Another Year Getting Closer to Home
With Christmas upon us, it’s reflection time. Another year as a travel writer has seen me direct more resources than ever into this career as its opportunities and challenges have pulled me in further new directions. It’s always the time in the calendar when I analyse the changing nature of my work, and societal and industry norms more widely. New technologies, political ramifications and changing markets occupy my thoughts constantly. When I question the longevity of this line of work and whether I’ve gone mad. And, more pleasantly, when I review all of the year’s adventures and weigh up where my future may lie.
Blogging – What Even is it These Days and Am I Even A ‘Blogger’?
The sensational power of blogging to shape, and even dictate, marketing strategies across all industries and sectors is now on the wane (certainly in this country). It peaked a couple of years ago in most industries and has been in gradual decline as digital spaces have been saturated and drowned by content explosions. As is often the way with a good idea – it works a treat until the marketers seize control of it and commercialise it to death.
That’s not to say blogging is quite finished mind you, there’s still a market for it. And certainly not to downplay the power of social media’s influence on the world of marketing (social media having always gone hand-in-hand with blogging), that’s clear. But they are not what they were, they’ve mutated into something very strange and, in my eyes, unlikeable. I’ve found myself getting more and more distant from ‘blog stuff’ as a result, as I try to find an original way to make this thing I’m doing work as a business.
In truth, I’ve never enjoyed blogging in the typical sense. Odd thing to say perhaps but it’s not a medium that has ever really resonated with me as a consumer. From the other side, as a blogger, I never saw value in the whole ‘7 things to see in…’ style of article creation that became the done-to-death norm. ‘Bucket list’ this and ‘ultimate, epic’ that. Clickbait. Dry boke.
Bloggers are widely referred to as ‘creators’ now. Or ‘content creators’ (cringe a bit) or even ‘influencers’ (cringe a lot), pretty much as a job title. But I’m finding it increasingly hard to see what’s creative about what is, in effect, the mass mimicking and regurgitating of existing material following a widely-adopted blogging rulebook. While just-about-not plagiarism in the legal sense, this unoriginal avalanche has really turned the arena of blogging into a flooded nonsense. ‘Creativity’ in the world of marketing is, nine times out of ten, just the reactive process of riding the wave of a hot trend. Blogging has proved to be no different.
Begs the awkward question then, where does this leave me?
What Am I Actually Doing, Anyway?
As a consumer and traveller, I’ve always preferred the school of forming unique views on a place based on previous personal experience or from feedback from those I knew and trusted. If I really felt that I needed additional input, I’d turn to good old-fashioned books. In that sense, in choosing blogging as a medium (and as opposed to something I was overly keen on), I really just opted for the most obvious way of starting me out on a long road. A road that was always going to have many tangents.
Hence, as well, why I’ve almost always tried to make this website something in between stories and blogs. My articles are increasingly what I like to call ’emotion-led’ in nature, presenting my first-hand view on a land that I know inside-out (I wouldn’t dare write about it otherwise). I want to provide some practical information sure, but not overtly. Not bluntly. That’s what the tourist board is for. Nor, though, do I want it to be me, me, me (as per ‘how to be a blogger 101’). I don’t really want to take selfies and tell folk about my absolutely fascinating private life. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to hear all about it either. So, I’ve sought balance. By being here and reading my blogs/articles/content whatever you want to call them, you’re very much seeing my country through my eyes. But, hopefully, I’m presenting it to you in a way you can relate to so you can then have your own individual experience, on your terms.
Scotland is after all a place you come to for something quite deep and personal. Maybe you’re chasing ancestors, the perfect dram or your very own Jamie Fraser. In pursuit of getting your soul laid by standing on an empty Hebridean beach or solo-climbing your first Munro…I suppose my only aim has been, despite all of blogging’s indirectness, simply to help you readers achieve that.
The Industry and the Economy
As I’ve returned to time and again this year, tourism is an increasingly pivotal limb for the Scottish economy. If Independence is our future (increasingly likely given the political state we’re in as a Union), then it will become even more so. Resultantly, my focus and responsibility are to do all I can to ensure its longevity and sustainability. Tourism needs to be genuinely year-round; tourism can’t be about quick-win content and short-term box ticking; tourism can’t forget that Scotland’s best assets are natural, fragile and historic and must be devotedly protected. The evidence tells me that clearly not enough is being done and I would, humbly, encourage all in Scottish tourism to start thinking bigger. VisitScotland and others almost obsessively go on about the need for collaboration and thinking wider than just their own business at tourism events and everyone nods along before promptly reverting back to type. A ‘Team Scotland’ approach would vastly improve the visitor experience – something we should all be striving for.
