A Look Back at Another Year of Travel Memories
....and best wishes for 2019!
2018: My Summary
The final days of 2018 are upon us and it’s that time when we all can’t help but have a look back at what we’ve been getting up to in the year gone. The highs and lows, the opportunities that have come along, the mistakes, the surprises, the laughs and the memories that will live forever. As a Scotland travel blogger, it’s particularly fun for me to reflect on where I visited, who I worked with and also on how the industry and the world of blogging has continued to evolve. Amidst the madness, it’s been an awful lot of fun.
My Year of Scotland Travel
Since starting this stuff in 2012, the Outer Hebrides have found their way onto my radar every year. The thought of not reserving a slice of my calendar to the Western Isles has become ludicrous and this year was even more special than usual. It began with a spring jolly to the Uists, to walk on beaches that I’d not seen since I was a toddler and to re-live certain famous tantrums when it was time to come in. These are incredible coastlines – some of the best in the world – and my emotional attachment to this part of the world burns as fierce as ever. That I also got to star in the islands’ promotional campaign video for the year this summer was the icing on the cake as the cameras followed a group of us over the course of five days, experiencing total immersion in the rawness of these landscapes and waters.
Promoting my home city of Glasgow has also been even more of a privilege than usual. 2018 has marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of immortal local icon Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the city has organised a host of events, exhibitions and promotional opportunities themed around his legacy. I’ve worked much more closely with the tourism bodies in Glasgow this year as I’ve looked to better understand the city’s strategic priorities. While undeniably different from the more classical tourism appeal of Edinburgh, Glasgow continues to have a special place in my work and life.
East Lothian has been one of my top regions of the year as I led multiple digital campaigns to show off what this fabulously diverse area has to offer. I was absolutely delighted that local authorities and businesses took it upon themselves to collaborate and work together to show-off not just their own offerings but also that of the wider region. This is the way forward. In a digital world and when pitching to worldwide audiences, we cannot go it alone and this collective effort saw our blogging campaign in particular deliver a massive impact – with an audience of over 2 million people joining us across East Lothian over just two days. As far as I’m aware this kind of reach has never been achieved before in a campaign of this nature in Scotland and East Lothian absorbed that exposure wonderfully.
The spectacular, raw peaks of Sutherland are certainly high on the list of Scotland’s greatest assets. These are other-worldly landscapes that hold geological miracles and no end of hiking opportunities. It was a long overdue trip in the early summer to take some of them on. Suilven tends to be a bucket-lister for Scotland’s outdoor enthusiasts and my dawn ascent was among the most memorable days I’ll ever have. The area around Lochinver is packed with further options and, with increased traffic as a result of the North Coast 500 fanfare, it now stands as something of a must for visitors. Like me, you’ll not be disappointed.
I also had the unusual, but extremely informative, opportunity to experience year-round life within a small business in the industry at Craggan Outdoors. Visiting them in their Cairngorms base repeatedly throughout the year, I engaged in their various outdoor activities, from gorge walking to footgolf, and observed the seasonal goings on at this dynamic family business. You can read the various blogs I produced for them over the season on their site.
When reflecting on urban Scotland, there’s no doubt that 2018’s big winner has been Dundee. I’ve visited 3 times myself to observe the once down-on-itself city undergoing massive redevelopment, culminating in the autumn opening of the new V&A Museum of Design. It’s going to be a huge success and maybe, just maybe, it’ll help shake up the standard Scotland travel itineraries.
I’ve spent the last several years alternating between Orkney and Shetland. Both are majestic and remote assortments of islands, with their own strong personalities, ancient history and stunning coastal landscapes. Orkney got my attention this autumn and I braved the stormy conditions to marvel at the countless Neolithic relics and dramatic coastal cliffs under the kind of weather that underlines how dramatic Scotland can truly be. It was touch and go on those cliffs let me tell you, but if you’ve got to go……
My year drew to a close with the massive Outlaw King campaign, promoting the new Robert the Bruce film that has gripped all that have watched it. The kind of project that I got into all this for, charging around the filming locations of a movie that I genuinely loved was beyond thrilling. These campaigns are high energy, adrenaline-packed and great fun to share with audiences across social media in real-time. To partner up with VisitScotland and Netflix in its promotion was an honour.
Finishing with a visit to the seasonal Oban Winter Festival recently meant I swung into holiday mode with the sound of the bagpipes ringing in my ears. A lovely gathering of food and craft enthusiasts in the fabulous region of Argyll, these ancient lands have once again been an area of default for me. Another of my favourite drone flights was realised at Castle Stalker. I finally experienced the legendary Corryvreckan Whirlpool. And I found a new addition to the list of Scotland’s best restaurants in Oban. The Argyll love affair has continued.
