Tourism

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 16th December 2004.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 2:00 pm, 16th December 2004

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2166, in the name of Patricia Ferguson, on tourism—ambitions for Scotland, together with two amendments to the motion.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 3:01 pm, 16th December 2004

I am pleased to open this tourism debate. It provides us with an ideal opportunity to reflect on another good year for Scottish tourism and to look forward to the future. Tourism is a crucial industry for Scotland. It is one of the largest contributors to the economy and employs a significant proportion of our workforce.

We have certainly come a long way since the dark days of 2001, thanks to the huge efforts of people who work in the tourism industry. I am pleased to be able to say that the industry is thriving. In the first six months of this year, visitor numbers from overseas increased by about 12 per cent compared with last year, and a 25 per cent increase has taken place in the number of visitors from western Europe. That is enormously encouraging. Occupancy figures for almost all types of visitor accommodation are booming and stand at the highest levels experienced in the past five years.

VisitScotland continues to do well. The statistics represent significant increases in turnover for many businesses throughout Scotland and increases in revenue for the Scottish economy. I am delighted to be involved in that work.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

Does the minister believe that the increase in the number of budget airlines that are able to fly to Scotland from other destinations has helped to contribute to that growth?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

The member is right. The increase in the number of direct flights into the country—and not just those by budget airlines—has had a significant effect. I will refer to that later.

The Executive's focus on tourism fits in with our wider strategy to grow the economy. The revision of the "Smart, Successful Scotland" strategy that was published in November sets out the direction for the enterprise networks and calls on others, including VisitScotland, to contribute to driving economic growth.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

On the role of agencies in supporting economic growth, does the minister share my concern about a situation in my constituency that involves a redevelopment proposal for Taymouth castle? The redevelopment would result in the castle being transformed into the first seven-star hotel in Scotland. The proposal is currently bogged down in Historic Scotland, and the developers and I cannot get any idea of when it may emerge. Can she give me a reassurance about when the proposal may emerge?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Mr Swinney is aware of my interest in the matter; we have discussed it on a number of occasions. It is important to point out that the historic environment is a crucial part of Scotland's tourism industry. Some 85 per cent of overseas visitors reckon that they will visit some historic monument or other during their stay. The Executive is committed to growing the economy and I am keen to see developments such as the one in which Mr Swinney is interested proceed, but as ministers we also have a responsibility to consider our historic environment and to act in its best interests. I understand that the application came to Historic Scotland on 10 November and that some information that is required from the developers is outstanding. As Mr Swinney knows, I have urged Historic Scotland to progress the matter as quickly as possible. I will keep the matter under consideration in the meantime.

We need to work together across the Scottish economy if we are to contribute to driving economic growth. We in the Scottish Executive share the industry's ambition to grow tourism revenues by 50 per cent over the next decade. That is a challenge for everyone involved, but it is achievable if we work together.

As an Executive, we have increased the funding that is available to VisitScotland by 28 per cent over three years. The recent spending review committed us to maintaining the record levels of investment in tourism marketing through to 2008. That is investment not just in tourism, but in Scotland's economic future. We have challenged tourism businesses to match our additional marketing funding, and I am heartened by their response so far.

Another success story, to which I alluded in responding to Mrs May, is the route development fund, which has established 14 new routes, bringing more visitors to Scotland. People can now travel here directly from Prague, Dubai and Newark, to mention a few.

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green

Does the minister have figures to show whether more tourists are being brought to Scotland than are being taken out to holiday elsewhere as a result of the route development fund?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Yes. Our experience shows that it is occasionally the case that in the first year or two of the development of a new route the traffic might be more heavily weighted towards people leaving Scotland, but that as routes develop and we market along those routes, the number of tourists coming from those countries also increases. It is a two-way street. Many more visitors every day are taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the new routes. Even more routes are under consideration, and we have doubled investment in the fund to ensure that the previous success continues.

Tourism is in good shape. I am determined that Scotland will not only continue to be a great place to visit, but will get even better. VisitScotland is proving to be extremely successful at enticing visitors to come to Scotland and should get at least some of the credit for our current position. However, I am determined to build on that success. With VisitScotland's increased funding, it will be able to use new and innovative marketing tools, such as the Scottish village, which will be used for the first time in Grand Central station in New York during tartan week to showcase the very best of what Scotland has to offer.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Not at the moment. I have taken quite a few interventions and I need to make progress.

I have also asked VisitScotland to examine how we can use our proposed ban on smoking in enclosed public places as part of marketing Scotland—an element of our marketing that we may soon share with New York.

We want to spread the message that Scotland is a must-visit, must-return destination. Our commitment to marketing is clear. However, if we want our visitors to keep returning, their experience while in Scotland must exceed their expectations, which is why we have given VisitScotland an extra £3 million over two years to strengthen and broaden its quality assurance schemes.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

Assuming that the minister is successful in attracting more people to return to Scotland, does she agree that when visitors venture out into rural Scotland, too often they are encouraged to stick to designated tourist routes? That discourages them from spreading out across rural areas and tends to keep them on a rather narrow path, often missing perfectly welcoming scenery and other attractions that lie off that path. Will she consider reviewing the tourist route network?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

That is an interesting point that has not been raised with me before. My experience of talking to people who have come to this country is that nowadays people want a less fixed holiday. They want to be able to range much more freely throughout the country. I know that VisitScotland is interested in that, but I have not had made to me the specific comments that Mr Fergusson made. I will chat to him about it later, if that is okay.

In total, the public sector commits £90 million a year to promoting Scotland, but we need to work more closely together, joining up our efforts, to ensure that we get the most from that investment. The efforts of local authorities and the enterprise networks as well as VisitScotland are crucial to our ambition.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I will not at the moment. I have taken quite a few interventions, and I need to proceed.

More funding is not the only way in which we can help to make Scotland the world-class destination that it deserves to be. I am proud to be involved with bringing major events to Scotland. We have proved time and again that Scotland is capable of hosting international events to an extremely high standard. We already host iconic events such as the British Open Championship and the biggest arts festival in the world, but we can do even more, which is why we set up EventScotland to deliver the Executive's major events strategy. We aim to make Scotland one of the world's foremost events destinations by 2015. EventScotland's remit is to attract, support and create major events that will attract international spectators, participants and media to Scotland.

Last year's MTV Europe music awards were a wonderful success and generated nearly £9 million of revenue for the Scottish economy. I will continue to look for further opportunities to bring international events to Scotland. One such opportunity is our work to attract the 2014 Commonwealth games to Glasgow. I recently had the privilege of attending the Commonwealth youth games in Bendigo, which is in Victoria, Australia. The Scottish team turned in a magnificent performance and finished fourth in the medals table. While there, I found out more about the benefits that Melbourne's Commonwealth games bid has brought to that area.

Let us not underestimate the benefits of international events in other parts of the United Kingdom. I was delighted to meet Lord Coe earlier today at Hampden park to offer strong Scottish support for London's bid to host the 2012 Olympic games. If that bid is successful, it will have important benefits for the UK's international profile and will bring more tourists to Scotland. I hope that many MSPs will make time to come to the reception that is being held in the Parliament building this evening, which Lord Coe will attend.

We must ensure that such events are not all based in our cities. I am committed to promoting events that are in our more rural and remote areas. Through its regional programme, EventScotland supports events throughout Scotland, such as the big in Falkirk festival, the Bowmore Blair castle international horse trials and country fair, the Edinbane festival and the wickerman festival. Rural areas can look forward to hosting more such events. The enterprise networks are working with the organisers of the Hebridean Celtic festival, which is expected to generate about £1 million of visitor expenditure during a four to five-day period.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I want to move on.

The mountain bike world championships will be held in Lochaber in 2007; it will be the last major cross-country mountain bike competition before the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and a key event in the qualification process for those games. Such events are of huge significance for the whole of Scotland and allow us to raise our profile on the global stage.

The image that we portray to our visitors affects directly our standing in the world. We all have a role in promoting Scotland to the world, but the tourism and hospitality sector has a particularly vital role in promoting Scotland internationally. We can never stop asking whether we are matching and exceeding the world-class skills and customer services for which many of our competitors are renowned. The success of tourism in Scotland will depend on meeting customer service expectations, which is why I want to focus even harder on skills and training.

I want to work with the enterprise networks to improve the training that is on offer to staff. I fully appreciate the effort that the enterprise networks and the new skills council, People First, put into improving skills. Springboard Scotland also carries out good work and I was delighted to launch its career pack, which aims to encourage more people to enter the tourism and hospitality industry as a career, in Aviemore a few weeks ago. Another good project that is aimed at stimulating excellent levels of service is the pride and passion initiative, which aims to enthuse every part of the tourism and hospitality sector throughout Scotland; I hope that all Scots will get involved in it.

Work to implement an integrated tourism network is well under way. I am pleased with the progress so far and confident that the network will support further growth throughout the tourism sector. From April next year, we will begin to see the results of all the hard work of those who are involved in the project in implementing an integrated tourism network that will offer a high-quality, seamless service to all our visitors and tourism businesses. We must provide all our visitors with a high-quality information service that presents all that the country has to offer in an attractive and accessible way.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I do not have time.

I am keen that visitors and Scots have the opportunity to experience what every part of Scotland has to offer, which is why I want rural tourism to grow at the same rate as that in the cities. It is encouraging to see the work that is being done by the enterprise networks to improve accessibility to rural areas, such as the new air and rail links into the Highlands and Islands. In a country as diverse as ours, there is every reason for visitors to take advantage of more than a few aspects of Scotland.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I will have to miss out some of my speech and go to the end of it.

We need to engage with the tourism and hospitality industry as we take forward our reviews. I want to refresh the Executive's tourism strategy, which was originally published in 2000. At the moment, we are competing with 193 other countries for visitors and need to ensure that we are able to do that and that we encourage visitors not only to visit but to come back again and again.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises the economic benefits of promoting the long-term growth of Scotland's tourism industry; approves of the Scottish Executive's ambition, shared with VisitScotland and the tourism sector, of achieving 50% revenue growth over the next decade; notes that this will benefit the economies of rural as well as city and urban areas in every part of the country; appreciates that this long-term growth can only be achieved by ensuring that the marketing of Scotland in UK and overseas tourism markets is further strengthened and that the businesses that comprise the tourism and hospitality sectors are encouraged to compete even more strongly and coherently in this most competitive of global industries, and welcomes the additional funding given to VisitScotland to help achieve this.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party 3:15 pm, 16th December 2004

The Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport rightly referred to the importance of quality assurance. I hope that she will give some consideration to making those tourism providers that are not participating in the quality assurance scheme do so. We ought to have those providers registered. As well as raising standards, one of the advantages of the scheme is that it will enable us to identify how many providers there are and who they are. In that regard, I note that the Executive said, in response to a question from me, that it was unable to identify that information. Indeed, industry sources suggest to me that some of the numbers that I have been given in answer to other questions are not desperately accurate.

