VisitScotland Regional Update – David Jackson

Tourism in Moray Speyside is a 365-day a year industry – and one of Scotland’s most important industries. In fact, in a survey of Scottish residents it was named as the most important.

It is an economic and social powerhouse contributing significantly to the economy of the region and is a force for good in so many ways. It sustains communities, creates jobs and attracts investment – helping to support the vibrancy and vitality of towns and cities right across the country.  

Pre-pandemic, in 2019, in Moray Speyside, Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, there were 1.3m overnight visits, 14.6m day visits, 4.4m nights spent in accommodations and £856m of total spend.  

While the challenges facing Scottish tourism post-pandemic have been well documented, interest in Scotland has remained incredibly strong. People still want to travel in whichever way they can and Scotland is very much still on their travel wish lists.  

From visitors to businesses, destination to public sector organisations; we are all having to consider our activities and ensure we are utilising resources as efficiently as we can.  

VisitScotland is steadfast in our support of local tourism, and so for us, our focus is using marketing, business support activities and working closely with Visit Moray Speyside and other local partners to promote the region as a year-round destination – inspiring and influencing visitors at those crucial early planning stages, using the channels we know they use.  

Fortunately, our job is made easier thanks to Moray Speyside’s outstanding tourism offering and the dedicated and passionate people behind it. Moray Speyside is known as Malt Whisky Country and, as such, is also fortunate to have a year-round offering with its many distilleries and visitor centres and ample capacity to accommodate visitors.  

The strong recovery of international visitors to Scotland was one of 2023’s success stories. Many of our key overseas markets have now almost equalled, and in some cases surpassed, 2019 levels. Overseas holidaymakers tend to stay longer and spend more and are increasingly becoming a key part of the visitor economy.  

We aim to build on this global interest when our flagship travel trade show, VisitScotland Connect returns to P&J Live in Aberdeen 17-18 April 2024. Registration is open now for eligible businesses. Earlier this year, it was fantastic to have tourism businesses from Moray Speyside join us and meet with tour operators and travel agents from across the world.  

Other highlights of 2023 across Moray Speyside included the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, which celebrated its best year yet, with over 7,000 tickets sold and almost 2,500 visitors over the six days.  

  This year also saw further investment in distillery experiences as the region continues to capitalise on its malt whisky heritage and pedigree, including new visitor centres at Glenallachie, Dunphail and, of course, the permanent opening of Speyburn Distillery.  

Our colleagues at Visit Moray Speyside have done a sterling job of shining a light on the incredible food and drink experiences in the region. The new Taste of Moray Speyside trail, which features more than 70 food and drink businesses, covering 28 towns and villages as part of a 180-mile culinary adventure, is a great example of this. So too this month’s inaugural Moray Speyside Restaurant Week, which will surely now grow into an annual fixture.   

It is also great to see a number of places across the region benefiting from improvements to their visitor facilities, thanks to investment from Moray Council and the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund, which VisitScotland manages on behalf of the Scottish Government.  

This investment included new toilets in Findhorn, motorhome stopover facilities in Cullen and a car park at Portnockie and accompanying footpath improvements at Bow Fiddle Rock.  

The region has visitor opportunities for every budget and every season. With the NE250 and the Snow Roads cutting through the region and the Tomintoul and Glenlivet – Cairngorms Dark Sky Park offering fantastic stargazing and opportunities to spot the stunning Northern Lights, the region is blessed with natural beauty. There are also a number of camping and touring sites across Moray Speyside.  

The return of international visitors is especially important while the domestic market adjusts to the cost-of-living challenges. Latest insights suggest concerns around rising costs or personal finances are impacting domestic recovery. Consumers are booking later or having to adjust their trip to suit their financial needs; saving money on shorter trips, booking different accommodation or forgoing eating out or visiting places as much as they might have previously. This is having a knock-on effect on businesses. However, this is not a problem unique to Scotland. Domestic tourism across the entire UK is facing the same challenges.   

VisitScotland is committed to building interest from both international and domestic visitors through our extensive marketing activity. We continue to promote regional and seasonal spread, inspiring visitors to discover lesser-known parts of our region and consider travelling at other times in the year. We are working with partners such as Expedia, ScotRail, LNER and Historic Environment Scotland to help amplify this message.  

In partnership with Visit Moray Speyside, our travel trade and industry relationship managers recently ran a travel trade masterclass to help tourism and events businesses understand how to develop and sell themselves through travel trade intermediaries, such as tour operators, destination management companies and travel agents.  

Our Great Days Out campaign has pulled together some of the best offers from across the country to help families get out and enjoy Scotland this winter. 

Looking ahead, there is much to look forward to across Moray Speyside in 2024 including the much-anticipated openings of the historic Cabrach Distillery and Heritage Centre and the new Gordon & Macphail Whisky Experience in Elgin. Momentum also continues to build behind ambitious plans to restore Grant Lodge and to transform Elgin Town Hall as part of the new Cultural Quarter for the town. 

Elsewhere, March will once again see the region celebrating its food and drink heritage as Cullen plays host to the Cullen Skink World Championships; whilst later in the year, we look forward to the return of Findhorn Bay Arts Festival in September.  

Before all of that however, we look forward to Visit Moray Speyside’s new winter festivals programme, from November to January, which will help extend the visitor season and which, I hope, will also draw visitors – both locally and from further afield – into the region.  

Moray Speyside has the greatest concentration of single malt whisky producers in Scotland and whisky remains a big draw for visitors to this fertile region but there is far more to Moray Speyside than just Scotland’s national tipple. It is a region rich in history, with a wealth of outdoor activity options, superb scenery, wildlife, cultural attractions and festivals and extensive local provenance, including a host of amazing food and drink experiences.  

We strive to provide a quality experience for everyone who visits Moray Speyside, but we also need to keep on talking up tourism to make sure we all get the most benefit from this fantastic industry. We’ll continue to work with, and support, businesses to ensure this vital part of Scotland’s economy continues to grow responsibly.