Brexit remains the more immediate cloud that has kept us all in a toxic limbo. A dismal mess overseen with abject incompetence and trickery, it now seems that Britain’s bruising exit from the EU is imminent (again). With visitor numbers from the continent down this year, tourism workers forced to leave and crucial markets turned off from visiting, this brings very obvious concerns to all in the industry. Each and every non-Scottish EU citizen (and numerous born and breds too) in my acquaintance are currently considering their position as a resident here. Given budget freezes and a dangerously unstable economy, I myself may not be able to run a business here and may have to cut back on all of this stuff in order to find better paying work, possibly overseas. Politics has not been kind to millennials. These woes aside and in order to keep buoyant, the message to our friends in the EU must be unequivocal – Scotland remains open. I could go on – I come from a political family and have worked in and around politics in much of my career so my opinions on this omnishambles are extensive and vivid – but I will leave it there for now. It’s Christmas after all.
Despite the waves, 2019 has once again been a pretty strong year for the industry overall. Scotland holds a lasting appeal and our tourism infrastructure, passion and natural wonders have ensured the industry remains more defiant than many. Our work as Scotland Ambassadors is never done, but we seem to be on the right lines in presenting something of great value to the world.
This Year’s Travels
I started 2019 with a dominant desire to focus on our west coast. Evidently, I’ve not done well enough because it remains my top priority for 2020, but I did at least clock up Mull, Islay, Bute, Knoydart, the Small Isles, Ayrshire and Lochaber across many trips big and small. There were multiple visits as usual to Skye and the Outer Hebrides too of course. I’ve tried to articulate the power of our Hebridean jewels, the sense of home that they bring and why they are one of the few utterly unique patches of geography left on our planet.
I was also very keen on exploring the new North East 250 route that lassos an oft-overlooked corner of our fair nation. The Scotlanders took that on in the spring as I found myself in the chilly depths of the Cairngorms and the lush farmlands of rural Aberdeenshire. A separate trip to Fraserburgh was also squeezed in to poke about in more detail the one part of our mainland that I’d yet to explore at all.
We teamed up with whisky giant Diageo to promote their distilleries across the country. There was a Scotlanders campaign in the Scottish Borders too, with another planned for 2020, to cover the flexible range of attractions and destinations for local travellers in the south east. And I finished the season with a whopper of a trip that encompassed many of my targets to the west, West Coast Waters.
Naturally, Glasgow and Edinburgh have featured. Perthshire in autumn and Lanarkshire, Loch Lomond and Fife in winter too. Argyll has seen plenty of me as my default escape route from urbanisation, and Glen Coe’s peaks have hosted me as graciously as ever.
2019 – The Strategy
I started this year with various objectives and priorities. I’m a restless, easily bored sort when it comes to my work and I’m always focussed on what’s next rather than on what’s hot right now. Businesses don’t stand still and to keep me both at the top of my game and, more generally, interested in my work I have to dynamically assess what’s important to me – and what will most benefit my audiences – each year.
This year, I was all about:
Focus more on the writing. Be better. Veer yet further away from that vacuous, typical blog stuff and deal with the feelings. I was a creative writer in my younger days, let’s return to that.
Focus less on digital marketing. Social media can be an obsessive and increasingly slow-moving little space so, as with every year since about 2015, I endeavoured to reduce my time on these platforms and let the circus go on without me. With algorithms now so restrictive in their reach, I felt validated in this course of action from a business perspective too. The same goes for search engines and dancing to Google’s tune. Do what’s necessary to keep them ticking over but don’t let the money-orientated (I’ve never spent a penny on any form of digital marketing) algorithms dictate your values and your time. I’m lucky to already have a lot of followers that seem to like and value what I’m trying to do so my focus should go into meeting their expectations. It’s over to you lot to judge.