It is agreed that the future of tourism is extremely important to Scotland. It creates possibly hundreds of thousands of jobs and has a turnover that is estimated to be in excess of £4 billion a year. I should point out, however, that not everyone agrees on the basis of that assessment. Perhaps we need to examine such areas to see how well we are doing and whether we can assess the size of the business in order to identify opportunities for the future.

Clearly, the market is worldwide. The minister rightly recognised the significant growth that we have experienced in the past year or two after a poor period. The growth in the number of overseas visitors—particularly from western Europe—has been significant. It is anticipated that that market will grow by 4 per cent a year over the next decade. We need to be ambitious and creative if we are to ensure that Scotland grabs as large a share of the opportunities as possible. However, we also need to be realistic about our position and recognise the weakness in our competitive position as a result of the fact that the strong pound and high fuel costs are working against the industry.

There is a significant role for Government in promoting and supporting the industry, but its success is down to the industry itself. The industry needs to address marketing, access and good tourism experiences. To a greater or lesser extent, there is a role for Government in each of those areas.

Perhaps it is understandable that we politicians have concentrated rather a lot on marketing. However, good tourism experiences are the responsibility not only of the tourism providers; Government has a role to play in that regard as well. We must ensure that the significant attractions that are provided by the public sector are of a high standard and are maintained to a high standard. Indeed, there might be a case for the delivery of the tourism experience to be rather less distant from its marketing. Currently, VisitScotland plays a primary role in the industry, but it is really only a marketing organisation.

To have a successful partnership with wider industry interests, it is essential that we have a climate of mutual respect and parity of esteem. In that regard, the current tourism network Scotland project is causing considerable strains in relationships between the partners. While there might be support for an integrated approach to marketing, the processes by which the new structure will be arrived at raise a number of serious questions. Indeed, a tourism provider that is involved with one of the area tourist boards posed me five questions that the minister might care to answer when she sums up.

First, how will the shortfall in money—between £2.1 million and £4.2 million—be reconciled if the Scottish Executive is not providing further money for that end of the deal? Of course, that money relates to the existing shortfall in ATB funding and the potential loss relating to membership income.

Secondly, how will VisitScotland maintain no increase in its headquarters staff, when the minister's announcement contained plans that can mean only that there will be an expansion in staffing?

Thirdly, how are the expected redundancies of 10 to 15 per cent across the network to be paid for? That will certainly not be done from efficiencies in the first two years. Will there be moneys from the Executive? The minister might give us an idea later of both the level of the expected redundancies and the overall churn within the industry as new, different jobs are created by the new arrangements.

Fourthly, what will happen to the hubs? With little or no moneys left from the ATB set-up, will the hubs draw on moneys to survive that would have gone to all areas, including those that are prudent and financially healthy and which could subsequently lose out? Will there be such redistribution?

Fifthly, is VisitScotland taking on the pension liabilities of the 14 existing ATBs? Genuine concerns are being felt across the industry about the current deficit in the network of around £2 million and the potential loss of a similar amount of money from membership income. There is uncertainty about local authority contributions, redundancies—compulsory or otherwise—and their associated costs, and pension arrangements. There are concerns that those issues could lead to significant handicaps for the industry at this key time of change and opportunity. The early delivery of a detailed business plan is essential to build confidence and trust. As part of that process, the Executive should consider giving transitional support to help to address the industry's concerns. I seek the minister's assurance that she is willing to address those concerns and to do so through transitional support if necessary.

The minister gave us a long list of events and stated that those events are important for current and future Scottish tourism. I endorse that view. Such seasonal events have long provided us with opportunities to do business. For example, there are annual agricultural shows, which used to be more successful than they are now, highland games, and the festival of Up-Helly-Aa. All such events are important parts of our heritage. They attract local people and visitors alike and they fit in with the family history niche market. Many exiles and members of their families return to Scotland, whether they are recent leavers or one generation or many generations removed from those who left an area. Perhaps we could encourage the General Register Office for Scotland to work with local family history societies and take their message on the road to the events such as those that I described.

My colleagues Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond recently called for a winter festival to be built around St Andrew's day, Hogmanay and Burns' celebrations. Such celebrations have local and national resonances and offer opportunities not only to celebrate, but to bring welcome visitors to, or home to, Scotland to share in Scotland's heritage. We have music, book, film and drama festivals. They are not just for Edinburgh and are being built on. The advantage that they have over the minister's proposals is that they are recurring events. They happen annually or bi-annually and draw visitors back to Scotland again and again. Staging the Commonwealth games in Scotland, as welcome as that would be, would not guarantee return visitors. Supporting existing national and local events is more likely to attract repeat business.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The member is just finishing.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Yes, but the minister took a number of interventions.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Niche strategies are successful here and elsewhere in the world. We must provide reasons for repeat business and the obvious repeat business will come from existing niche strategies. For example, golfing, ecotourism and researching family history will attract repeat business.

Access to Scotland is improving. The minister rightly talked about the success of the route development fund. However, to make all areas of Scotland accessible to tourists, we must ensure that all Scotland benefits from the route development fund rather than just the central belt airports, as is the case currently. The minister is right to identify the significant increase in the number of tourists from western Europe.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You must finish now, Mr Adam.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

All Scotland's ports on the east side offer opportunities. I take the Presiding Officer's hint.

We need to be positive and ambitious about the future. I will leave it to my colleagues to fill in the gaps on structural funding and the ferry from Rosyth.

I move amendment S2M-2166.2, to leave out from "approves" to end and insert:

"further recognises that tourism requires good access and good tourism experiences as well as marketing strategies; expresses concern over the uncertainties introduced by the Tourism Network Scotland (TNS) project, including potential compulsory redundancies, the financial shortfall and lack of a detailed business plan; commends the development of niche marketing strategies and the extension of the seasonal events to ensure that all Scotland benefits from a growing industry; seeks continued commitment to improving access through the Route Development Fund and a strategy for dealing with the consequences of changes to structural funds, and calls on the Scottish Executive, contingent upon production of the TNS business plan, to consider making available transitional funding to address any shortfall due to potential loss of membership income, local authority funding, redundancy costs and the ongoing structural deficit."

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative 3:25 pm, 16th December 2004

We agree that promoting the long-term growth of Scotland's tourism industry will provide economic benefits for Scotland. After all, tourism is Scotland's largest industry. However, the Executive's plans mean that ATBs will be replaced by 14 local tourism hubs that will be responsible for delivering the national strategy—in other words, the Executive's strategy—in their areas. Businesses will not pay membership fees, but will buy those commercial packages that they wish to buy. The current system of local authority grants to ATBs will be replaced by partnership agreements between local authorities and VisitScotland.

Before committing itself to the restructuring, why did the Executive not solve some of the problems that the ATB members were already facing? The whole process has been dogged by uncertainty and indecision and there are still unanswered questions. In particular, how can funding for the new hubs be guaranteed without membership status and what will happen to local tourist information centres? Along with many people in the industry, we are concerned about the loss of local knowledge and expertise. The ATB network has branded VisitScotland's management style as

"centralist and hierarchical with no ability to meet local needs".

The network is also most unhappy about the

"completely inadequate consultation with ATBs about the proposals."

The tourism industry has had to endure endless Executive tinkering, along with a big drop in visitor numbers. We believe that the proposed structure is flawed, but I suppose that it must somehow be made to work in the best interests of the industry. That will be difficult, because the fundamental problem with tourism in Scotland is that the Executive, as in so many other areas, behaves as if it were the role of Government to lead the industry. Consequently, the Executive pursues an interventionist approach; it is obsessed with restructuring and strategy launches. Each minister—of whom there have been plenty—has been determined to make their individual mark rather than to create a climate in which Scottish tourism can thrive. We have ended up with a flawed new structure, which the Executive and VisitScotland claim will provide a raft of benefits, including that of stopping different ATBs exercising petty jealousies against one another.

Many people in the ATBs have raised concerns, especially about how the restructuring has been handled. Robin Shedden, who is the chairperson of the Scottish area tourist board network, said:

"One of the major justifications for the whole re-organisation was the need to introduce funding stability at local level. We do not see how the proposals for the new structure will provide this. Indeed we fear there is a real risk of things getting worse as membership income ceases with no guarantee that the shortfall will be covered by additional commercial income ... furthermore there are no guarantees that local authority funding will be sustained at its current level."

It is not surprising that area tourist boards are upset, because they have not been properly involved in the building of the project. A growing number of trade associations and private businesses are expressing their concerns about the lack of representation, influence and participation that they will have in the new system. They are also unhappy about their lack of involvement in the project up until now. Carolyn Baird of Perthshire tourist board said:

"We seem to be designing something for big businesses, which will welcome and be able to handle the system. However ... the majority of businesses that are involved in tourism are not big businesses. That is a major problem."—[Official Report, Enterprise and Culture Committee, 23 November 2004; c 1316.]

The remarks that I have cited were made by tourism professionals who know their industry inside out. We believe that it is an outrage that Scotland's biggest industry has had to suffer several years of delay and uncertainty because of the Executive's incompetence. The Executive's approach to restructuring the tourism industry is far too centralised and dictatorial and it will hamper rather than help tourism professionals. Why can the Executive not understand that local tourism operators know best how to promote local tourism attractions?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I simply want to make the point that an ATB chairman was appointed as a project director for the project and that he is working closely with VisitScotland on it. The process is by no means a one-way street.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You are going into your last minute, Mr McGrigor.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I beg your pardon—my last minute?

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

The Conservative party thinks that tourism is one of the chief drivers of the Scottish economy and that it must therefore be central to Government strategies that aim to boost enterprise. Why is tourism currently dealt with by the Executive's Education Department? We would create a department of enterprise that incorporated tourism, which would put tourism where it should be: firmly at the heart of Government enterprise policy. In order to raise the status of tourism as a career choice for young people, we would better promote vocational training in the tourism sector. We need professional Scottish tourism staff who take pride in the importance of their job.

We would also invest an extra £100 million a year on roads and public transport in order to improve our tourism infrastructure. There is huge potential to develop historical and archaeological tourism and we would also seek to really promote Scotland as a destination for golf and other sporting events. We would encourage more marine tourism off Scotland's fascinating coastline and develop the freshwater and seawater angling that is first class in this country. Ultimately, the best way in which to encourage Scottish tourism is to give the maximum support to the development of our strengths and tourism assets instead of wasting resources on yet more centre-led strategies and restructurings.

