Our decision to restructure VisitScotland and the area tourist boards (ATB) to form an integrated tourism network was announced to Parliament a year ago. That decision was in part based on the results of a consultation exercise which showed widespread support for such integration of support for the tourism sector.
The project to plan, implement and deliver an integrated network has been hugely challenging, depending on crucially important input from ATB and VisitScotland staff, and also from local authorities and the private sector. It is a testimony to their hard work that the project has remained substantially on schedule. There has also been very successful consultation with COSLA and individual local authorities about the continuance of their financial support for tourism at the area level.
It is the staff of the new network who will be the key to its success. On 31 January, VisitScotland issued to all ATB and VisitScotland staff a proposed organisational structure for the network showing the number and type of posts in each area office. Many staff (for example all staff in the tourism information centres) will transfer across to the VisitScotland network in their current jobs on 1 April. For the others, their jobs are the subject of a very careful matching process to ensure that the skills and experience available across the organisation are used to best effect. It is anticipated that all but a very few of the 1,065 staff in post across the ATBs and VisitScotland will find jobs in the new network.
A project transition budget of £7 million over two years has been made available to VisitScotland to cover the costs of implementing the integrated network, and to cover the expected deficit in network operations in 2005-06. Once anticipated efficiency savings are realised in the course of 2005-06, the network is expected to be financially viable from 2007 onwards. A business plan has been produced by VisitScotland, and will be finalised as soon as possible.
At the beginning of March, VisitScotland launched their marketing opportunities portfolio for 2006, including the area marketing brochures which have always been available. Tourism and related businesses can purchase a range of marketing and other products from that portfolio from any office across the tourism network, but each business will have a local business relationship manager to look after their requirements. VisitScotland are have now also launched their City Breaks campaign for the UK which promotes the opportunities in Scotland to experience the best of both city and rural attractions in a single short break.
An operational integrated network delivering all of these services and more will be in place from April, working closely with partners including tourism businesses, local authorities and the Enterprise Networks. That ethos of partnership is being exemplified through the development of area tourism partnerships, many of which are already up and running. Substantial local authority funding has been secured for 2005-06 to support the development of area tourism partnership plans, which will form the basis for the growth of tourism in each area of Scotland.
Across the tourism network itself, further development work, for example on a fully fledged customer relationship management system, will be carried out over the course of the next year. The objective is to have a fully functional integrated tourism network in operation by April 2006, in order to support the continued strong growth of the businesses which make up one of Scotland’s most important sectors.