scotland is on the world map. For instance, anyone booking a holiday outwith the UK will most likely be routed through Heathrow airport, as will foreign tourists coming to Scotland. Tourists must be made aware of Scotland's excellent airport facilities, which can be accessed from all major international airports. The British Airports Authority pointed out that, last year, of the 22 million seats that were available from Glasgow airports, 7.2 million—or 32 per cent—were empty. It is not surprising that, as a result, initiatives to bring tourists in and out of the country are directed at Heathrow.

Heathrow used to be the main hub airport for the north of Scotland. However, commercial pressures in the past have decreed that landing slots are no longer available at Heathrow for flights to and from Inverness. One can imagine the effect of that on the Highland economy and the tourism industry in general.

Business commuters or tourists arriving at Heathrow find to their dismay that they have to traverse the city of London to the airports at Gatwick, Stansted or Luton to secure onward flights to the north. Such a situation will not help anyone's travel arrangements.

Finally, as Mr MacAskill said, the British Tourist Authority and the Scottish Tourist Board, along with travel agents, should be encouraged to promote Scottish airports as an appropriate alternative to Heathrow, to attract and retain tourists who wish to make Scotland their holiday destination in the first place.

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative 11:59 am, 17th February 2000

From what the minister has said today and from what we have read in the strategy document, we can see that tourism has been placed at the heart of Scotland's economy. I am well aware of the minister's stringent efforts to listen to the industry's many representatives and to consult the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee in the consultation process.

We have heard many speeches from SNP members this morning. I agree with Fergus Ewing's concerns about Project Ossian and whether there will be any real support for people to access it. That leads to one of my wider concerns. If too much emphasis is placed on the worldwide web and on initiatives such as Ossian, will support be available to enable people to access them? There is a danger that we will create a two-tier tourism in which there are those who can successfully promote their businesses through the web and those who—through lack of education, understanding or funds—cannot. I caution the minister to ensure that that does not happen.

John Swinney made an important point about the need for more imaginative means of accreditation and quality assurance. One of the common gripes that I hear from bed-and-breakfast and hotel owners is that they feel that the accreditation system is unfair and sometimes unreasonable.

Mike Rumbles made a point about Deeside, which is near where I live. It is important that there is core funding for the institutions of the tourist industries and for local partnerships, such as the Deeside partnership that I helped out last year. Efforts were made to promote and organise local events that would draw tourists to the area. Those efforts were successful. Every day, however, because of lack of funding, the partnership struggled to plan ahead and to organise future events.

Mr Kenny MacAskill made a point involving some sort of JFK conspiracy theory in which the BTA is keeping Scotland under the English heel. I must take issue with that. Marketing should be controlled by the Scottish Tourist Board, but there is no conspiracy by new Labour or the British—I emphasise that word—Tourist Authority.

I would have liked more clarity about the funding proposals. The Executive recognises the importance of clear three-year spending plans for its own departments, but it does not seem to want to give that privilege to tourist boards. Why route funding through local authorities? What are the "specific circumstances" that are mentioned in the document that allow councils to break promises about funding to tourist boards? I note that the minister said that that will be under review—I will examine closely the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee's report.

My family and I lived in the United States for five years and Scotland and Ireland have niche markets that attract our cousins from across the pond. I am pleased that the Executive has emphasised golf and culture, for example, and I agree with David Mundell that we should exploit them more. In Stonehaven at new year, there is a famous ceremony involving fireballs. That ceremony has a pagan background but it is, unfortunately, little known outside an interested circle of people, although it is extremely exciting and entertaining to see fireballs carried through the crowds at hogmanay.

I would like a clear separation in the marketing strategy, which should be controlled by the STB. There is nothing wrong with using BTA premises throughout Europe and the world but marketing Scotland—which is perceived abroad as being very individual—should be in the hands of the STB.

I found my last holiday on the internet and I know that Scotland would benefit by being more on-line and, perhaps, more user-friendly. As the age of multimedia dawns, the world is becoming much smaller. The Government's document fails to recognise that, just as the web can put Scotland on everybody's doorstep, it can put the competition from Sweden, Ireland and the United States on everybody's doorstep. Potential travellers have never had so much comparative information available to them. Information on car rentals, room prices and activities is available at the press of a button and decisions can be made in a flash. That can often make the difference that results in a traveller choosing Ireland or Scandinavia instead of Scotland.