On 28 November, I went to Aviemore for Scotland's national tourism conference. I heard Bob Cotton speak for the industry and call for no more regulation, a better transport infrastructure and more vocational skills training. The minister heard him too. That is what people in the tourism industry want, minister—please give it to them.

I move amendment S2M-2166.3, to leave out from "approves" to end and insert:

"urges the Scottish Executive to pursue a more ambitious target for growth in light of the aggressive policies being pursued by competitor countries; appreciates that long-term growth can only be achieved by ensuring that the marketing of Scotland in UK and overseas tourism markets is further strengthened and that the businesses that comprise the tourism and hospitality sectors are freed from the Executive's policies which are hampering business growth and enterprise throughout Scotland; regrets the uncertainty and consequent damage caused to the industry by the Executive's handling of the tourism network restructuring process; further regrets the potential loss of local knowledge and expertise that may result from the centralisation of the tourism network, and calls on the Executive to ensure that both the local tourist information centres and funding for the new tourism hubs are adequately protected once the new network commences in April."

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 3:31 pm, 16th December 2004

In fairness to the Highlands, I have to say that I do not recognise the situation that Jamie McGrigor described. Only last week, I attended a tourism conference hosted by Highland Council, at which it was clear that there is a real willingness on the part of the enterprise network, Highland Council, VisitScotland and the outgoing ATB to work to make things happen in the future. Of course, any time of change is not easy and I recognise some of the difficulties that are faced in Perthshire and Fife. However, we are where we are and we have to get to where we need to go.

I say to Jamie McGrigor that, in my experience, the tourism providers out there in the marketplace are not hugely interested in structures; they are interested in delivery. I think that, as long as a good-quality service is delivered to the industry, the providers will welcome the fact that they will not have to pay fees or membership.

I want to talk about a theme that is slightly connected to the one that Jamie McGrigor focused on—the differences within Scotland, or, as the French would say, "Vive la différence!" I consider Scotland to be like a diamond: it is a country of many facets, all of which are slightly different.

Historically, what used to annoy tourism providers in, say, Caithness about the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board was that what Caithness was offering was fundamentally different from what was offered in Lochaber, Ross-shire or Argyll. The issue was how to sell the singularities of an area such as Caithness.

In the Starbucks age in which we live, all of us are being homogenised into one lowest common denominator product—

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

I will not mention the cheese industry—or, at least, not yet.

Let us take the example of the sale of wine. The marketplace has become much more sophisticated. People no longer go to the shop and buy a bottle of whatever; they are now very choosy. The same could be said of cheese, which may be the reason why my brother is not doing as well as he was.

The same is true of the tourism product. No longer do we go for the general Scottish tartan or "The Broons"-cover experience; people want something different. Scotland's great strength is that it can play to those differences. I am talking about niche marketing, eco-tourism and, as other members have said, genealogical and cultural tourism. The fact that Caithness is as different from Lochaber as it is different from Ayrshire is a huge marketing point.

Photo of Jamie McGrigor Jamie McGrigor Conservative

I agree with much of what Jamie Stone says. However, the point that I was making is that surely information on the differences between the various areas can be supplied only by local professional tourism operators who live and work in those areas and not by an Executive view that is thrust upon them.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

It is not a matter of operators having views thrust upon them. The whole process has broadly been accepted in the Highlands, an area that Jamie McGrigor represents just as much as I do.

The jury is out. I believe that the new model can quite easily deliver areas' distinctive differences, which will be selling points. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. It behoves Jamie McGrigor and me to work with the tourism industry, VisitScotland and Peter Lederer to ensure that such features are brought to the fore. We should do that in a constructive, not destructive, manner. We have a great chance to sell the individual attractions of different parts of Scotland.

I point out to Mr McGrigor that we face severe competition. Some eastern bloc countries are now competing out there and are dangerous in what they can offer. We can now fly to Belgrade in Serbia, a city that was in a war zone not so many years ago, stay in the finest hotel and have the finest of meals and the finest of wines at a price that none of us can compete with. We should think about what is happening with the enlargement of the European Union. It will not be easy for us. Turning to the tourism product, some emerging tourist destinations are getting people behind the counter who have six months' or a year's training—not just a week or a day about how to be a hostess or how to sell tourism. That is a big issue.

I return to our strengths. Genealogical and cultural tourism appeals to the sort of people who have slightly deeper pockets and who put their money where their mouth is, so we should sell that product. Mr Fergusson is a strong advocate of his constituency, Galloway and Upper Nithsdale. Having visited that area in the past few days, I know that it is a singular product. I am talking about selling some of the history that different areas and places have to offer, such as Kirkcudbright in Mr Fergusson's constituency. What more could be done about art there, for example?

I wish, in a sense, to look both backwards and forwards. The issue is about realising the strengths of the past. If I could dig up every piece of turf in Caithness, I bet that I could find a few Skara braes. That is precisely what the discerning people—the more sophisticated market—will go for. The issue is also about the future. I conclude by mentioning the new Parliament building. I understand that, on some days, we have been crossing the 3,000 visitors per day threshold, which is pretty astonishing.

Let us look back at the great things that made Scotland what it is. Let us sell that and make it a tourism product. Equally, let us look forward to things that we could do in the future. It behoves us all to take this building and to sell it. There will be other opportunities that we will be able to sell, too. Let us face it: we are trying to get the maximum cash out of tourists' pockets into our coffers here in Scotland.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We now come to the open debate. A considerable number of members wish to speak, so I will have to keep them to a strict six minutes.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour 3:38 pm, 16th December 2004

It employs 9 per cent of the Scottish workforce, with more than 200,000 industry-related jobs. It contributes £4.5 billion to the Scottish economy each year. Moreover, if we add other public sector investment on to VisitScotland's budget, it attracts annual investment of more than £90 million a year. I am talking about the Scottish tourism industry today, which I hope we all want to grow at the rate described in the minister's motion.

If the industry is to grow at that rate, we must market Scotland effectively. Initiatives such as the route development fund, which the minister mentioned, and the establishment of tourism network Scotland—to which I will return later, as the proposal has contentious aspects—will help to focus minds on doing just that. Local authorities will be key players. As a former chairman of the Kingdom of Fife Tourist Board, and a board member after that, I unashamedly wish to focus on the kingdom of Fife in my speech.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Like me, Christine May is a former council leader. Is she concerned that, on the back of a tight settlement, councils might in the not-too-distant future make some irrevocable decisions about the amount of funding that should go into Scottish tourism? Does she acknowledge the concerns that the industry is expressing about that issue? There will be competition for resources for education, social work and tourism, for example. How will tourist boards successfully compete in the funding round?

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

Mr Crawford knows as well as I do the difficult decisions that councils make every year. I intend to return to that issue later.

The tourism sector in Fife has grown consistently since 1998, as has Fife's share of the Scottish market. Visitor numbers have grown by 11 per cent and about 6 million visitor days are spent in Fife each year. Spending is up from £146 million to £197 million after inflation, which translates into jobs: full-time equivalent jobs are up from 4,500 in 1998 to more than 6,000 now, which is an increase of 32 per cent.

All that brings more than economic benefits; it brings social benefits for the residents and citizens of Fife. It is important to remember that tourism investment is for not just the visitor from overseas, but the day-tripper or the family on a day out, even though it is spent in the local area. Such investment should be integral to the community planning process in growing the economy, building safer communities, improving the environment and creating a better-educated workforce and better lives for people.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Before you take the intervention, I ask Mr Stone and Mr Fergusson to take their conversation outside the chamber.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I am grateful to Christine May for giving way. She is right to talk about tourism in Fife, but does she agree that, in her constituency of Central Fife, places such as the Levenmouth area and Glenrothes are not seeing the benefits of increased tourism that are felt elsewhere in Fife?

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

I thank Mrs Marwick for that intervention, but I do not agree with her. I was just coming to the point that the investment in tourism infrastructure has allowed my constituents in Buckhaven, Methil and Leven to enjoy the benefits of the Fife coastal path, the 300 miles of the cycle ways network, the upgraded paths in the Lomond hills regional park and Rothes Halls in Glenrothes.

In 2005, Fife will become the first area in the country to have a carers-go-free policy, which will allow free access to visitor attractions, sports centres, theatres and so on to people who are accompanying a disabled person. That is collaboration at its most basic to benefit the economy and tourism in Scotland.

I turn briefly to private sector investment. Although the St Andrews Bay resort is contentious, it now employs many of my constituents and many of those whom Mrs Marwick and Mr Crawford represent. The investment in facilities at Balbirnie House Hotel in Markinch, which is also in my constituency, and the business learning centre in Dunfermline at Lauder College have created additionality—they have brought new business to Fife and to Scotland, but they have also ensured investment in standards and service. I acknowledge the training that is being done in collaboration with Scottish Enterprise Fife—I stress that I am talking about the enterprise network, not the education department—whereby lots of people have been trained in customer care. Moreover, the ferry has carried almost 200,000 passengers, many of whom—about 20 per cent—stay overnight in Fife. That has been achieved through good partnership.

The Scottish tourism network project, which I mentioned earlier, is destabilising for staff in the industry. I ask the minister to assure us that the project will be handled as sensitively and quickly as possible so that we can sustain local authority funding and private sector investment.

A decade ago, Fife tourism was a Cinderella sector, clad in rags and struggling for cash. Now it is a princess, glittering, creating prosperity, supporting jobs and improving the quality of life for local people and visitors. Let us work together to ensure that the industry in Fife and Scotland grows to meet or exceed the targets that the Executive has set. I support the motion.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party 3:44 pm, 16th December 2004

The value to the Scottish economy of our tourism product cannot be overstated. I hope that we all accept that secure long-term funding of the marketing effort to promote Scotland is a key element of ensuring long-term growth.

With that in mind, I want to raise with the minister the real fears in the industry about the funding of the marketing effort in Scotland as a result of changes to structural funds in the package from 2007 to 2013. I refer in particular to the impact that those changes will have in my region of Mid Scotland and Fife. The draft structural fund regulations for 2007 to 2013 are likely to mean significant reductions in the funding that is available for tourism in Scotland. That is disappointing, given that just over a quarter of the approvals that have been given to date in the current east of Scotland programme have gone to tourism projects.

