Cantlay said that while a further eruption would be “devastating” for incoming airborne visitor numbers, the risk of the return of April’s flight chaos should be seen as “an opportunity as well as a threat”.
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The new VisitScotland boss, who is credited with boosting morale and unity in the £4 billion industry since his appointment in April, told the Sunday Herald that encouraging Scotland’s 20,000 tourism businesses to confront the threat of drastic reductions in foreign visitors was his “duty” as leader of the Scottish industry.
Cantlay said: “The only certain thing about tourism is uncertainty. We have to work on the basis that the volcano is resting, rather than assume that the disruption [to aircraft] is past. There is every chance that there will be a return of the disruption.
“The whole country needs to get behind the idea that holidaying in Scotland is a good thing to do. It’s a good time for the industry to be looking at their databases to be making hay of the ‘staycation’ phenomenon. I’m not saying you should use scare tactics [to remind Scots of the risks of flying abroad] but it’s an opportunity to tell people that it’s a safer bet to be in Scotland this year.
“Imagine the Edinburgh Festival with the airports closed! It would be the tourism industry equivalent of rain at harvest time. We need to put our marketing emphasis on the ‘close market’.”
Cantlay, who is also managing director of William Glen Ltd, with tourism, leisure and retail interests in Scotland, Canada and the US, has moved decisively to stamp his authority on VisitScotland, easing out long-serving chief executive Philip Riddle whose terms of departure are still under discussion.
The agency’s £5 million “guerilla marketing campaign” to boost spending by Scottish and UK consumers was fashioned in response to the threat of the volcano-related disruption, as well as the threat of industrial action by BA.
The investment is split between a £2m Perfect Day campaign, targeted at 36 million people across the UK; £250,000 on So Close To Home, VisitScotland’s first-ever Scotland market-only campaign aimed at boosting staycations; and the £1.25m European touring campaign aimed at Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands.
The timing of the launch of VisitScotland’s £1.5m Autumn Moments campaign will be “flexed” according to the volcano situation.
UK Tourism Survey figures show that trips in Scotland during March 2009 increased by 28% compared to 2009, against a UK average rise of 9%. VisitScotland’s Winter White campaign, which cost £1.3m, is said by the agency to have generated additional revenue of more than £66m.
Cantlay said he would “use the power” of Scotland’s 500 destination marketing organisations (DMOs) to boost yield, and also to “take Scotland on a journey” to appreciate the wealth of its tourism assets.
“Tourism is the most competitive industry in the world but we have unique selling points by the truckload. I am anxious that Scotland as a whole should realise this, and will do my best to put the tourism perspective [in national policy debates]. My job is to listen, learn and lead.”
Cantlay’s warning was echoed last week by Magnús Tumi Gudmundsson, professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland, who said: “The previous activity lasted for 14 months with long spells of inactivity, so on the basis of the history of this volcano we are not convinced that the current activity is over.”
Mike Cantlay, the new chairman of national tourism marketing agency VisitScotland