The Scottish tourism industry has had another fabulous year. The quite astonishing results of 2017 look set to be repeated as travellers from across the globe continue to be pulled in by our history, our landscapes, whisky, golf, local charm and the undoubted impact of film tourism. While we’ve been basking in the glory of Outlander for some years now, Outlaw King put Scotland onto Netflix screens and the latest depiction of Mary Queen of Scots’ troubled life is imminent as well.
Over-tourism has been one of the more mentioned terms this year as the issues of capacity at certain sites and locations has repeatedly been raised. Skye has long been the main worry as its rural attractions have simply not been built to accommodate cars, campervans, litter and waste. This year, Edinburgh locals have been particularly vocal in their frustrations as the capital has been once again overrun and their commutes, social lives and domestic existences have turned into a circus. This has raised the debated issue of a tourist tax as funding is sought to provide improved facilities to make life easier for us all. We’ll see how that goes in 2019.
Naturally, Brexit must be mentioned too. While the dismal state of the Pound over the last couple of years has been of great incentive to incoming travellers, the uncertainty of the relationship that Britain will have with the EU post-March 2019 is sure to impact us next year. Many from the continent will seek less complicated options when making their travel plans and no-one could blame them. Whether that’s a temporary hit or a longer-term disaster for us, time will tell.
But while other industries are in for a deeply worrisome time, tourism is likely to avoid the majority of the downturn thanks to the continually-buoyant wider worldwide interest in Scotland. The industry has always relied on those seeking out family roots and strong generational and familial connections and that is certain to continue, particularly from North America. Add in the potential game-changer of the first direct flights between Edinburgh and China beginning this year and a new, deeply exciting market has opened up. The buzz word here is ‘China-ready’, by the way, and businesses big and small have been clamouring to bridge the cultural gap in pursuit of readiness. As someone who worked and lived in China for a time, I can amusingly assure you that we are nowhere near the beginnings of being ready, but we’ll get there.
The World of Blogging
Horrified as I’ve become with the reality, I should really be calling this the world of ‘influencers’, as blogging has evolved into a whole other beast in recent times. Back when I was a lad and absolutely nothing was wrong with the world, blogging was about folk sharing their experiences and views on subjects with their digital audiences as a means of improving relatability and providing useful, relevant, first-hand and timely information. In travel blogging, it birthed a wave of modern-day travel writers-with-a-twist and was, I firmly believe, a good thing for the world of adventure and exploration. It was new, it was innovative and it was as-yet undefined. I saw an enormous amount of charm in that and I enjoyed being part of a small, generally very friendly and curious blogging community.
In the last couple of years, it has evolved into an absolute mess. Everybody and their granny, their granny’s dog and their granny’s dog’s pals now has an Instagram page, a YouTube channel and their own ‘influencer’ image rights. Lifestyle, beauty and fashion bloggers have seen the potential to cross into the travel blogging space and, slowly but surely, we’ve witnessed a decrease in informative travel-related content and a surge in narcissistic nonsense, hyper-staged photography with lots of pouting and an alarming distortion of reality. The mental health repercussions of such an image-obsessed society have been well publicised (this article sums up a lot of the issues) and the revelation that people now rank ‘Instagrammability’ as a leading motivation of travel is really worrying. As a result I personally pay very little attention to what other’s are up to, don’t read blogs, restrict my time on social media and firmly prefer ignorance of the insanity going on just over my fence. It’s that Kardashian that’s done it. Never mind that feeling of total, blissful solitude atop a mountain, the chill of walking in famous footsteps within a spooky ancient ruin or the surprise explosion of trying a truly world-class dram for the first time. Naw. Let’s take half an hour getting the scene Instagram-worthy first, eh. Ohhh, these are days of high rant potential no doubt.
I can moan, but that’s all part of the journey and media never stands still. While the inevitable decline and relatively imminent collapse of mainstream media seems unstoppable, information will be passed on by everyday people instead. Their experiences and views will be instrumental in others’ planning and decision making. Which all presents massive opportunity because everyone now has a ‘voice’ and a ‘platform’. It also presents massive potential for chaos, because everyone now has a ‘voice’ and a ‘platform’. In terms of travel blogging, who should you, as a traveller, trust? People who have a good ‘brand’, lots of followers and a world-class pout? People who destroy valueless articles with keyword stuffing to try and con Google’s search results? People who buy fake social media followers, likes and comments en masse? This is all going on every day in this now-congested space I’m in and it is increasingly difficult to stand out while staying above board and resisting the direction of traffic by taking ridiculous shortcuts or taking my clothes off. Topless Travels with a Kilt seems to be the obvious next step.