I am sure that the minister will be aware that, in Mid Scotland and Fife, tourist boards have been able to access significant amounts of European regional development funding over the past five to six years. Basically, that has kept a number of those boards solvent. Perthshire Tourist Board has identified that as an issue, too. The funding has also enabled the tourist boards to maintain and develop marketing programmes that independent evaluation has shown generate significant returns on investment. The Executive should be well aware of the potential impact on regional tourism bodies in the future of declining income from ERDF projects.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

Does Bruce Crawford agree that the challenge for us is to ensure that the partnerships are put in place so that, when that income from Europe stops, it is replaced and even increased?

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I agree entirely. Sadly, however, no proposals have been developed to date to address the funding gap that some of the bodies might experience from 2007. In the light of the changes to the structural funds, there must be urgent discussions about the future funding of regional tourism agencies.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I want to make some progress on the issue.

A strategy must be developed to ensure that the agencies can deliver effective local marketing programmes, quality businesses and customer services.

The Executive still has much to do to persuade the vast majority of local tourism businesses of the benefits that the planned new structure will bring. Many are still unhappy and, as things stand, the environment is not a good one in which to launch the new VisitScotland. In particular, people are concerned that, despite the fact that the restructuring review began three years ago, there is still no VisitScotland business plan for the new network. It cannot be right that staff structures are being approved and people are being appointed before the new organisation even knows what its business plan looks like. The industry badly needs a business plan that sets out the priorities and areas of operation and describes how the network will work.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

As the member knows, the deadline for the business plan is 31 December. My contacts with VisitScotland indicate to me that it is absolutely on target to deliver that business plan, which will then be in the public domain. I reassure Mr Crawford on that.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

It was almost three years ago that we started the whole review rolling. A deadline of 31 December for the business plan is, frankly, too late. Instead of attending Scotland's glittering prize givings such as the thistle awards, which has been described as

"a night when the stars came out to play", perhaps the minister should be getting around the area tourist boards and talking to them a bit more in her new role.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

The minister will have her chance to reply.

The tourism industry badly needs a business plan to be put in place. In any organisation—whether private or public—the business plan must come first and should drive what the structures look like. This is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. No bank in its right mind would support a venture that went about its business in such a way and neither should the Executive. It is time that the minister sorted the situation out.

One of the major justifications for the reorganisation was the need to introduce funding stability at the local level. I am glad that Brian Adam has mentioned the concept of providing additional transitional funding because of the £2.2 million that will be lost.

In closing my remarks, I pay special tribute to Superfast Ferries, which operates the ferry service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge. That route has been an outstanding success and it is time to expand into other markets in continental Europe. By the end of the year, Superfast Ferries will have carried 500,000 passengers between the ports of Rosyth and Zeebrugge. The route has already put £150 million into the Scottish economy, with 32 per cent of the passengers being first-time visitors to Scotland. In January, Superfast Ferries was voted the best ferry overall by Holiday Which? and, in November, it was voted best ferry operator by the Scottish Passenger Agents Association. It is time to build on Superfast Ferries' outstanding success and to develop new routes into northern Europe. It is time to get passionate about our tourism industry, so I hope that the minister will support the call for Rosyth to be designated the hub port for the North sea.

I have listened to Jamie Stone wittering away while other members have been speaking. I just wish that he contributed more when he spoke.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 3:50 pm, 16th December 2004

Of course, the Fife to Zeebrugge ferry was supported by the Liberal Democrat and Labour Administration; it would not have happened otherwise.

Tourism is vital to my constituency of North East Fife, where it generates about £150 million of income every year and more than 3,000 full-time equivalent jobs, which means many more than 3,000 people employed. There are many small businesses such as hotels, guest houses, restaurants and souvenir shops. Tourism is also an important source of additional income for many of our farms, such as from the award-winning Morton of Pitmilly self-catering facilities.

A 3 per cent growth in tourism in Fife is estimated for this year, despite all the problems with the industry that we keep getting told about. North East Fife has excellent facilities; it is not just about golf at St Andrews. There are also blue-flag beaches at Tentsmuir, St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Elie. We have the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, Lomond hills regional park and Falkland Palace. Ceres has an excellent folk museum. There are also hidden gems such as St Andrews botanic gardens and Craigton country park.

Accommodation ranges from the five-star St Andrews Bay golf resort and spa and the Old Course Hotel to award-winning caravan parks. Transport facilities are improving because of the investment being made by the Liberal Democrat and Labour Executive in our rail links. We have already mentioned the Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry and the route development fund, which is bringing more air passengers into Scotland. It is to be hoped that, ultimately, there will be airport rail links so that those passengers can get to Fife quickly.

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green

If the member supports the expansion of the route development fund, which will mean extra flights, does he also support moving the Royal Highland showground to allow Edinburgh airport to be expanded?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I do not believe that the Royal Highland show is site specific, unlike Edinburgh airport. There is no reason why the show cannot explore alternative sites. In fact, I am sure that we could find a good site for it somewhere in Fife. I have no problem with the relocation of the Royal Highland show if that is the right thing to do for the benefit of Scotland's economy.

It is important that, in promoting Scotland, we build on our strengths. North East Fife is clearly one of our jewels and the Kingdom of Fife Tourist Board has worked well with the private sector, through the tourist businesses, and the public sector, through Fife Council and Scottish Enterprise Fife. The tourist board has attracted a considerable amount of European funding and has shown what the area tourist boards can do. The ATBs are not all bad; as Christine May said, they have led to increased visitor numbers and income for the past five years.

However, we need to move on. Quality is crucial and I congratulate the St Andrews Bay golf resort and spa on recently winning the skills for success large company award at the ceremony that Bruce Crawford derided a few minutes ago. It is important that businesses get involved in improving the skills of the tourism industry and the St Andrews Bay golf resort and spa has shown the way for many companies.

I support the principle behind the new tourism network Scotland. It is the right way to go, although there are a number of concerns about how the scheme is being progressed, which I hope the minister will address when she is summing up. A funding gap has been referred to and there is a question about the loss of membership income. For example, 700 businesses in Fife contribute £185,000 to the current ATB and businesses across Scotland contribute £2.2 million to the ATBs. We need to find out how that money can be recouped. It will not necessarily come immediately from additional commercial income.

Another concern is that the new relationship between VisitScotland and tourist businesses will be commercial rather than the partnership that has been built up by the ATBs over a number of years. I hope that that can be resolved and that we can continue to have good will and partnership working.

There is concern that the tourism network is turning out to be not a merger but more of a takeover from the centre. We have to give some assurances to our tourist boards about that. The ATB chairs gave some fairly damning evidence to the Enterprise and Culture Committee about the failure of some of the processes that VisitScotland has adopted. There is particular concern that some of the working groups are not seeing the final reports that have been done in their name.

I hope that those concerns will be addressed. Robin Shedden, who was mentioned earlier and who happens to be the chair of the Kingdom of Fife Tourist Board, expressed concern at a tourism network Scotland project meeting. The minute reads:

"Overall, the ATB network did not feel it had ownership of the proposals and no trust in the process, which would result in lack of buy-in to enable staff to sell it to the industry."

I hope that that buy-in can be achieved and that that the lack of trust will not continue.

It appears that key bodies and sectors have not been fully involved, such as the British Holiday & Home Parks Association—the association represents the caravan sector, which is also important in my constituency.

I also have concerns about the proposal to set up a special purpose vehicle to promote business tourism in the cities, because business tourism is also important in many other areas. For example, the convention and conference market is important in St Andrews and it will be important in Perth and Aviemore, given the new facilities that are being developed there.

We must recognise the fact that many tourism businesses do not have much confidence in VisitScotland. They have much more confidence in the staff of their local ATBs, whom they know and trust. VisitScotland needs to do something to build trust—obviously, it was not helped by the problems with the visitscotland.com venture. There is an urgent need for VisitScotland to address the issues that I have raised. If it shows willingness to devolve facilities to the area hubs, that will go some way towards restoring confidence. For example, in Fife there is expertise in golf tourism, so why should the golf tourism promotion business not be located in the Fife area hub? Perhaps outdoor activities could be promoted through the Perthshire hub. Such devolution makes good sense, but it will also give people greater confidence that there is a genuine partnership between the existing area tourist boards and VisitScotland.

I hope that the minister will address some of those issues when she sums up, but overall I support the motion.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Independent 3:56 pm, 16th December 2004

In this debate on Scotland's number 1 industry, it is important to make the point that tourism is not only vital to Scotland's economy, but sustainable. One thing that we can say with absolute certainty is that, if we could project ourselves forward 100 years, we would see that there was still a tourism industry in some form.

A point that has not been made so far—I have not heard it, anyway—is that 92 per cent of tourists who come to Scotland come from other parts of the United Kingdom. A considerable amount of work can be done to develop new tourism from other parts of Europe but, as other members said, there is a great deal of competition out there and we have to make sure that we are up to the challenge of responding to it. The Executive's response to that, particularly the considerable additional funding over three years and the insistence on marketing, is an appropriate approach, as is the establishment of EventScotland and the route development fund.

I remember that, when the Scotland in Sweden event was held two years ago, there were no direct routes between Scotland and Sweden.

Those of us who went to Sweden to sell Scotland had to go via Amsterdam and come back via Copenhagen. Within a year, through the route development fund, there were two direct routes linking Scotland and Sweden, which have enhanced tourism in Scotland. It is also important to note the role that the cities—

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Independent

No. I am sorry, but we have already heard a six-minute whinge from Mr McGrigor and I do not think that we need any more.

Our cities have a gateway role and 90 per cent of business tourism is handled through Edinburgh and Glasgow. That is an important contributor to Scotland's economy and we play it down at our peril.

I do not think that anyone would deny that the ATB review took longer than everyone would have liked. There are various reasons for that, but the fact is that we are where we are. One of the main points that emerged from the ATB review is that the trade wants better interaction between the national tourism strategy and its delivery at the local level. With the publication of the implementation plan framework in November, that is what we will get. Too much can be made of the fact that not everybody is fully signed up to all aspects of the project at the moment. The project is still on-going and it is not due to come into effect until April next year.

The Enterprise and Culture Committee held sessions on the ATB review in May and a couple of weeks ago at which the problems were identified. I say to the minister that there is still a bit of work to be done by VisitScotland on reconciling the views of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, some individual local authorities, the ATBs and some of their chairs. As members of the committee will know, only today we received a detailed e-mail from the ATBs, which says that they are not satisfied with the relationship with VisitScotland or the way in which the new network is developing. There is work to be done, but the project will provide the integrated approach that is necessary to develop tourism in Scotland effectively.