The Executive must face up to the challenge of not only creating a better service, but combating the competition and stimulating demand. The industry can do nothing to reduce transport costs, VAT rates or the over-regulation that many small businesses are subjected to. If the document were truly about strategy, it would recognise that some problems are outwith the competence of the Scottish Executive. A winning battle cannot be planned using a strategy that is not concerned about the enemy over the hill. It is not within the competence of the Scottish Parliament to change the situation, but it should recognise that high transport and fuel costs and overheads have an effect on Scotland that is disproportionate to their effect on England and Wales.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Ben Wallace mentioned the enemy over the hill. Is not the devotion of his party's UK leader to retaining the pound sterling the enemy over the hill for the Scottish tourist industry?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

The SNP's commitment to the euro is questionable. We will see what happens when we have that debate. At the moment, the euro is extremely weak. One of the reasons why Ireland is cutting so much of its spending on tourism is that the weaker currency is putting pressure on inflation rates and public spending. While the euro remains weak, I recommend that we stay out of it, otherwise we may have to make the same cuts.

The lack of a separate minister for tourism within the enterprise and lifelong learning department is a missed opportunity. Such a minister would be able to lobby Westminster and the chancellor for measures in fiscal policy to allow Scotland to become more attractive.

Abroad, Scotland is seen as a nation as separate as Iceland. The tartan army, the lion rampant and whisky all promote the unique experience.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

I agree with the genuine point that Mr Wallace makes about the need for a minister for tourism. However, as his party does not advocate an additional minister, will he suggest which minister should be removed?

Photo of Ben Wallace Ben Wallace Conservative

We have only 129 members, so I would be happy for the Liberal Democrat Deputy Minister for Parliament to go. I wonder whether my Labour colleagues would agree.

Although I fight for the union, Scotland has separate needs and a different competitive advantage from those of the rose gardens of England.

The Executive's strategy is one-sided, in that it puts a lot of responsibility on an already pressed industry. Scottish tourism will really lift off only if the Government can stimulate tourist demand. I urge the Executive to do that.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party 12:07 pm, 17th February 2000

I do not know whether the minister has made up his mind where he will spend his holiday, as he has been invited to every corner of Scotland. We will all be watching with great interest to see where he selects.

Overall, this has been a constructive debate. Many contributions have been made and, although all of us could sell our part of the country, in the round we have avoided doing so. People have addressed the issues contained in the booklet.

I have one technical criticism of the booklet. We should perhaps have an inter-party competition for tourism spokespersons to name all the beautiful places in the photos, because they are not named.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

Whoever gets them all right could be given a free holiday by the convener of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee, who is muttering in my left ear.

All of us welcome the fact that consultation was undertaken and that the consultation period was extended during the review. At the tourist forum held in Elgin town hall, people were extremely relieved that the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee had moved back the deadline from the end of August, as that is when many of the organisations involved in tourism are at their busiest and least likely to be able to respond to consultation.

I am also pleased that the minister has indicated that he will come before the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee again to talk about the synergy between area tourist boards, local authorities and local enterprise companies. That discussion will be particularly welcome in my area, Moray, which is in the Aberdeen and Grampian Tourist Board area, but is in the Highlands for many other aspects of its life. That overlap will always give rise to difficulties.

In the time available to me, I want to deal with one or two serious matters. Access for people to the joys of Scotland is critical. Many members have spoken about Inverness airport, so I will not rehearse all the arguments. However, many entrepreneurs in Moray have indicated that they are losing out on tourism as a result of the removal of the direct link with Heathrow. People will not come from the USA, collect their luggage at Heathrow and then go to Gatwick to link with British Regional Airways and make the connection to Inverness. The removal of that service is having a major impact on the local economy as a whole, because tourism is important for Moray, as it is for the rest of Scotland. Many of us in the Inverness area did not shed tears when poor old British Airways had to go on the television last week to tell us that it had made multi-million pound losses. I ask the minister to comment clearly on how the Executive will deal with the loss of the Heathrow to Inverness link. Inverness airport should be a hub airport for the whole tourist industry in the north of Scotland.

On transport and access, there is a further question of fuel tax and the cost of petrol. David Davidson at least had the grace to admit that the Conservative party should probably accept some of the blame for the high cost of our fuel. George Lyon did not seem to recognise that there was a problem until he was challenged by Fergus Ewing, who moved our amendment.

We are in a pre-budget situation. The Press and Journal carries a story today that it is possible that the price of petrol may go up in the budget by as much as 28p per gallon. I know that this is speculation, but, apparently, half would be in tax and half would be in costs. Almost everyone who has spoken in this debate has talked about the impact of the price of fuel on the tourism industry. What representations will be made by the Scottish Executive to the Chancellor of the Exchequer before he gets to his feet in March?

