The findings of a new industry-led tourism initiative designed to put the Far North on the map have been presented to local business and community leaders in Caithness and North Sutherland.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) have funded the project and contracted Glasgow School of Art Centre for Design and Innovation to work with businesses and community groups in Caithness and Sutherland.
The result is the creation of Venture North, an initiative which aims to assist tourism providers to work together – building on and developing the tourism offering in the area and identifying ways in which it could be better promoted.
The businesses involved invested their own resources in working with the Glasgow School of Art Institute of Design and Innovation to work as a cluster group focusing on current tourism offerings. The recent presentation by the Venture North collaborators looked at the results of a final piece of research which studied other areas facing the same challenges as Caithness and North Sutherland.
Kimberly Loomes from The Blue Door Coffee Shop & Diner at Thurso Bay Caravan & Camping Park, said she was initially unsure what to expect when she agreed to participate in the HIE-led initiative.
“There seemed to be so many various efforts to market the Far North that I wasn’t sure another one was needed,” said Mrs. Loomes. “Once we started meeting, though, and I saw what a cross-segment of the tourism sector we all represented, I realised that these different voices could make a significant contributions to develop our area as a destination.”
During the presentation, Venture North detailed the processes the group had been through with The Institute of Design and Innovation, one of which had been to carry out studies of Dumfries & Galloway, Ireland’s County Kerry and The Orkney Islands.
According to participant Patrick Gray, North Coast Leisure, the resounding conclusion reached was that the strength of these areas was the strategic on-line presence.
Patrick commented, “These areas have pooled their efforts, both private and public sector, and developed a comprehensive brand and marketing plan for the area. Online searches lead right into their tourism sites and once there the user is essentially captured because the sites are so easy to use. The same approach is a must for the Far North.”
Roy Kirk, HIE’s Area Manager for Caithness and Sutherland, commented: “I was delighted to see the energy and enthusiasm that exists in Venture North as a group. As part of the process, they have challenged themselves on how to add value and better understand both their business and the customer needs. The benefits of working together were made clear by their findings and it is encouraging to see the local industry leading the way in developing the area further as a destination for visitors.”
The research carried out by Venture North has shown that these areas have enjoyed huge increases in visitor numbers to their areas, which has significantly impacted the local economies and investment.
The Venture North participants meet once a month, with much of their own time being invested in working on driving the project forward. During the recent two day session, Venture North developed the look and feel of the online requirement.
Patrick Gray, North Coast Leisure Centre and Muriel Murray from Castlehill Heritage Centre are developing a marketing campaign for this coming season and Venture North, whose members also include Jo Wyke, Melvich House Hotel, Isla and Catherine Macleod, Thrumster Estate, Beki Pope, Caithness Horizons, are aiming to raise awareness of the area during this coming season.
Venture North is expanding the membership across the region, contacting other operators, and aiming to co-ordinate the existing marketing efforts into a comprehensive package. Tourism operators interested in becoming involved can contact any one of the above named businesses to find out more.
Ellie Lamont, Mackays Hotel, also commented, “Venture North is a member-led organisation and we want to join forces with all tourism bodies in the area as well as utilising the knowledge of the area’s business operators to develop the brand and marketing needs of the area. Collaboration and communication is key to the success of raising the profile of this area and putting Caithness and North Sutherland firmly on the map as a key tourism destination.”