On the network itself, I have two points to make. First, I was pleased to hear the minister mention the important issue of quality assurance, which I was disappointed to see receives only five lines in the 18-page framework document. It may be a cliché, but it is vital that people not only come to Scotland but come back again. They will not come back unless their experience, as another cliché has it, exceeds their expectations. A registration scheme for all sorts of tourism providers is essential. Jamie McGrigor might call that more regulation, but we need such regulation.

I cannot think why any tourism provider—whether it be a tourist attraction, an hotel, a bed and breakfast, a cafe or a restaurant—would not want to sign up to a scheme that puts a number of stars or roses on their door so that visitors know what they will get. What is wrong with that? Why would anyone not want that? Such a scheme is not regulation but playing fair with visitors. It will mean that visitors are much more likely to get what they expect and to come back as a result. Quality assurance needs to be addressed more than it has been hitherto.

Secondly, it is often thought that public sector funding starts and finishes with the £40 million or so that VisitScotland receives, but a huge role is played by local authorities, which provide significant funding of between £8 million and £10 million, and by the enterprise network through the local enterprise companies, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. That is why, as has been pointed out, it is important that we ensure that COSLA is fully on side.

VisitScotland told the Enterprise and Culture Committee that good progress was being made on signing local partnership agreements with every local authority, but some of the COSLA representatives who gave evidence were not quite so clear on that. Given that the local partnerships will have responsibility for drawing up area tourism plans, work needs to be done to ensure that the local partnerships get not just financial buy-in but full commitment from local authorities and other tourism providers.

Bruce Crawford asked what guarantee we have that local authorities will not simply invest tourism money in education and other services. Surely any sensible local authority will see the benefit of investing in tourism. The money does not just go into some black hole; it brings extra money into the local authority, especially if that authority works with next-door authorities on joint ventures. Surely there is sense in that. I very much hope that the area tourism plans will be fully developed with local authorities.

Finally, I make the simple point that ATBs are vital. Although they will cease to exist from April 2005, their staff, expertise and knowledge of the industry provide important capital for tourism in Scotland. The ATB staff need to have confidence in the new structures. Whatever extra work needs to be done to assure the ATB and tourist information centre staff that they are an essential part of the future development of tourism in Scotland, I hope that VisitScotland will do it as soon as possible.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 4:02 pm, 16th December 2004

Presiding Officer, before I begin, I apologise to you, to other members in the chamber and to Christine May for conversing with Jamie Stone. That is not something that I recommend too often, but I am afraid that, sadly, I get rather over-enthusiastic when people extol my constituency's high-quality excellent field sports, in which Mr Stone is a regular and keen participant. Those field sports play a vital role in extending my constituency's tourist season into the autumn and winter.

The motion is sadly lacking in that it fails even to touch on the anxiety and uncertainty that currently enfold the sector at area level in a way that almost defies belief. We all accept that change will always create anxiety and uncertainty. The changes that are being brought about as a result of the introduction of tourism network Scotland are no exception to that rule, as many members have ably demonstrated.

The need for transitional funding, which members have mentioned and which is rightly highlighted in both amendments, is one of the main concerns of Dumfries and Galloway Tourist Board in my constituency. In moving from a membership-funded organisation to one that is funded by service delivery, there is bound to be a transitional period of financial uncertainty, which only the Executive can address.

There will be no automatic rush to purchase the new services by those who are involved in the industry. As I was told recently by an accommodation provider in my constituency, whether the new set-up is successful will depend entirely on the value for money of the advertising and marketing that it will offer to businesses. Any element of loyalty that may have been engendered by the previous membership organisation will no longer exist. As I was told, it remains to be seen what products will be put on the counter.

Photo of Brian Adam Brian Adam Scottish National Party

Does the member therefore agree that a transitional fund will be needed to overcome the short-term difficulties that he has highlighted?

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative

Yes. In other words, which I think the member used, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. In this case, former area tourist board members will want to see the proof before they purchase the pudding. There will be a gap, which will require the Executive's attention. I hope that the minister will be able to reassure us on that issue, if only to enable the hubs to put together some form of business plan and budget for this year. They are currently treading water and are completely unable to do so.

If the minister finds herself in reassurance mode, perhaps she can provide some reassurance on the future of eTourism Ltd, the somewhat mysterious company behind visitscotland.com. I have a simple question for the minister: how long can the company survive? The latest returns from Companies House to the year ending December 2003 show a loss of £3.6 million. Turnover exceeds costs by only a tiny fraction and administration costs come in at £2.3 million. Unless something drastic is done, eTourism Ltd will be on course for bankruptcy some time next year, although a contractual commitment for a further £3 million that was made with Schlumberger Sema and that I presume has been passed on to its successor, Atos Origin, may help to extend eTourism Ltd's life for a further year.

Something may be very wrong, and I hope that it is pertinent in the context of this debate to ask the minister just what that something is. In my opinion, if we take a large information technology company with no tourism experience and the misguided assumption of VisitScotland and the Scottish Executive that internet bookings will rocket, and feed in the growing loathing that the general public has for call centres, we have a recipe not for success, but for a potential disaster, which may be just around the corner.

In answer to a parliamentary question that I put recently, the Executive indicated that internet bookings with no manual input stand at a miserable 6 per cent of total accommodation bookings. I also have a number of concerns about the definition of automatic bookings that was used in the response that I received. Answers are required, and I hope that the minister will be able to provide them today. If not, I ask her to provide them to me in writing.

The motion asks us to note a benefit to the economies of rural areas that will accrue from 50 per cent revenue growth. However, that depends on how well all areas are promoted. The recent experience of one of my constituents who attended Crufts dog show last month suggests that VisitScotland has a great deal to do as far as my very scenic rural constituency is concerned. On spotting a VisitScotland stand—I commend VisitScotland on promoting Scotland at Crufts—my constituent posed as an interested tourist and asked why on the displayed map everything west of Dumfries was a grey blur. That suggested that the area was basically empty, except for the designated tourist route from Dumfries to Ayr. On asking whether there was nothing worth visiting in the area, he was astonished—and I do not blame him for being so—to receive the reply, "Oh, but we want people to visit the real Scotland." I am sorry, but a' the airts of Scotland have a great deal to commend them. I am far from convinced that the current promotion of our country recognises that. Unless we get the promotion right, we can forget the Executive's supposed ambition, the targets and the self-congratulatory attitude. I reject the motion before us and will support the amendment in the name of my colleague Jamie McGrigor.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party 4:08 pm, 16th December 2004

I welcome this opportunity to debate the future of the tourism industry. As members have mentioned, it is already a key Scottish industry in terms of employment and wealth generation, but could and should be one of the more powerful drivers of Scottish economic growth over the next decade or so.

In that context, I am very disappointed with the motion that is before us today. It is long on rhetoric and exhortation, but short on policy substance, especially regarding the development of quality tourism products. We can have the best marketing operation in the world, but if the product fails to appeal or disappoints the consumer, we shall get nowhere near to realising the potential of Scottish tourism. It is time for the Scottish Executive to assist the tourism sector, not just by restructuring VisitScotland or giving it additional funding, but by taking significant responsibility for product development.

Let us take the heritage tourism product as an example of what is lacking and what is needed. The minister will be aware of the concerns that exist in Ayrshire about our consistent, long-standing failure to take full advantage of our unique Robert Burns heritage. I can cite many examples of this failure, not just the current crisis that is enveloping the Burns national heritage park in Alloway, to which I will return in a moment. Despite the rich legacy, there have been few or no serious attempts to develop a Burns trail or visitor attractions across the county. Local authorities, no matter whether they are councils or tourist boards, have demonstrated that they are not up to the task. Indeed, they cannot even be trusted to look after the physical heritage that they have inherited, including the Burns monument in Kilmarnock, which was recently all but destroyed by fire-raisers after lying for years unused, locked up and fenced off.

The common themes of neglect, procrastination, the shuffling-off of responsibility and the failure to realise opportunities are nowhere more evident than in the deplorable state of the Burns cottage and museum in Alloway, which should be the flagship asset of the Burns heritage industry in Scotland. Although in its day the museum might have been suitable for housing a nationally important collection of Burns manuscripts and artefacts, that day has long gone. It is no longer possible to keep, preserve, present and interpret that collection in a worn-out building that is more akin to an early 20th century cricket pavilion—with a leaky roof, to boot—than a modern purpose-built museum. Given the building's state, it is not surprising that some of the most important manuscripts such as "Auld Lang Syne" and "Scots Wha Hae" in the poet's own hand have been removed in recent weeks for safekeeping in Edinburgh. This shameful situation is keenly felt by the local community.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I invite the member to come to Irvine in my constituency and take the Irvine historical tour, which starts at the Burns museum and makes countless references to Burns's residence in the town. I am certain that he would enjoy it; it has certainly been given an accolade by the local community and visitors to Irvine.

Photo of Adam Ingram Adam Ingram Scottish National Party

I thank the member very much. I am sure that I will take her up on her invitation.

However, I want to return to the situation with the Burns cottage and museum in Alloway. Given that the Executive intends to market worldwide the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns in 2009 as the year of homecoming for the Scots diaspora, the prospect of a national embarrassment looms large. The problem has been compounded by recent decisions to dissolve the heritage park's joint board, which comprises representatives of South Ayrshire Council and trustees who have been charged with the cottage and museum's upkeep. An application to the heritage lottery fund to finance the new museum has been withdrawn and the council has tendered out the lease of the park's visitor centre, which currently cross-subsidises the cottage and museum, to commercial operators.

I do not intend to waste more breath castigating the council or the trustees, who will have to deal with the recriminations. However, I want to press the minister to intervene to sort out the mess. As I see it, there are three options. First, we could transfer the heritage assets from the local trustees to the National Trust for Scotland; secondly, we could set up a Scottish independent museums trust to ensure that nationally important collections that are not owned by the national museums are properly looked after; or, thirdly, we could establish a new, professionally run local trust that could attract local philanthropy. We could conceivably combine those options; however, further inaction will not be acceptable and I trust that the minister will respond positively and urgently to my concerns.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 4:14 pm, 16th December 2004

I am pleased to support Patricia Ferguson's motion. As she has already pointed out, tourism is very important to rural areas and, indeed, to Dumfries and Galloway. The effect on the local economy of the great damage that foot-and-mouth disease caused to tourism in the south of Scotland in 2001 bears witness to tourism's importance, if any evidence were needed.