On access, we should remember the importance of ensuring that local authorities have the money to clear roads in the winter. What is the point of having skiing and winter sports facilities, to which we want to attract tourists, if the roads cannot be cleared because of lack of money?

That brings me neatly to the funding of the area tourist boards, a subject that I raised in an intervention. I have carefully read through section 5.5 of "A New Strategy for Scottish Tourism". A three-year strategy is a good concept, but will that fit in with the McIntosh report, which recommends that there should be local elections every four years? That could mean changes of local authority administrations in-between times. I think that the minister will see the point that I am making.

The local councils need to know exactly what their funding will be. I have examined the figures taken from the answer to a House of Commons written question tabled in April 1998 by the now Deputy First Minister—whom, apparently, somebody wants to get rid of in his absence. Mr Wallace asked about the tourist board areas and how they were being funded by local authorities. I will take the example, from the written answer, of Aberdeen and Grampian. In 1997-98, Aberdeen City Council contributed £300,000, Aberdeenshire Council put in £300,000 and Moray Council contributed £100,000. In 1998-99, Aberdeen City Council halved its commitment, contributing £150,000. The Aberdeenshire figure stayed steady at £300,000, while Moray, the smallest of the three contributors, increased its contribution by 50 per cent to £150,000, equalling what Aberdeen City Council was putting in. If there is not a guarantee within the grant-aided expenditure, what exactly will local authorities do in similar circumstances? I would be worried if funding became depressed.

There are many other issues that I would like to touch on, but time is against me. Very few speakers have mentioned the promotion of our wonderful food. In Scotland, we have the best beef, venison, fish and salmon—you name it, we've got it. We should be promoting it. Our hard-pressed pig farmers will be interested to know that all the American visitors who come to see Fergus and me think that our bacon is absolutely wonderful. As for the whisky trail, everybody is welcome to come to Speyside. Speyside is a most hospitable place and the whisky industry should be encouraged in its overseas promotion of tourism. It is a shame that so few members met the Scotch Whisky Association on Monday night; only the SNP attended the meeting, at which tourism was part of the discussion.

I question the cost of Ossian to the small bed and breakfasts. We have superb hotels in Moray and elsewhere in Scotland, but much of the tourism industry depends on the small bed and breakfasts. Is it correct that those small establishments may have to pay £300 to £400 to register with Ossian for a year?

I notice that Sarah Boyack, the Minister for Transport and the Environment, is back in the chamber. I believe that our small organisations suffer most when it comes to trying to get any signposting on our major routes—the big hotels seem to be able to get their signs up, whereas the wee bed and breakfasts and local hostelries do not.

Tourism is a serious issue and an important industry for the whole of Scotland. We reconvened our Parliament here in Edinburgh and, when television coverage of that went out across the world, we made ourselves a visible nation. What I want in the strategy, which has still to be finalised, is for Scotland to be made an experience at national and international level.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 12:16 pm, 17th February 2000

I found it slightly destabilising, so early in the morning, to hear so many references to whisky, beer and Guinness. However, the tone of today's debate has underlined the Parliament's commitment to our tourism industry. As the strategy says, our vision of the future is of an industry that is modern and in touch with its customers; skilled and enterprising, having embraced the culture of lifelong learning; and dedicated to providing the high quality of service that our visitors demand.

I will deal first with the Conservative amendment in the name of Mr Davidson. Contrary to what Mr Davidson said, the consultation exercise did not produce consensus on how ATBs should be funded. Some consultees favoured central funding whereas others wanted the existing partnership approach to continue. Many local authorities have been supportive of their ATBs—we recognise that—but a few have not. We are giving all authorities the opportunity to demonstrate that they, like the Scottish Executive, value our tourism industry and will do all that they can to support it.

The second part of Mr Davidson's amendment deals with structures. As has already been mentioned, the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee is reviewing the role of the economic development agencies at a local level. As I have intimated previously to Mr Swinney, both Henry McLeish and I hope that his committee will extend the remit of its examination to include ATBs.

