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Pitching the Scottish Larder: One on One With Fiona Hyslop
Just as VisitScotland launched the Year of Food and Drink and a second season of the popular Outlander series was hitting the TV screens in America, Scottish Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop met with travel media in New York as part of Scotland Week in the U.S. Hyslop, whose portfolio includes culture, also flew to Hollywood to pitch her native land as a great resource for film locations as well as film talent.
VisitScotland has been employing theme years ever since 2009 when the Homecoming theme, which appealed to ethnic Scots around the world, was so successful. Other themes followed suit including Creative Scotland, Natural Scotland and this year’s culinary theme. The Year of Food and Drink shines a spotlight on and celebrates Scotland's quality produce.
TravelPulse: When did the Scottish Government embark on these theme years? How have they performed compared to years when you had no themes?
Fiona Hyslop: Scotland’s first ever year of Homecoming, in 2009, was a great success, influencing more than 95,000 visitors to come to Scotland and generating an extra £53.7 million for the economy. We have to remember that 2009 was a difficult year for global tourism, and Homecoming demonstrated how a strong idea and national focus can beat a global trend and Scotland showed that it can shine on the world stage.
Because of the impact of Homecoming 2009, the Scottish Government adopted an approach of using a series of focused themed years to ensure a coordinated national approach spotlighting some of Scotland’s greatest assets. These themed years have also been a real boon to the economy.
For example, over half a million people attended events and activities celebrating the first Year of Food and Drink; we saw a 6 percent increase in participation levels at those events supported through the Year of Active Scotland; the messaging around the Year of Creative Scotland reached almost 70 million people across the globe; and during the Year of Natural Scotland there was a 12 percent increase in the number of visitors to rural and coastal locations in Scotland, compared to the same period in 2012.
This was in part building up to last year, our second year of Homecoming and a huge year for Scotland with the Ryder Cup, Commonwealth Games and MTV Europe Music Awards. Last year, a record-breaking 2 million people attended 1,049 Homecoming events across Scotland and the Homecoming 2014 program being one of the biggest partnership campaigns ever, with event organizers, local and national government, local communities, schools, and businesses engaging with the year across every local authority in Scotland and beyond. Almost half a million people viewed the dedicated Year of Homecoming web page and we saw a 36 percent increase in visits to the VisitScotland ancestral database during the course of the year.
We’re now enjoying our second Year of Food and Drink, but our minds are already focusing on 2016 and our Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.
TP: None of the U.K. countries have ever been thought of as culinary destinations, though they all have wonderfully fresh food and great artisanal producers. How do you plan to challenge these perceptions and overcome them?
FH: We are focused on creating a good food culture. Our aim under our national food policy, Becoming a Good Food Nation, is that in 10 years’ time when Europe, or indeed the world, thinks of good food – it thinks not only of Italy or France, but Scotland as well. That sounds ambitious but it really isn’t.
Scotland has unspoiled landscapes, fertile land and clean air, which together offer a beautiful natural larder. Our luxury food and drink products grace the tables of restaurants worldwide and we have talented chefs and highly skilled professionals throughout our supply chains, from farmers and fishermen to world-leading food manufacturers. And then there is our whisky, which speaks for itself. Scotland is home to 16 Michelin-starred restaurants the length and breadth of the country. Wherever you are you are never far from great food.
The need to shout about our great food is just one of the reasons for our year of food and drink. It isn’t just a tourism initiative; it brings our national agencies, working on behalf of the Scottish Government, together with businesses and ordinary people. It is an opportunity for us all to work together to show the world how great Scottish food and drink truly is.
TP: Does food appeal to a particular market niche or demographic niche that you’re targeting?
FH: We are lucky that Scottish food and drink is very accessible to all. We have top end restaurants that appeal to gourmet diners who are looking for nothing short of excellence. Our fish and chip shops are known throughout the U.K. as the best and are great for the whole family to enjoy. We also have wonderful city farmers markets that attract enthusiastic home cooks and family run restaurants that welcome all.
Because of our strength and the wide range of experience we can offer, Scotland is able to appeal to a wide range of people. What is universal is the warm welcome everyone receives in Scotland.
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