Dumfries and Galloway has bounced back well, and the two-year funding that the Scottish Executive provided to the tourist board—which was matched by European objective 2 funds—played a vital role in that recovery. I was, of course, disappointed that the Executive could not be persuaded to allocate further specific funding for the third year. It argued that that money was already in VisitScotland's budget, but VisitScotland denied that it was. However, Dumfries and Galloway Council stepped in and provided a sum of £250,000 to the tourist board. I often disagree with Dumfries and Galloway Council, but I think that it was to be commended in that instance. That proves that councils are prepared to support local tourism and to see its value.

There is no doubt that the tourist board has made excellent use of that funding, as can be seen on its very professional website at http://www.galloway.co.uk. My only complaint about it is that it is called "Galloway" and not "Dumfries and Galloway", but there it is.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I agree that Scotland as a whole must be assertively marketed. I agree that niche marketing of types of holidays, rather than of destinations, is a powerful tool in raising awareness of what Scotland has to offer and of where in Scotland those pursuits are on offer. At the same time, I hope that the reorganisation of the tourist boards into a VisitScotland network will still retain a strong local voice that is capable of representing the distinct features of the industry and of different parts of Scotland. That echoes what Mike Watson said.

I want to use this opportunity to bring to the minister's attention a couple of local developments that I recently discussed with Pip Tabor of the Southern Uplands Partnership. Incidentally, Pip argues that the south of Scotland should change its designation to the southern uplands, as he believes that that would give the region a more distinctive identity and one that is comparable with the Highlands. I think that that is an interesting idea.

The minister will be aware of the making tracks in southern Scotland project, under which heading the Scottish Executive provided £300,000 to help farmers and land-based businesses to develop a network of sustainable nature-based tourism projects in Dumfries and Galloway and in the Borders. That funding was supplemented by the European Commission's LEADER + programme for the region, and it provided grants to cover capital and start-up costs for new visitor attractions and nature tourism businesses. Quality, collaboration, sustainability and customer care were the key focus.

One of the projects that received early funding under that programme was the Galloway red kite trail. It is in Alex Fergusson's constituency, which seems to be second only to Fife in the number of mentions that it has had today. I have had a considerable interest in the project, which established a circular trail around Loch Ken to complement RSPB Scotland's red kite release programme in the area. I was fortunate, back in 2002, to substitute for the then Deputy Minister for Rural Development, Rhona Brankin, in releasing the first group of young red kites to be reintroduced into the area. It was an extremely secretive operation, which involved me meeting secretly with RSPB representatives at a remote location and then stealing through the forest to the area where the birds were going to be released. At one point, we met a bunch of walkers and we all talked loudly about forestry to try to put them off the scent in case they suspected that we were there to release the red kites. It was great fun.

The red kite trail now features on the RSPB and Dumfries and Galloway tourist board websites, and the latter highlights the fact that it is actually easier to see red kites during the winter. Going to see them is advertised as a winter activity, as is watching the thousands of geese that overwinter at Caerlaverock in my constituency. Nature-based tourism is helping to extend the tourist season in Dumfries and Galloway outwith its normal span. The scope of nature-based tourism projects has expanded and now involves a whole range of partners. I was going to say a bit about them, but I think that I am probably going to run out of time. However, the point that I want to make to ministers is that there is strong concern that the making tracks project is due to finish in July, and I would be grateful to the minister for her advice on whether it might be extended or replaced by a similar dedicated project for southern Scotland.

I also want to draw the minister's attention to the exciting developments that are taking place in equestrian tourism in the region. A number of agencies got together to commission market research, which was presented at a seminar last month when the riders welcome scheme was launched. However, I have been told that it has been difficult to persuade Scottish Enterprise that equestrian tourism is a real opportunity. Perhaps Scottish Enterprise should have a look at the official website of north-west tourism in Ireland, on which equestrian tourism features prominently. However, I have to say that there is a rather amusing typo on that website, which says:

"It might be that one forgettable hour of your holidays when you sit on a horse for the first time."

That does not really market it terribly well. However, there is clearly an opportunity in that type of tourism, and I hope that Scottish Enterprise will come on board with those developments.

To conclude, I am pleased that the Executive is ambitious for tourism in Scotland. However, I ask the minister to ensure that the southern uplands, as we should now possibly call ourselves, are fully recognised for the contribution that we could make, both to the local economy and to the national economy in the tourist industry.

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green 4:20 pm, 16th December 2004

I endorse Elaine Murray's remarks about the southern upland region, as we seem to be about to call it.

Ninety per cent of our visitors rate the scenery as one of the reasons that they come, 90 per cent value fresh air and 84 per cent come for peace and quiet. A similar percentage of visitors will visit at least one historic building. If we are to grow our tourism we must protect and enhance those values. I visited one such location in the Borders region last week, the community of Craik, which consists of about 10 houses and is seven miles down a single-track road from the nearest village. It is about 12 miles from Hawick. The community is on the edge of a wood and it is surrounded by red squirrels, otters, badgers and orchids. The only development in the valley is the Forestry Commission Scotland's woodland. However, those people currently face development proposals for nine converted-barn houses, seven other houses, three large villas, 50 caravans, a shop, a car park and 63 log cabins—that figure is expected to extend in time to more than 100.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Can the Greens tell us where they would put the houses?

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green

My point is that the tourism that we should support is tourism that does not ruin the area on which it is imposed. For that community, their track will become tarmac roads, their view of the milky way will become street lights and their silence will be ruined. I would not put such a large development seven miles down a single-track road and I would certainly not do that in the name of tourism. That sort of tourist development will ruin that which attracts tourists there in the first place. The Executive's approach in the motion—grow tourism at any price; growth is the only goal—is deeply wrong.

Tourism can bring many benefits. It is a huge employer; it employs more people than the oil, whisky and gas industries combined. I mention the very successful Cream o' Galloway in my region, which makes my favourite ice cream. Cream o' Galloway won the 2004 thistle award for tourism and the environment and has also been awarded a gold award by the green tourism business scheme. It has used tourism—agri-tourism—to sustain a small dairy herd, which would otherwise have been impossible given the current price paid for milk by the supermarkets. That is a fine example of sustainable tourism.

Our approach to tourism growth must be strategic. We must aim to make tourism businesses more viable by aiming for a more even spread of visitors throughout the year. We must encourage businesses to join the green tourism business scheme. VisitScotland must do more to promote the scheme and should support the scheme's call to develop its website in order to promote itself more effectively.

The green tourism business scheme today asked me to ask the minister whether she will lobby the Cabinet Office in London to ensure that it publicises the fact that the G8 summit will take place in a hotel that is a member of the GTBS organisation. Will the minister please do that?

Greater investment in people, skills and training is required in order to maximise the value of tourism. We need a clearer understanding of the impacts of tourism, greater involvement of communities in tourism planning and a public transport system that encourages tourists to use it. That should be the Executive's strategy.

Unfortunately, what we currently have instead is an extremely undignified row between the chief executive of VisitScotland and the area tourist boards. The row erupted during meetings of the Enterprise and Culture Committee. The area tourist boards complained of "centralised and hierarchical" management, "lack of representation", a "lack of accountability", a "lack of clarity" and warned of a "crisis in waiting". Philip Riddle called the area tourist boards "factually wrong". That claim is denied in an e-mail, to which Mike Watson referred earlier, from an area tourist board chief executive, who wishes to remain anonymous in order to retain his job.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Independent

I clarify that the e-mail to which I referred was not from an anonymous area tourist board chief executive; it was from the Scottish area tourist board network. It was a letter to the convener of the Enterprise and Culture Committee. If Chris Ballance has not received his copy by now, it will be in the system. That is a different e-mail from the one to which he refers and it carries considerably more weight.

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green

I thank Mike Watson for that clarification.

I do not know who is right and who is wrong in the argument, but the public spat is unhelpful. The move towards a centralised network was based on consensus, but that consensus has been lost. The minister has inherited the mess, and while it is not her fault, it is her responsibility to sort it out. We have demoralised and fearful staff who are worried about redundancies and are operating in a new organisation with, as yet, no business plan. The situation sounds like another visitscotland.com transitional nightmare. The minister has until 31 March, when the new tourist season starts, to sort out the situation. Frankly, I do not envy her.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour 4:26 pm, 16th December 2004

The debate has been interesting and important for communities throughout Scotland, including my own in Cunninghame South. There is considerable agreement on key issues, such as marketing, quality and training. Our plans for the future of the tourism industry are rightly ambitious. A 50 per cent increase in tourism revenue over the next decade will be no mean feat, but we have a great commodity to market. Most speakers agree that we can rise to that challenge.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

No, I have only five minutes.

Key to achieving that growth is improving our infrastructure, and not just our tourism infrastructure. We all recognise the uncertainties and sensitivities within communities around the new network, which I am sure the minister will address in her summing up, but the principle of having joined-up thinking and joined-up strategies to ensure that the visitor's journey is a pleasant one, from the moment they arrive in Scotland until the moment they leave, is essential.

On market challenges, not all our target tourist markets are the same. The dynamic of the US market, for example, is entirely different from that of the Scandinavian market. In the US, workers generally have two weeks' paid annual leave a year. Given the exchange rate at the moment, while we can get shopping bargains in the States, Americans who visit Scotland find the cost of accommodation, food and entertainment to be expensive. However, they are willing to pay in return for a high-quality experience. Quality is therefore paramount. We need all hotels, restaurants and transport systems to rise to the standards of the best.

Americans are interested in our rich traditions, our heritage and our architecture. For many of them, genealogy is becoming increasingly attractive, as are golf and green tourism packages.

The minister mentioned our commitment to tartan day in her opening remarks. However, I was interested to learn that the Northern Irish target a number of states in the United States, one of which is Arizona, where I lived for a couple of years. I asked the Northern Ireland Office why it targeted Arizona, although I suspected that I knew the answer. One of the reasons given was the weather in Arizona, which is so hot—110º in July and August.

Arizonans who are used to the dry desert love to come to Ireland and Scotland, because they think it is wonderful that we have rain in July, and they appreciate the green fields. The Northern Irish have thought that to be an advantage in marketing Northern Ireland as a tourist destination. Given the rain that we have, Scotland is also a perfect destination. With the world becoming a smaller place, we need to look for such niche markets and tap into them.

I welcome the minister's views on how we can move forward in the United States and, instead of targeting tartan day on the east coast, move further west, because we can be too east-coast focused.

I mentioned the dynamics of different markets. The Scandinavian market is entirely different to that of the US. Scandinavians, who are used to paying about €14 for a brandy and €8 for a beer, think that Scotland is cheap.