So, looking forward, where does this really leave me? Aside from being an ever-increasingly cantankerous old git, I would say I am alarmed but undeterred. Of course I think much of it is a tragic shame but I’m also certain that quality information and genuine passion will always be of value to people and will out-last the current invasion. But I will adapt my strategy and my content to suit what’s desired and I accept that just producing the occasional blog and having a decent social media presence will no longer cut it. More focus has and will fall on new technology and I’m completely fine with that. I actually enjoy the challenge of learning new skills and shifting my priorities to suit the changes in digital behaviour. Traditional blogging has, I believe, already peaked and I like that demand is ever-changing. Video, in particular, has clearly made me more approachable this year – with the contact and engagement that I have with those that follow me having never been higher. That’s great and I’m going to be utilising different technologies increasingly going forward. But I’m also resolute in a few things. Yet another year has passed without me spending a penny on social media. There’s still no adverts or pop-ups polluting my website. I still turn down the vast majority of approaches I get due to irrelevance or ethical concerns. These aren’t accidents. Like all in this line of work, my following growth rate has slowed dramatically but I accept that as a consequence of an appallingly overcrowded marketplace and am more determined than ever that those that do follow me are real people with a genuine interest in my stuff and that, crucially, I can deliver what they are after online.
Having said all of that, there’s no chance of me losing sight of why I started all of this carry on in the first place – to promote my home country. I know and love Scotland deeply and I like to think that still comes across. It is not and never has been about me or my life. Aside from being much too boring for anyone to take much interest in, I still regard this as my job and something separate from my personal life. Of course, there’s a lot of overlap and those that follow me are closely sharing my travel experiences with me (and the authenticity of that is essential) but I try to keep it about the locations and the experiences. Fundamentally, I’m still here to help folk see the best of Scotland, the rest is just decoration.
The last six years have seen me split my time between consultancy and blogging. Quite frankly there was absolutely no money in blogging six years ago (in Scotland anyway) so I was forced to focus more on consultancy projects, mainly in other industries outwith tourism, and keep blogging as a hobby. I did most of my blogging work for free and earned my spurs by proving results, biding my time while the industry gradually realised the value of what us types do. This year in particular it’s all changed and the financial side of blogging has taken off, to the extent that it has become more than a part-time income for the first time. And, now that there is professional income to be found in this space, the interest in blogging as a profession has suddenly exploded. Which brings me back to the problems already outlined and the dangers of passion being secondary to reward.
Do I want to be a full-time blogger and ditch the consulting side? No, definitely not. Keeing it at a slight distance still feels important somehow. But….I do want to increase the overlap between my two roles. As a consultant I want to continue to speak at events, work with regional and national tourism bodies, host workshops, support start-ups and build on my position as a recognised Scottish travel industry expert. And I want to reinforce that as a blogger. I still want to blog fairly regularly, I want to travel, I want to continue writing for the various excellent freelance clients I have and I want to work on meaningful blogger campaigns with like-minded, and extremely talented, friends too. It’s all in a mixer and finding the right balance of work will continue to be my main work challenge.
Despite all of the ranting above, things will continue much as they are for me. I’ll still travel whenever I can around Scotland and try to do justice to its many wonders. I’ll still prioritise under-visited locations and avoid too many clichés (yes, Skye will continue to get very limited promotion I’m afraid), I’ll still be very selective in who I work with and I’ll still persevere in providing a good spread of destinations for those that are nice enough to follow me. If you lose interest in what I do or no longer feel trust that I’m promoting good brands, businesses and regions then I’m as good as done. Rest assured, that’s always at the forefront of my mind and I’m always grateful for the comments and feedback that come in daily. In terms of travel, the Isles of Mull, Iona and Staffa haven’t seen me in a while so that’s a target, Glasgow will always get lots of my love, Southern Scotland will get renewed attention, a north east campaign is coming and there will be more hiking in the North West too.
I’ll continue to work closely with VisitScotland, the national tourism body, both as an Ambassador and as a blogger on interesting and relevant projects. We have much planned together for 2019 already and I’m delighted and humbled that they see my contribution to their strategy as valuable. Numerous projects with regional bodies have already been lined up for next year and their challenge of extending the summer season and diverting traffic away from the obvious locations remains an exciting one for me to assist with.
My work with the Scotlanders will continue and we already have numerous upcoming projects in the pipeline across the land. These large-scale, hashtag-based campaigns have become something of a distinguishing feature of ours and I love collaborating with others who share my passion and determination to resist the nonsense. Our move into video this summer was done not to join the rush for ubiquitous make-it-up-as-you-go-along YouTube video content but to actually provide an option for Scottish video material that is both educational and entertaining. To produce the kind of stuff that folk might watch in several years’ time without cringing. While it’s been an enormous amount of work and a steep learning curve, the response so far suggests we are on the right lines there and this will continue. It’s dynamic, it’s breathless and it often borders on the ridiculous, but it’s a collective that we still love.
And there you have it, my year in words. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey, that I’ve given you some inspiration and proved useful, that I’ve caused you to laugh now and then and that, most importantly, I’ve made Scotland look good. If you have any questions about this great land, if you want to join me in a rant (or counter-rant, I don’t discriminate) about the ups and downs of social media or if you just want to nudge me towards any particular destinations next year….I’m all ears.
Until then, thank you all for continuing to make this bizarre journey of mine possible and let me wish you a very Merry Christmas!
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