Interview with Cat Leaver


We had a chat with Cat Leaver, Director of Brand Scotland, on tourism during this challenging time, and looking at how implementing digital innovations can be key to dealing with Covid-19.

It’s clearly a very difficult time for the tourism sector globally at the moment. How can Scottish tourism businesses connect with customers and potentially customers so they’re ready when things return to ‘normal’?

Our economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and whilst it is not possible to put specific timelines on things, there are distinct phases around which we can plan activity.

During the lockdown stages of the COVID-19 recovery phases, we advised businesses to focus on Scottish Government information, and encouraged visitors to consider future trips. But now that we’ve progressed into the restart phase of recovery, we must focus again on holidays in Scotland where possible (i.e. local restrictions may still apply).

We passed a major milestone on 15 July with the reopening of much of our industry and it's positive to see visitor numbers increase again across Scotland. However, in a world of perspex screens, sanitiser, distancing and masks, we know we're still far from being back to 'normal'.

Regular communications with visitors will remain key. Inevitably, digital channels will continue to play a huge role in the this, with an emphasis on visitors accessing the information needed during the planning stage to ensure they know before they go. Therefore, it's key to develop an understanding of how technology can work for your business, increasing efficiency, enabling reach and, importantly, growing revenue. In order to provide reassurance, we recommend: 

  • Let visitors know they’re good to go: Visitors need reassurance that you're ready to welcome them back and are following all government guidelines. You can sign up to the UK-wide Good to Go scheme, joining the more than 5,500 businesses already proudly sharing this status. 
  • Let visitors know what to expect: Make sure you have up to date information on changes to opening hours or the way in which you are operating, what safety measures are in place, if they need to book in advance or if there is limited capacity, and any changes to facilities or the experience they may have with you. 
  • Let visitors know you’re open: To ensure you capture those all important bookings and manage expectations, visitors need to know what businesses are open (or not). Make sure this is updated across all touch points from your website to Google listings, any business listings like on visitscotland.com and third party providers. 

How can Scotland compete globally and what sets us apart from other destinations? 

Scotland is world-renowned for its warmth of welcome and hospitality. We have an incredible brand identity and a rich mix of people, places and experiences which resonate with our visitors and have set us apart over the years. In fact, in April of this year, City Nation Place released their Ipsos-Anholt report which placed Scotland in the top five most admired place brands in the world amongst place/brand marketing experts.

It is this strength of character that will continue to position Scotland strongly within the global marketplace. As we look to recovery, we must continue to collectively up our game, leveraging our many assets to deliver consistently high quality, authentic visitor experiences, and ultimately drive high levels of advocacy for Scotland. 

How do you think visitor behaviour is changing when it comes to selecting and purchasing a holiday or break? 

The last few years have seen increased expectations from visitors across touch points, greater digital content consumption, demand for more rounded experiences with a variety of things to see and do, and a focus on responsible and sustainable travel. Visitors are seeking to have enriching experiences, to learn and see more and truly get a feel for the culture of the place.

Within this, they're also seeking to have experiences that benefit their wellbeing. Recently we've seen an increasing number of countries marketing wellness as core to their offering and, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, health and wellbeing is only moving further up the agenda for all. With Scotland's abundance of natural landscape, culture, food and drink, and heritage, combined with a vibrant tourism industry, we are ideally placed to further embrace this global movement of wellness tourism.

As an organisation how do you inspire your marketing team and what sources do you look to for inspiration and education?

A lot of inspiration comes from the incredible wealth of diverse marketing and digital expertise that we have within our business. They regularly share inspirational content and resources - through lockdown, we've seen this extend to health and wellbeing apps, fitness classes and even top Netflix recommendations. 

There are several things we have formally put in place to encourage sharing, learning and to provide inspiration: 

  • Hub - our intranet hosts blogs and educational resources that are available to all staff. 
  • Town Halls - pre COVID-19 these were an opportunity for the whole directorate and interested parties from across the business to come together and explore the latest projects and activity. These have now been moved into a virtual format and we're looking to run our second session in the coming months. 
  • Weekly Roundup -  every Friday we end the week with an email summarising key activity from across the business and industry, including fun facts and inspirational resources and stories from across the teams. This creates a forum for discussion and ensures that whilst remote we all remain connected to one another. 
  • Learning & Development - we have a department dedicated to our staff member's L&D who work to create a whole host of useful resources from LinkedIn Learning to in-house training, conferences, webinars and more, alongside ensuring more formal development processes are in place to support career development. We also encourage all staff to undertake work-related further and higher education programmes which includes the achievement of professional qualifications.
  • Elevenses - these popular sessions form a core part of our career development opportunities, whilst also allowing an informal way for staff to get to know each other better and learn something new at the same time.
  • Marketing Academy - our team runs a Marketing Academy that brings in expert external speakers to cover trends and topics our teams are interested in learning more about. This provides us with an opportunity to look to how other sectors and organisations are responding to the ever-evolving marketing landscape. 
  • Digital Hack - we run our own digital hack programme which brings together cross-disciplinary team members to ideate and collaborate in a 'test and learn' environment. From initial workshop, individuals work in teams and have committed time to work on their idea through to presentation stage. Despite being relatively new, we've already seen innovative applications, campaign ideas and digital solutions come out of this, which we hope to take further. 
  • Mentorship - we encourage mentoring within and outside of the business as a key means to support development. 
  • Membership - we are members of leading marketing bodies like Marketing Society of Scotland providing us with access to a global community of marketing professionals, a wealth of resources and inspirational events. 

Digital and tech is key for business success. What innovations or brands have you seen recently that have impressed you and why?

COVID-19 has expedited digital advancement for many businesses, encouraging whole new ways of reaching audiences and transacting. From the arts translating their performances into digital content, tourism businesses offering virtual tours for armchair travel inspiration, takeaway delivery companies adapting to offer app-based grocery orders, academic researchers and engineers turning their hands to building low-cost ventilators, and much more.

In Scotland, it's been great to see the digital industry unite to create the Scottish Tech Army, who are leveraging our outstanding tech talent to innovate and build solutions to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Businesses like Aberdeen based Xodus Group have embraced technology in their search for innovative energy solutions, such as a project to drive down the cost of floating wind farms. Partnering with universities and researchers, they are seeking to develop technologies that drive the offshore renewable energy sector forward. Meanwhile, Edinburgh based TVSquared was founded as a tech firm seeking to help businesses better measure returns from TV advertising - a business that is blossoming off the back data.

VisitScotland are the Online Learning Partner for The Marketing Society Scotland and supporters of this year’s Digital Day.