In my constituency, a businessman who runs a small business at Irvine harbourside has taken a proactive approach by offering personally tailored packages to people, including airport pick-ups for people who use the cheap Ryanair flights into Prestwick airport. In Ayrshire, we have a wealth of world-class golf courses and sailing opportunities on our doorstep and the area is steeped in history and the Burns tradition. We can offer accommodation rates that are competitive compared to those in big cities. We often wonder how to ensure that people who come into Prestwick do not go straight to Edinburgh. Perhaps in her summing-up speech the minister will say how we can work with smaller partners in local communities. We must ensure that we have in place a strategy that shares the benefits of tourism throughout Scotland so that people do not just go from Glasgow and Prestwick airports to Edinburgh and the other cities.

Because we speak English, we are in a particularly competitive position in relation to the US market. However, we must not be complacent—it is important for our tourist industry that we concentrate on developing language skills. A joined-up strategy is vital. I acknowledge the minister's commitment to cut across departments to achieve results and I look forward to her summing-up comments. I support the motion.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 4:31 pm, 16th December 2004

Few sectors have as much potential to make a contribution to the growth of the Scottish economy as tourism has. The minister stated that VisitScotland's aim is to grow Scottish tourism revenue by 50 per cent in the next decade. As we have heard, in 2003, total tourism revenue was estimated to be about £4.4 billion. To assist the development of our industry, the marketing budget will increase by 28 per cent over three years to boost UK and US campaigns. The air routes that the minister mentioned in her speech are also welcome.

To be successful, we need the right people in VisitScotland doing the right jobs within the right structures. We also need the industry to have a clear ambition and to set the highest standards in communications and customer service. Members have mentioned the role of industry members. I was interested to read the comments of the director of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce in relation to its snapshot of tourism. She stated:

"There is widespread recognition that while government policy and national organisation is important, to succeed tourism businesses have to look first to themselves to raise standards and take ownership of marketing initiatives, particularly at a local level."

I agree entirely with that.

The new structures of VisitScotland have had a long gestation period and members have argued that they have had a difficult birth. However, in my view, those new structures are right. Some members have said that the review took too long, but the quickest decisions are often the wrong ones. The decision is the right one, notwithstanding the issues that arise inevitably from the implementation of the review, which Brian Adam rightly pointed out. I have worked closely with the Scottish Borders Tourist Board during the period of change and I welcome the Scottish Executive's response. The team in the Borders will benefit from the new structure and the freedom that will allow it to build on its successes.

There have been successes. The Borders is Scotland's leading short-break destination. The Borders team, which is led by Riddell Graham, understands its product and knows its market. Nobody expects me to say anything other than that the product is wonderful; the Borders is the most beautiful part of Scotland and it has an unmatched history, great cultural traditions and a friendly and welcoming people. The common ridings, our literature and our outdoor leisure activities are all part of our unique selling proposition.

Local industries know their USP and it is vital that the reformed VisitScotland knows Scotland's USP. Jamie Stone was right that the focus should not be on structures but on product, market and service. The new industry must be fit enough to respond to the fiercely competitive global market. It must respond quickly to global trends, and customer needs and service-level agreements must be customer focused. The carer goes free scheme that Ms May described is an example of customer-focused tourism.

In the new year, here in the Parliament building I will host the last board meeting of Scottish Borders Tourist Board. I intend to thank the members for their work on behalf of my constituents, but also to discuss the future opportunities for tourism in the Borders.

Iain Smith's speech on behalf of his constituency would qualify him to be the chairman of the new local area hub and Adam Ingram's speech would qualify him to be the chairman of his local Burns society. It is right that they should have made such speeches—we are all proud of our local areas.

An indication has been given by Alex Fergusson, the minister and other members that areas such as the one that I represent are gateways for English tourists, who drive into Scotland on the historic routes of the A7 and the A68. The historic routes and the English gateways need to be supported by VisitScotland. As Mr Watson said, 92 per cent of our visitors are from the rest of the United Kingdom.

I want to highlight an aspect of the debate that has not been raised so far. Research has revealed that almost half of the 4.1 million visitors to Scotland's cities—indeed, half of all tourists who come to Scotland—are aged between 16 and 34 and have high to medium disposable incomes. They are attracted by many of the new and old activities that are on offer to visitors such as—to focus on the Borders—the common ridings, which are huge equestrian events, the international rugby sevens, the under-21 world rugby championship, which we hosted with Murrayfield, and mountain biking at the hugely successful Glentress mountain biking centre, which it is forecast will attract 400,000 visitors this year.

Incidentally, I wish the mountain bike championships in Lochaber, in Mr Ewing's constituency, well and I hope that the championships that follow what I hope will be a successful Beijing Olympics will be in the Borders.

I hope that, when the minister is with Lord Coe this evening, she will support my campaign to restore rugby sevens as an Olympic sport. It was cruelly taken away by the French in the 1920s. However, the inclusion of rugby sevens in the Commonwealth games and the Asian games shows that it is time that the sport was restored to its rightful place as an Olympic sport.

However, whether we are talking about T in the Park, mountain biking or stately-home weddings, rural Scotland offers as many attractions for younger visitors as our wonderful cities do. I am therefore disappointed that the new website, myvisitscotland.com, costing £250,000, provides information to those aged between 16 and 34 only on Scotland's cities. That is wrong and I hope that the minister will have an opportunity to examine the matter.

The minister remarked that the industry is in good shape and, although there have been some sharp exchanges this afternoon, there has also been a wide consensus. If we are to gain the best benefit for our economy from tourism, we have to ensure that that consensus goes from the chamber to the industry as a whole.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 4:37 pm, 16th December 2004

Although some might have reservations about Jack McConnell's description of Scotland as "the best small country in the world"—[Official Report, 7 September 2004; c 9882.], we in the Conservative party share his aspirations to make it so, particularly in terms of tourism. In recent days, I have been fortunate enough to receive Christmas cards depicting the beauty of Scotland from various organisations and individuals. I congratulate Jack McConnell on his selection of Hamish MacDonald's painting of Glenscorrodale farm on the Isle of Arran as his official Christmas card. The picture is a fine rendering of Jack McConnell's childhood home and it bears witness to the fact that Scotland is a ravishingly beautiful country—a brand to die for, in fact.

In a wide-ranging and generally good-humoured debate, we in the Conservative party have highlighted the uncertainty and subsequent damage caused to the industry by the Executive's handling of the tourism network restructuring process. As Jamie McGrigor said, we regret the loss of local knowledge and expertise that might result from centralisation, but the hard fact is that we are where we are. I would like to concentrate my remarks on where we go from here. I believe, in particular, that we have to encourage the private sector to become fully represented in the new hubs.

I welcomed the minister's announcement that there has been a 13 per cent increase in numbers of visitors from overseas, what she said about the promotion of Scotland in Central station in New York and her declaration of her ambition for Scotland to host iconic international events. However, we await an answer from her about the shortfall in tourism funding identified by Brian Adam, Bruce Crawford, Alex Fergusson and others and information about how the new hubs will operate.

I agree with Jamie Stone and Alex Fergusson that we must continue to promote the attractions of the richly diverse Scottish landscape and seascape as well as Scotland's unique cultural attractions. I am talking about all parts of Scotland and, in that regard, I should say that we support the idea of transitional regional funding to help the hubs to do their jobs in the period of transition.

This has been a particularly good debate for promoting tourism in the kingdom of Fife. Christine May, Iain Smith and Bruce Crawford have all done an excellent job in promoting Fife.

I make no apology for directing my remaining remarks to one of the brightest spots in Scotland's tourism landscape. Iain Smith rightly said that Scotland must build on its tourism strengths. If Scotland itself is a world brand, so too is links golf, with St Andrews and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews—the world-ruling golf body—deservedly at the centre of what has become an international tourist magnet. Next year, the world's oldest golf tournament, the Open, will come home to St Andrews. The Open shares with the Wimbledon tennis tournament the accolade of being the world's most-viewed televised sporting event—500 million households worldwide watch those events. We simply cannot buy that kind of television coverage. Coincidentally, next year is also the 50th anniversary of the BBC's first coverage of the Open and its enhanced coverage of the event will be beamed around the world.

This year, as part of a £2.5 million, three-year course funded by the R & A, 14 young Chinese students are studying at Elmwood College in Cupar, which organises courses in green keeping and golf course management. The R & A plans to extend the scheme to allow youngsters from developing African countries to come to Scotland to benefit from the same expertise. They will help to spread the gospel of golf even further afield, which will attract many more tourists to Scotland. That is a classic example of how the private sector can help to develop and promote international tourism. We need more such examples.

We must build on our strengths and that is why I have lodged a parliamentary motion that calls on the Scottish Executive to support a bid to gain for St Andrews the coveted United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation's world heritage site status. Currently, Scotland has only four such sites: Edinburgh's old town and the new town make up one, and the islands of Orkney and St Kilda are two others. The Scottish location that most recently won world heritage site status is Robert Owen's New Lanark, which did so in 2001. I believe that St Andrews, which is the original ecclesiastical capital of Scotland, the home of the nation's oldest university and the town that gave the world the game of golf, richly deserves to be Scotland's fifth world heritage site. I intend to write to all relevant local organisations, including the University of St Andrews and the R & A, to seek their backing for the initiative and I hope that I will be able to tell them that I have cross-party and Executive support for my motion.

I firmly believe that by building on our existing strengths in such a way—in particular, encouraging the private sector to take the lead in promoting the tourism industry in the way that I outlined—Scottish tourism will flourish as it should and that it will exceed the minister's target of 50 per cent growth over the next decade. As we say in our amendment, there is no reason why the growth should not be even more spectacular. That is why I support the amendment in Jamie McGrigor's name.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 4:42 pm, 16th December 2004

With the minister and, I believe, Mr McGrigor, I had the pleasure recently of attending Scotland United's tourism conference in the recently opened Macdonald Aviemore Highland conference centre, where I heard a number of inspirational talks about the future of Scottish tourism. Philip Riddle of VisitScotland gave one of them. Nicola Sturgeon, Brian Adam and I had a shortened version of that presentation just this week. One of its points is that research shows that Scotland and the Scottish people have qualities that bring people to our land. The qualities are to do with the enduring nature of Scotland, its drama and its human side.

Mr Riddle's thesis was that our character brought people here, which surprised me. As somebody who is capable at times of being personally difficult, dour, even confrontational and as expressive as a slab of granite from time to time, I was surprised by Mr Riddle's view. However, having considered it for a moment, I think that each of us is an ambassador for Scotland, and that applies particularly to members of the Scottish Parliament. We are in a privileged position and I am proud to say that, in order to deliver the duty that I feel is incumbent on me, I have taken it upon myself to be an unofficial tour guide for this building. I show a great many people around it, albeit with, I suspect, an alternative script to that which is provided by the official guides.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

Given my past role on the Holyrood progress group, I welcome the member's damascene conversion. I offer to write a new script for him, should he need it.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I normally prefer my own scripts. Any contributions will be considered in the millennium to come.

