Name: Alasdair Northrop

Age: 62

What is your business called?

Caledonia Tours

Where is it based?

North Berwick, but I work all over Scotland.

What services does it offer?

Tourist guiding services.

To whom does it sell?

Travel agents, coach tour operators, destination management companies and private individuals.

What is its turnover?

Around £48,000 before expenses.

How many employees?

One – self employed.

When was it formed?


Why did you take the plunge?

I was getting bored sitting in front of a computer much of the day and wanted to do a job which would be exciting and unpredictable.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I had been a journalist for 38 years and had written about many people setting up on their own. I thought I would have a go. Luckily my wife was very supportive too.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

I saved up money between 2012 when I started training and 2016 when I quit my job to pay for a website and buy a vehicle to take people on tours.

What was your biggest break?

Getting onto the Scottish Tourist Guides Association’s Blue Badge Guide course. It is not easy to get selected and my fellow trainees included a retired British Ambassador and a Royal Navy commander. The course was hard work but terrific and I learned to look at the world in a completely different way.

You have to know something about everything – wildlife, geology, history, literature, business, politics, culture, agriculture – which is much like being a journalist but you need to recall it as you travel around Scotland.

What was your worst moment?

The current Coronavirus crisis. I earn most of my money between March and November and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. All my bookings up until the end of May have already been cancelled and I have no idea when I will be working again. We don’t know how it will affect tourism in the future as many people will have lost a lot of money and they may also be shy about travelling overseas. Most of my guests come from the US and Canada.

What do you most enjoy about running your business?

I love seeing the smile on the faces of my guests when I show them around the many brilliant places in Scotland. I particularly like doing clan and ancestry tours taking people to their roots in Scotland. Preparing for one tour I managed to find the grave of the great grandfather of a Canadian guest in Falkirk and he was just so moved when we got to it. I also love the freedom of being able to choose what I do. I do a mix of driver guiding in my own car or bigger hired vehicles, tour managing and guiding on coach tours all over Scotland and doing walking tours in Edinburgh and other parts of the country. The latter keeps me fit and there are so many fascinating places

in Scotland.

What do you least enjoy?

Some of the highland hotels are in need of a lot of investment and sometimes I find myself in a tiny bedroom with a shower that doesn’t work properly. When you want to relax at the end of a long day it can be a

bit depressing.

What is your biggest bugbear?

Some of the most popular roads in Scotland are totally inadequate for coaches. The worst one is arguably the A82 between Tarbet and Ardlui which is notorious. I have had a few heart-in-mouth moments sitting in the jump seat. If this was Germany or France they would have built a new road along the Loch Lomond lochside years ago.

What are your ambitions for

the business?

As a one man band I just want to make sure that I get year on year profit growth and get paid decent rates. There is a lot of competition out there.

What are your top five priorities?

1. Marketing myself in the US and Canada to get more work in 2021.

2. Drawing up an alternative action plan in case the tourism market in Scotland gets hit again in 2021.

3. Promoting the Scottish Tourist Guides Association of which I am a board member. We have 500 members and all look out for each other. Although we are all self-employed we have great camaraderie.

4. Campaigning to get more Government help for self-employed people. There are 4.5 million of us but we are not entitled to the same help employees get if we get sick or there is a recession. Yet we pay taxes and national insurance just like

everybody else.

5. Campaigning to improve facilities for tourists in Scotland such as public toilets and better and safer roads.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that

would help?

A major review of help for the self-employed. The Government came to our rescue during the Coronavirus crisis but we need something permanent for the future.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

Don’t assume that the biggest growth sector in Scotland – tourism – could not collapse overnight. Luckily I had a good year last year and I didn’t spend it all on a big holiday and so had savings.

How do you relax?

I love walking.

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