Rebecca Brooks is the managing director of coach tour operator Abbey UK, which provides holidays in Scotland for visitors from countries such as North America, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

A well known figure on the Scottish tourism scene, Ms Brooks was recently appointed chair of industry body the Scottish Tourism Alliance, bringing a wealth of sector experience to the role.

Ms Brooks says Abbey UK has emerged from the pandemic stronger than ever, but argues more funding should be provided to promote the industry.

What is your business called?

Abbey UK, part of the Abbey Group.

What is its turnover?

Abbey UK 34.4 million in 2023.

How many employees?

65 UK employees

Where do you draw your customers from?

International tour operator partners from around the world, with North America, Germany, France, Spain and Italy the  main markets.

How is this season’s tourism season shaping up? Are you seeing as many foreign tourists as you were before the coronavirus pandemic?

We have exceeded 2019 levels.

What are your plans and targets for the business this year?

Our UK business has been growing exponentially. Having been very established in Scotland for several years, we are now focused on growing our wider UK footprint along with sustainable growth of our business to Scotland.

How do you balance your role as managing director of Abbey Travel with your work as chair of the Scottish Tourism Alliance?

The two roles are mutually compatible, Abbey UK gives me an owner/operator’s insight which supports the work of the STA and our understanding of our membership. Within Abbey, I have an excellent team behind me which enables me to undertake non-executive director roles in addition to my day job.

What would you say are the main challenges facing the Scottish tourism and hospitality industry? What should the next UK Government do to support tourism better?

A critical item for all tourism businesses moving forwards is to get to grips with is the journey to net zero and how our industry will be part of that solution.

For this journey to be possible at the pace that is required, businesses need to be profitable. Creating warm conditions for profitability will be an important contribution from government in partnership with the private sector. This assumes as a minimum, returning our national marketing agency, VisitScotland, to its pre-inflationary budget and over time improving its funding level. This is essential if Scotland is to compete on the world stage.

It also requires meaningful and timely consultation with industry and consideration of wider implications of planned legislation across ministerial departments. Unfortunately, we have seen the consequences of the opposite or the ignoring of the advice and or warnings signalled by industry that has resulted in detrimental impact.

To what extent do you think the UK and Scottish and UK governments understand the needs of business?

There is a higher level of understanding of the tourism industry within the Scottish Government which you would expect given the relative value of tourism to the Scottish economy. In the more general context of business, all governments could be more alert to the needs of business. Recent Scottish Government interventions have created, perhaps unintentionally, very difficult conditions for business in some quarters and have, arguably failed to produce the anticipated result.

What is your opinion of visitor levies? What impact could they have on the Scottish tourism industry, if introduced by local authorities?

There are mixed views within the industry on visitor levies, and many of our STA membership remain very concerned about the introduction of a levy. The critical point however would be that any levies are ringfenced to improve the tourism proposition in the respective localities.

Whilst proposed levies alone do not necessarily create an uncompetitive destination, we must be mindful that the UK is at the bottom of the leader board in value for money. Levies combined with other uncompetitive factors contribute to the overall sense that the destination is expensive and we need to be careful not to price ourselves out of a globally competitive market.

What can the Scottish Government do to allay the concerns of the self-catering sector over new licensing rules?

Commitment to ensure there is consistency in approach by local authorities and to undertake an in-depth review of the economic impact of this legislation especially in locations where it is evident there is a detrimental effect on the local economy to reach a compromise.

What can be done to strengthen Scotland’s credentials as a sustainable tourism destination?

Removing barriers to sustainable growth for businesses is one of the most important considerations. Reducing seasonality is also a key factor in creating a more sustainable tourism proposition and funding our marketing agency in the form of VisitScotland well to deliver the key messages to market.

Scotland has all the natural assets to become a leading sustainable destination, it will take private and public collaboration and partnership to achieve this and ultimately profitable businesses to invest. Ultimately, tourism is a force for good, it enhances cultural understanding, creates economic wealth and can and will play its role in a sustainable future.

What were you doing before you joined Abbey?

I was an owner/director of another inbound travel business.

What do you least enjoy about your role?

I enjoy my role, I wouldn’t do it otherwise! The most challenging aspect is more around destination challenges, ferry issues, lack of quality in some of the larger hotels in parts, these elements are difficult to explain to international clients with high expectations.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

We intent to grow our overall UK footprint, however, we will focus on sustainable growth for Scotland, in harmony with the destination and local communities.

What single thing would most help?

Greater international marketing of the need areas of Scotland, where there is capacity and supplier need which comes back to funding VisitScotland well.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned?

Kindness, compassion and humility are essential and equal bedfellows to ambition and drive.

Where do you find yourself most at ease?

Swimming and spending time with my dog.

If you weren’t in your current role, what job would you most fancy?

That’s easy, I would work in wildlife conversation or for an animal charity.

What phrase or quotation has inspired you the most?

I like the Churchill quote- “Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts.”

What is the best book you have ever read? Why is it the best?

Tolstoy, Anna Karenina. A beautifully written, social commentary of the time.

What has been your most challenging moment in life or business?

Leading an inbound travel business in the Covid-19 pandemic challenged me in ways I could not have imagined. As a business, we lost 95% of our revenues overnight. However, we are now more resilient as a business and have rebounded stronger than ever. As a leader it was a defining moment to demonstrate positivity, resilience and convey that the pandemic was a moment in time to be lived through and we would come out the other side.

What do you now know that you wish you had known when starting out in your career?

That provided nobody has died, it’s all a game to be played with every chance of success!