We should praise the efforts that many people in tourism have made. There is not enough time to mention them all. I believe that Donald Macdonald persevered for a long time to set up the conference centre in Aviemore because of his commitment to Scotland. David Noble of the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board has displayed diplomatic skills that are way beyond my ken. [Interruption.] I see that I am achieving a great deal of consensus this afternoon.

David Fox-Pitt is perhaps less well known. He is the driving force behind the Caledonian challenge, an event in which a huge number of people participate. He has raised £1 million for charity by getting people to walk the 54 miles down the west highland way. When Michael Matheson and I took part in the event one year, we got lost and did 56 miles—but that is MSPs for you. David Fox-Pitt has set up other events, such as the Loch Ness marathon and Maggie's monster bike and hike along the north shore of Loch Ness. Those are the types of events that we should be promoting. I hope that EventScotland will help Mr Fox-Pitt.

At times, the debate has resembled a travelogue, an advertorial or a non-hitchhiker's guide to the locality, so I wish to focus on some of the serious points that have been made. Mr Adam raised five pertinent and important questions, which I hope that the minister will answer. I think that Mr Riddle would agree that there is some doubt about whether the figure of £4 billion is accurate. That is not to say that I am rubbishing it, but I am not sure whether we are capable of measuring so precisely the contribution that tourism makes. That is worthy of another look.

Iain Smith and, in particular, Alex Fergusson commented on visitscotland.com, which I am extremely worried about—I think that the issue will come back to haunt us. I hope that the problems can be resolved, but I am not sure that the path ahead for visitscotland.com will be easy.

The fact that Scotland can be a costly destination was mentioned by a number of speakers. I am pleased to hear that the Greens are now in favour of the motor car, because that is how the people whom they are so keen to get to Scotland come here. We welcome that conversion.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

The member is in his final minute.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

John Swinney, Adam Ingram and others mentioned the problems relating to bureaucracy and red tape, which are affecting the hotel in John Swinney's constituency, the Robert Burns museum in Adam Ingram's area and Castle Tioram in my constituency, where the problem has not been resolved for about seven years. So far in the first and second sessions of the Parliament, there have been six tourism ministers. Ministers come and go, but the problem of Castle Tioram must be resolved in this session. I look forward to meeting the minister on that next week.

We are a country of 5 million people and there are 6,400 million people in the world. Even I, with my limited mathematical skills, can tell that 999 out of 1,000 people in the world are not Scots. That represents a huge potential market and opportunity for us. The SNP has taken a positive but critical approach today. I hope that our contribution to the debate will be seen in that light and I look forward to hearing the minister's response to what has been a useful debate.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour 4:49 pm, 16th December 2004

I find myself in the fairly unusual position of being able to agree with Fergus Ewing, in that I feel that the debate has been interesting and good and that it has allowed us to agree—if we agree about nothing else—on the importance of growing tourism for the benefit of Scotland's economy and people. It has also been interesting in the sense that it has allowed us to see another two aspects of Fergus Ewing's character, other than the ones that he so ably described himself. I was surprised that he was able to be both self-deprecating and self-promoting at the same time but, given all his other talents, I should not have been.

Given that a number of points were raised in the debate about the network restructuring, I will address them at the beginning of my speech. Although Brian Adam raised most of the concerns initially, they were echoed in part by Jamie McGrigor and other members. In the time that is allotted to me, I will try to answer them and make further comments on the issue.

I am afraid that it is simply not true to say that the ATBs have been excluded from the key planning and decision-making processes of the project. As I mentioned in an intervention, an ATB chief executive was appointed as project director, is now a member of the VisitScotland management team and attends all the VisitScotland board meetings. In addition, ATB staff have been involved, and are still involved, in all parts and at every level of the project team. Several of the chief executives have led project groups and another has attended the fortnightly progress meetings that are chaired by the Executive.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

No. I took a lot of interventions in my opening speech.

Staff from the ATBs filled around 40 per cent of the places on the project teams that undertook the planning work and several are now involved in implementation. I am extremely grateful to them for the hard work that they have put in, which has helped us to get to the stage that we are now at.

I intervened earlier on the subject of the business plan, which is an issue on which a number of members have raised concerns. It is important to remember that, taken together, the ATBs are running a deficit of £2 million in the current system.

The project team is on target to produce its first-draft business plan for the network by 31 December, which is entirely on schedule and according to plan. A lot of work has yet to be done, but the indications are that once the efficiencies that are to be gained from network integration are achieved, the network will be sustainable.

Members also made points about local authority funding. Mike Watson made the point that local authorities have to understand the importance of tourism to the economy of their local area. I hope that that understanding will help to influence them to maintain their tourism funding. I welcome the indications that we have had from some local authorities that they would like to increase their funding.

I, too, am concerned about the situation of ATB staff. For that reason, I have asked VisitScotland to make a particular point of ensuring that ATB staff are given as much information as possible about what is happening in their ATBs. The objective behind the Executive's decision to integrate the network was to improve the effectiveness of the support for tourism growth at national and local area level. The intention behind the process is not one of cost cutting as such, although the integration of the ATBs into an integrated network will realise efficiencies.

I appreciate members' concerns on the issue of jobs. I hope that we are able to keep the number of compulsory redundancies to a minimum. Alex Fergusson mentioned the on-going uncertainties that people at the local level are facing. I am sure that that is true, which is why I was so keen that VisitScotland should make a special effort in that respect. In many areas, including my home city, ATB staff are positive about the opportunities that the network offers. I hope that that feeling is one that will spread.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

No. I do not have a lot of time to answer all of the points that were raised in the debate.

Iain Smith said that he hoped VisitScotland would devolve functions to network offices. I say to him that VisitScotland intends to do exactly that. The network is not about centralisation; it will play to the strengths of each individual area.

A number of members mentioned visitscotland.com, which is an issue in which I take a great deal of interest. It has provided an effective shop window for Scottish tourism and promotes Scotland to a global audience. It is performing well against its business plan targets and is generating significant business for the industry in Scotland. Since its establishment, visitscotland.com has generated some £22 million-worth of business for the tourism industry across Scotland. It was always anticipated that there would be difficulties at the beginning until it came into profit, but the management of visitscotland.com is confident that it is on track to achieve the profitability that it indicated.

Jamie McGrigor mentioned his belief that a single network could not do justice to Scotland's tourism diversity. The point about the network is that although it will apply a common standard and best practice, it will not stifle diversity. Frankly, I think that it would be silly for it to do so. It will market rural as well as urban attractions. Scotland's diversity is one of our key selling points.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

No, I really must make progress. Mr McGrigor and other members raised a lot of questions. I was slightly surprised to hear Brian Adam indicating that the Commonwealth games might be a less attractive proposition than repeat events such as local activities. We do not intend for the Commonwealth games or other large events such as the MTV awards to be the only things that happen. We need a broad spectrum of events. We need to market different events to different audiences. Having the Commonwealth games in Scotland in the same year as the Ryder cup would be a magnificent achievement.

Alex Fergusson raised a point about signage. A review of tourism signage is currently going on. I will keep him advised as to what happens with that.

Adam Ingram raised some points about the important issue of Robert Burns, the collection of his work and the memorabilia and premises that, along with his poetry, immortalise him. I have taken a keen personal interest in the subject, which has been raised with me by a number of members representing Ayrshire. As recently as last week, I met some of those representatives, who brought their concerns to my attention. We are working with the National Trust for Scotland and others to safeguard the collections, a number of which have already been dispersed. We have been having work done to catalogue the dispersed collection. When we get to 2009, having had Burns festivals annually along the way, we should not just have had a great year of homecoming; we should also be leaving behind a legacy for Ayrshire and the south of Scotland, where Burns is particularly important, which we can all be proud of. That is work in progress and we will continue with it.

Elaine Murray mentioned the making tracks initiative. I would be happy to meet her to discuss it. I was interested in her points about equestrian tourism, given that some 18,000 UK residents undertake a horse-riding holiday in Scotland at some point. That area needs to be developed. [Interruption.]

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

Order. There are too many private conversations going on.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I was intrigued by what Chris Ballance said. The Executive is not saying that growth in tourism should be achieved at any price. I agree with him that one of the things that brings people to this country is our fabulous scenery. Our scenery and our environment are very important to the image that we market. That is why VisitScotland has been encouraged to increase—in fact, double—the number of people involved in its green tourism network.

We aspire to be one of the best small countries in the world. However, we are a small nation. We need to ensure that the many different tourism organisations and businesses work closely in partnership to maximise the benefits to Scottish tourism. We already have a good reputation throughout the world as a friendly and welcoming people, as Fergus Ewing said. We are also a country that can give its visitors the experience of a lifetime. I want us to build on that and to encourage our visitors to keep returning to Scotland. We cannot grow tourism on the warmth of the Scottish people and our fabulous scenery alone. We need to ensure that every single visitor receives great service, a clean environment and value for money during their stay here. That goes for taxi drivers and shop assistants as well as hotel operators. As Fergus Ewing rightly identified, that also goes for every single member of the Parliament.

We must all recognise that tourism is everyone's business. Only then will we punch above our weight and compete with other successful tourist destinations. However, we are rising to the challenge. Scotland has many icons that are the envy of the world. I will not list them now, but they include our rural areas, vibrant cities, contemporary architecture, culture, arts and festivals. Ted Brocklebank was right to talk about golf. Golf tourism is pitching high, with a 300 per cent increase in revenue over the past four years alone.

We have good reason to be proud and to be ambitious for the future. People from all over the world recognise our success, and we have an excellent track record in offering our visitors the experience of a lifetime.

I repeat my invitation to everyone interested in tourism to give us their views on the refresh of the Executive's tourism strategy. We think that that should be done in two areas: in making the most of information technology across the sector and in enhancing skills and training, an area that a number of colleagues identified. We will not be issuing a formal consultation, but we will work with VisitScotland and the Scottish Tourism Forum to seek the industry's views.

I believe that revenue growth of 50 per cent right across Scottish tourism will be to everyone's benefit. I point out to the Conservatives that that is not the Executive's ambition but the tourism industry's ambition. We in the Executive want to work with the industry as Scotland's team to understand that Scotland has tourism as its key business. I am convinced that we can achieve that ambition and we will support the tourism industry in it.