Our tour-ism de force

IT IS not an accident that one of the four key areas of focus for Opportunity North East is tourism.

We already have fantastic coastline, countryside and attractions here on our doorstep.

Castles, gardens, distilleries, museums and galleries, a diverse culture & arts scene, more great golf courses than I could triple bogey … I could go on (and often do).

A raft of new bars and restaurants are opening, many of them providing a shop window for our world-class food and drink produce, providing another unique selling point for the area.

Complementing all of this is our strength in attracting business tourism, much of it linked to our status as Europe’s oil & gas capital.

The region is already home to 1,200 related companies supporting around 20,000 jobs.

In 2014, almost a million and a half people visited the city and shire, putting an estimated £400million into the local economy and the aim is to get this to half a billion pounds by 2020.

So, is this achievable and what needs to happen to deliver on the ambition?

The recent formation of a single destination marketing agency for the region – VisitAberdeenshire - is a significant development and we should embrace this as an opportunity to make a stepchange in our overall tourism offer and promotion.

I was involved in a similar process a few years back when the Northumberland, Durham, Tees Valley and Newcastle Gateshead area tourism partnerships were all brought under a single north-east England brand.

It seemed impossible, there was plenty of wailing & gnashing of teeth but … it worked, resulting in a significant increase in brand awareness nationally and internationally, strong growth in business & leisure tourist numbers and culminated in winning the world travel award for best regional destination promotion within only two short years.

It can be done.

We need to convince business tourists to extend their stays, or to plan return visits to experience our incredible leisure offer.

Planned infrastructure projects such as improving road access, plans to speed up rail travel and modernise our stations, the £20million airport expansion, the new AECC and elements of the city centre masterplan must be delivered on schedule.

In 2016 a doubling of the number of cruise passengers arriving in the city is forecast and the opportunity exists for much more, if the new harbour development goes ahead enabling larger vessels to include Aberdeen on their itineraries.

And there is progress being made towards creating a world class events programme in the area.

Taking all of this, along with a continuing increase in hotel capacity and quality, then it sounds like we’re in good shape to achieve our aims and realise our potential.

However, none of this is any good if we just keep it to ourselves. So what is our collective role in supporting tourism?

We need to counter much of the negative messaging about our region right now by talking up all the good stuff.

We need to invite family and friends to come here to visit.

And we all need to promise to take some time out to rediscover all of the amazing places that we have right here on our doorstep.