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Flagship tourism strategy under fire

MANY of Scotland's most important tourism areas stand to gain little from the Government's flagship strategy for the industry, according to a critical new report.

MSPs on Holyrood's economy and tourism committee called on ministers to produce an urgent plan to ensure the Winning Years initiative boosts the industry in the Highlands and other rural areas.

They also voiced concern at the collapse of The Gathering which was to have been held in Stirling in 2014.

The report, published today follows a committee inquiry into the Winning Years plan.

The initiative was designed to capitalise on a series of major events starting with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee earlier this year and culminating in the Homecoming Scotland drive, Glasgow Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup in 2014.

However, critics have claimed the plan was designed primarily to support "feel-good" events in the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum rather than to establish a long-term framework to boost the tourism in the Highlands, south-west Scotland and others parts where is it a lifeline industry.

In their report, MSPs warned the strategy was "focused more on urban areas and large high-profile events, and that rural areas might not benefit equally from the strategy". They were "concerned that with Glasgow being the focus of the 2014 Games, rural areas may not reap any benefit".

They said this was an issue the Games organisers were aware of and would "develop a much more detailed plan ensuring the impact of the Games is felt beyond Glasgow" over the next six to nine months.

They also said the organising committee was working with Creative Scotland and Event Scotland to "capitalise on existing events and hopefully create new events across Scotland in the lead-up to and during the Games". But MSPs said they were "concerned at the lack of detail available currently" about tourism plans after 2014.

Committee convener Murdo Fraser said: "It is clear those in the industry welcome this concerted campaign to capitalise on these big-ticket events like the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup in 2014. However, the committee heard concerns that the impact may only be felt in our big cities.

"We were promised a plan for a Scotland-wide marketing campaign is imminent. This must now be delivered. There also appears to be a lack of detail on the plans for after the tourists have gone home in 2014."

MSPs also asked VisitScotland to explain the demise of The Gathering. The clan-based festival was pulled after Stirling Council, which bought the rights, raised concerns over the cost.

Elements of the event will be incorporated in the National Trust for Scotland's celebration of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn earlier in the summer but confusion over the arrangements led to a threat by US clan societies to stay away.

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