I will now deal with the amendment in the name of Fergus Ewing—or with team Ewing, as the Ewings may best be described. I welcome the positive elements of their contributions, but it is wrong for Fergus Ewing to suggest that submissions made by the industry have not been taken seriously. For example, the industry wanted to take advantage of modern means of communication; the Government is putting almost £4 million into Ossian. The industry wanted better marketing that would address the twin problems of seasonality and regionality, both of which have been raised in the Parliament on numerous occasions; the new emphasis on niche marketing will achieve that. The industry wanted better ways of working; the emphasis on joint promotions by ATBs will help to achieve that. The industry wanted better support; more than £11 million of additional funding is being made available. The industry believed that skills needed to be improved; such improvement is, of course, the cornerstone of our strategy.

George Lyon asked how non-ATB members could be brought into the STB quality assurance scheme. The STB believes that around 90 per cent of accommodation providers are already in the scheme, and it is not the Government's place to force businesses to join. There is evidence, however, that businesses that are in the scheme achieve higher levels of business than those that are not. That is an obvious incentive for any business to join the scheme. The strategy actions will also encourage non-members to join, and quality assurance scheme members will receive free advice from the quality advisers and get all-important help with Ossian.

Scott Barrie was absolutely right when he stated that we needed to attract tourists to all of Scotland. That is what is outlined in our strategy. Maureen Macmillan and Margaret Ewing raised important issues about links between London airports and Inverness airport.

Many of the issues raised by Christine Grahame were helpful and will be addressed by our emphasis on niche marketing. She made a strong pitch on behalf of the Borders.

Allan Wilson's contribution on sailing was welcome. Indeed, Chay Blyth stated that the Largs Yacht Haven, which I have visited, was one of the best-kept secrets in British sailing.

Dr Elaine Murray's comments on the multilingual call centres were welcome. The initiative represents an important step, and the industry recognises that it will be an important way of selling Scotland.

Dorothy-Grace Elder talked about Ireland. I would be the first to agree that the Irish have done well, but we should recognise that Scotland earns more from tourism than Ireland does. It is important to remember that Ireland is an objective 1 area and benefits from the EU tourism programme. A week after the Parliament's first debate on tourism, I read in an Irish newspaper a front-page headline that stated that tourism was in free-fall on the west coast of Ireland. No such headline could appear about any region of Scotland—tourism is not in free-fall in Scotland.

Mary Scanlon claimed that the STB's budget was £60 million. That is not true; it is £19 million. Of that money, £15 million is spent on a marketing programme that includes Ossian—£10 million is direct marketing spend and another £5 million is spent on ATB support and visitor servicing. I do not doubt Mary Scanlon's passion for the Highlands, but a little more research and attention to detail would not go amiss.

Pauline McNeill's pitch for the fair city of Glasgow was noted. Glasgow and Edinburgh have joined forces to market themselves. We appreciate that they are important gateways to Scotland. I must take issue with one point that she made. She said that Glasgow Kelvin is an obvious place for tourists to visit, given its dense population of MSPs and journalists. I question whether that is a feature worth emphasising—I say that as an MSP and a member of the National Union of Journalists.

I will pass Dr Sylvia Jackson's concerns about signposting to my eminent colleague, Sarah Boyack.

True to form, my friend Kenny MacAskill had his usual rant at all things English. However, I was relieved that he did not give us too many details about one of his most recent forays into the wonderful city of London. We are led to believe that he received the best of English hospitality.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party

Does the minister deny the facts that Kenny MacAskill read out about the composition of the BTA and its specific interests in other fields of business activity?

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

I congratulate Dr Ewing on her foresight; I was just about to deal with that.

I would like to put on record the fact that the Executive recognises and appreciates the sterling work done by the BTA. Spend by the BTA in Scotland is in the order of £5 million. The BTA is represented in 38 countries overseas, 27 of which are primary markets chosen for proactive marketing. The BTA and the STB have agreed a marketing framework that details exactly what each will do. Are Dr Ewing and Mr MacAskill suggesting that Scotland should have its own tourist offices overseas and that we should withdraw from the BTA? [MEMBERS: "Yes."] I hear that the SNP thinks that we should do that.

Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour

Sadly, I have almost run out of time and I cannot give way. I will save Dorothy-Grace Elder from herself.

I believe that our strategy contains the actions that are necessary to realise our vision for the tourism industry. Those actions will ensure that Scottish tourism leads the way in developing and using modern methods of communication. They will lead to more effective marketing—particularly in the niches in which we have outstanding strengths—and will drive up quality, so that we can provide the standards of service that our customers demand. Those actions will also ensure that tourism becomes an industry in which highly skilled people, delivering excellent service, are the norm, and that our support structure is effective and properly resourced. Most of all, those actions will empower the industry to achieve success. I commend the Executive's motion to the Parliament.