Turn to new mediums and content types. With all that time saved on social and Google, I now had scope to turn to audio content for the first time. To an extent this happened by accident as VisitScotland asked me to be their podcast host, but I was heading in that direction anyway. With my numerous BBC radio projects in the past as a foundation, this was the logical step up the ladder. The podcasts have been great fun to do and the kind of new challenge I love (the learning curve was fairly dramatic). If you haven’t already, you can listen to our first episodes here which saw me recording in Glasgow, Dumfries and Galloway, the Cairngorms, Bo’ness and Aberdeen.
Keep dabbling in video. With a similar mindset to my audio work, I was looking to build on the video content started in 2018 on the Scotlanders YouTube channel. In truth I fell badly short in this department until autumn – the time investment is massive and the learning curve is again very steep – but things have started to gain some consistency now as we work on styles and approaches that suit us and fill gaps in what already exists out there.
Continue to see Scotland from above. The drone has clocked up more air miles this year as I’ve hauled the poor guy up mountains, bounced him around in the boot on Highland off-roaders and pushed him to his limits in the face of Scottish weather. Complying with commercial regulations is increasingly complex (as it should be) but it’ll be hard not to keep this going as it’s taken my – fairly passive – interest into photography to a whole new level.
2020 – The Strategy and What’s Ahead for Scotland in Tourism 2020?
Teaching, presenting and lecturing
Something new, I’ve been asked to work with educational institutions to deliver lectures. I’ve always enjoyed popping into schools and that sort of thing to chat with kids about self-employment, digital marketing or travel writing. Always informal and spontaneous, it’s great fun being in the company of excited wee minds and trying to encourage alternative approaches to career (even in a seemingly endlessly horrible economy). 2020 looks set to see me expand on that by working with college and university age students with the same aim. They can probably expect lots of rebellious ‘discard the rulebook’ lectures ahead. Poor souls.
I’ve cut back on my digital marketing work this year but do still dip in and out and I really enjoy tourism event speaking too. Every year I’ll typically manage presenting at around half a dozen events of varying sizes that bring together those with a stake in the industry. It lets me see what’s out there. What’s going on in the industry’s businesses and the trends that I can work with and around. Hopefully, I’ll be able to continue with that stuff too now and again.
Video and Audio
Expect lots of laid-back chats from David and I as we continue to work on videos that explore the best of Scotland through our eyes. Subscribe to our channel if you haven’t done so already as we look at history primarily but also the wider appeal of travel to Scotland. It’s also a chance for you to pitch questions at us and we’ll look to answer them directly on camera. At your service.
As for VisitScotland podcasts, there’s still some discussions to be had but hopefully we shall continue in a similar vein with more episodes from across Scotland that touch on the key issues and trends going on industry-wide.
If I find myself a bit bored of typical blogging, I’m certainly never bored when it comes to campaigns. These are intensely social media-focussed affairs that send the heartrate into overdrive and allow a team of folk like me to intensely cover big distances to show off as much about a place or a theme as we possibly can. Scotlanders projects over the years have included regional campaigns for The Borders, East Lothian, North East 250, the West Coast with Calmac as well as campaigns promoting Outlander, Outlaw King and Diageo’s Game of Thrones whisky range.
There’s adrenaline aplenty and, while these campaigns are an enormous amount of work to plan and implement, this is one side of ‘blogging’ that I’m not keen to let go of. It’s great to collaborate with friends who share passions, great to deliver gigantic numbers for regional tourism partners and businesses and great to shake up the pace of what I do as well.
So, carefully selected campaigns will continue whenever I sense a good opportunity and the practicalities match up.
Finally, I can announce that I’ve got a book in the pipeline. I knew I’d blast through a few of these eventually and the timing feels right to make a start. To be getting approached by publishers at my age is very flattering and I’m looking forward to putting the story of my home city of Glasgow into words for starters. It will be a primary project for much of 2020 and I’ll keep you all updated on its progress. Follow up books, not to mention plenty of inevitable surprises in other areas, will likely follow.
I close the year the only appropriate way, to show my appreciation to you guys for sticking with me. Whether you’ve just subscribed or have been with me from the start, I’m delighted to have you aboard. There’s an awful lot of digital out there to grab your attention and you could all bring this adventure to a swift close with a click of the unsubscribe button, so thank you.
I do try and answer every question, visit every region and see every perspective. I try to always improve with my writing, photography, video and, now, audio. As you can hopefully see, it’s an odd line of work that’s never static. But it’s always Scotland.
Slàinte and Merry Christmas,