Visit Inverness Loch Ness (VILN) was the first Tourism Business Improvement District (BID) in the UK, and is still unique in Scotland. After a ballot of the membership earlier this year, the CEO of The Highland Council, Donna Manson, announced the Tourism BID would be renewed for a further five-year term.
The tourism industry is facing both regional and national challenges, including the recruitment and retention of skilled staff, Brexit and the Transient Visitor Levy. The Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) is the leading representative body for the tourism industry. Chief Executive of the STA and Chair of the Strategy Steering Group, Marc Crothall, said: “As a result of what is happening in terms of trends, forecasts and future consumer behaviour, there is a need for our tourism industry, government, public sector and communities to collectively respond, adapt and collaborate to deliver a responsible, sustainable, managed growth for the future. Our national tourism strategy will look to enrich lives and preserve our places with our industry acting as pioneers for delivering responsible tourism. We need to look to build a 21st Century tourism industry for all – our visitors, our people, our businesses, our communities and our environment.”
In September 2019, VILN appointed a new CEO, Michael Golding. As former Operations Director and first employee of social enterprise Inverness Kart Raceway, Michael setup the charity for future success, achieving five-star status within the first year of opening. Earlier this year, Michael was awarded ‘Young Director of the Year’ by the Institute of Directors for Scotland, and also sits on the board of High Life Highland. Michael takes over following the retirement of former CEO, Graeme Ambrose. Michael said “I would like to thank Graeme for his inspirational leadership, as many have told me – there are big boots to fill. I am honoured to join VILN and have an opportunity to work closely with our members to ensure the sustainability and continued growth of our destination.”
As part of continued efforts to develop a sustainable destination, VILN completed sections of the 55km South Loch Ness Trail and launched the LochNess360° – an 80-mile path for walkers, runners and cyclists. Using this newly completed route, VILN announced a new three-day running and cycling event – the LochNess360° Challenge – that will take place in May 2020. Competitors have the choice of an ultra-marathon, mountain bike challenge or running either one, two or three marathons during the three-day event. The course includes over 3000m of ascent, giving competitors breathtaking views of the loch. The LochNess360° challenge has already attracted worldwide publicity and is expected to become an iconic event for the area.
The Inverness Influencer Lodge project, inspired by the Emilia Romagna Tourism Board “BlogVille”, will bring up to 28 influencers to Inverness with the support of VisitScotland Growth Fund. The influencers will stay together in luxury accommodation and create content to encourage visitors to explore more of the destination. Chris Taylor, VisitScotland Regional Leadership Director for the Highlands, said: “We have developed a fantastic partnership with the team at VILN to help promote tourism responsibly, encourage visitors to come throughout the year and to experience the Highland’s hidden gems by getting off the well-trodden path. We are delighted to be working with them on the Influencer Lodge campaign and we are keen to see the full potential of the Loch Ness 360 be realised in coming years.”
VILN has over four hundred members who receive access to complementary events hosted by VILN throughout the year, “see and do” maps for their guests and visitors, discounted attendance at national events, and use of a photographic library. Businesses can choose to ‘opt-in’ to the membership to receive these benefits and support the promotion of the destination worldwide.
VILN also offer Familiarisation (FAM) Trips for members, providing an opportunity to see hidden gems in areas such as Beauly, Strathglass, east and south of Inverness. Facilitated by VILN Business Development Manager, Sharon Mackay, this new initiative is aimed at business owners and front of house staff, with attendees receiving a presentation about the opportunities available from the businesses visited. Sharon said: “By exposing our members to hidden gems, and those in attendance sharing their knowledge, we are optimistic this will encourage visitors to explore more of the destination and extend their length of stay.”
VILN has a diverse membership across a variety of sectors, including hotels and accommodation, restaurants, visitor attractions, activities and twenty-nine other sectors. VILN host networking events to promote collaboration between their members. This benefits their individual businesses and provides an opportunity to work together in supporting the development of the wider destination.
With the support of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, VILN’s business tourism has created economic benefits in excess of £1.3 million, 760 meetings with industry buyers at 29 national and international business tourism trade shows, and creation of a bespoke Business Tourism Directory for the destination. Alan Rawlinson, Business Tourism Manager of VILN, said: “We have joined the Scotland chapter of SITE (Society of Incentive Travel Excellence), comprising almost 100 professionals from around Scotland. We recently hosted a delegation to the area for an extremely successful trip that showcased what we have to offer – the video of which has been shared with member businesses.”
In its first five years, VILN became only the second destination in Scotland to be awarded World Host destination status. The VisitBritain £2 million campaign to market the destination internationally to key European markets in Germany, France and the Netherlands achieved results of: 288 million online impressions, 479k visits to the Inverness and Loch Ness pages on the VisitBritain website, 115k competition entries and 6.7 million completed video views. Looking to the future, Michael said: “We will continue to build on the success of the first five years through delivery of our business plan, working with our members and searching for innovative opportunities to develop a sustainable, 21st century tourism destination to share with the world.”