My 2017 Year Summary
It’s been another great year on the road for this traveller. From continuing to unearth local treasures close to my Glasgow base to stretching my travel limits to new geographies, my calendar for the year has thrown up a little bit of everything.
My long-awaited trip to Shetland was a first for me – and the most northerly I’ve ever been. Proudly boasting its own micro-culture and a distinctly different travel experience, it’s always special when you learn something very new in this line of work. My annual jaunt to the Isle of Harris was a reminder of why it always holds a special place in my heart. And I finally did justice to the Isle of Arran too – the little slab of land that really does have it all.
At home, I’ve finished the year getting to know more about my endlessly rewarding home city of Glasgow. Working closely with the tourism guys here is something I’ve been aiming at for some time and getting one to one museum tours and insights that have astonished even me has been fabulously eye-opening. It’s this kind of information that allows me to better do my job and keeps me intent on growing my knowledge. Knowledge that I’ve hopefully been able to pass on to you good people.
My Travel Highlights
Scaling new peaks including Buachaille Etive Mor, Ben Cruachan and Goatfell have been massive memories for me this year. Returning to familiar haunts at Ben Lomond, Grey Mare’s Tail and Perthshire’s peaks have been almost as good. A whole week of outdoors activities with Wilderness Scotland on Harris threw up new terrain under my feet. As ever, I’d love to have done more and Sutherland in particular remains an area that requires much more of my attention. Expect more from there next year. It’s also been brilliant to team up as an Ambassador with new outdoor brand Wildbounds which will bring together some of the most innovative and practical tools for lovers of the outdoors. For the hikers out there, consider this endless line of useful gear for your own outdoor adventures.
Another of my central themes in this odd little world I’ve carved for myself. The fascinating Norse-influenced history to be found on Shetland; the relentless smattering of ruins throughout Southern Scotland; the ancient lands of Argyll….I’ve already accepted that this is going to be an endless journey for me. Throwing in my 2017 project to master drone flying has boosted this interest to another level. Taking to the skies to see entirely different perspectives of familiar sites has been thrilling to say the least. And never more so than when a castle has been at the centre of it all. Seeing the likes of Tantallon, Morton, Kilchurn et al from the air has skyrocketed my interest in these ancient wonders. See my 2017 drone highlights in the above video.
The third of my main focus areas has seen yet more excitement and education unfold this year. The highlight was certainly my invitation to attend the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival in the spring….well, that and all of the drams tanned back over the course of the year. The art of matching food with whisky, of discovering unheard of distilleries and of delving into Campbeltown malts (with my Kintyre trip) remain important milestones.
Now, a word about gin. While I’m not quite putting it on a par with whisky yet, the rise of gin distillers in this country is taking the drinks industry by storm. For 2017, I’ve been especially taken with the Callander-based McQueen Gin. Although still very much at the start of their flavoursome journey, expect to see them cropping up again and again going forward. Top prize goes to them.
With each year, I enjoy my experiences with our blogging collective more. We take on fewer campaigns these days but tend to make the ones we do take on bigger than ever. The Outlander project in the late summer broke all records for digital marketing campaigns of its type. 6 bloggers individually charging hell-for-leather around the country to cram in as many filming sites as we could manage in a weekend – no small undertaking. The response was incredible and it was nuts how fun it was to have literally millions of people sharing the journey with us.
Throw in our contribution to the Jacobite Trail Blazer campaign (an award winning initiative) and our on-going support of the likes of DigIt and Paisley’s UK City of Culture bid and it points to another great year. First and foremost, these are all great guys to work with and there’s something really rewarding about like-minded passion coming together to deliver spectacular collective results. We are approached regularly now with ideas from across the industry about how we can help raise profiles and get the digital masses talking. An idea that has grown and grown in potential in recent years, we’re all really pleased with the progress that’s been made. Several Scotlanders projects are already in the pipeline for next year and we can’t wait to take on more new challenges.
Scottish tourism has enjoyed an incredible year. International recognition (Rough Guides voting us the top worldwide destination to head to), the short term boost from the Brexit uncertainty (in terms of continental visitors), the collapse of the value of the pound and the rise of social media (where Scotland’s photogenic nature has been broadcast relentlessly to a worldwide audience) have all contributed. Expect visitor numbers and revenue to have peaked across the board as people have headed to these shores from far and wide. The credit for this belongs to many.
Tourism businesses – we’ve upped the game with food in Scotland in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a massive way to go, but progress is being made there. There are more international styles creeping in and local fare is being utilised properly at last. Ditch the ‘chips with everything’ and stop drowning ingredients in sauce and we’ll be laughing. The signs are that we’ve started to move towards leaving the dismal reputation of previous decades behind. Tour guide companies continue to offer a high quality of customer service and the standard has been collectively raised with respect to customer experience industry-wide. Individual attractions are more focussed on unique appeal and identity. Folk are coming here with dreams and leaving with memories. And when it comes to memories, we do them very, very well.
The infrastructure – Scottish castles, battlefields and museums remain giants for the industry. For a small country we punch above our weight here and the standard continues to rise. With continued investment, research and promotion our cultural icons can take on all comers.
Digital influencers – in addition to the established collection of travel bloggers in Scotland, 2017 has also seen the continued rise of alternative ‘influencers’ (hate that word!) en masse. Everyone is now a photographer and, as one of the most photogenic countries on earth, there’s been an endless stream of content all year showcasing this land to the world. All social platforms have been absolutely flooded like never before and this has served as free, timely and high quality marketing for Scotland. These efforts have left traditional methods in their wake and visitors to Scotland have access to unlimited content taken by real and passionate visitors, locals and professionals. Long may this continue!
I just love what I do. The hours are long, the hand-tying structures within this, at times, baffling industry often frustrating and the financial incentives are dubious at best…but the rewards are still very much there. Being able to escape to the hills to “work” at any given time; to personally sample some of the very best that Scotland has to offer and to constantly learn and experience why this is the best place in the world make me pinch myself frequently. I can live with the other frustrations and challenges.
My knowledge of Scotland goes up constantly and I feel that my near 5 years of doing this job are starting to reap rewards. But, every year I strive to improve. To provide a better service to my readers and to keep fans of Scotland from all over the world reminded of just how great it is. I’m so happy and proud that over 10,000 people now subscribe to my blog posts (since my re-brand and overhaul last year), that over 45,000 follow my travels on social media, that I’m regularly asked to speak at industry events and that you all take the time to chat Scotland with me on a daily basis. This all keeps me motivated to keep going, to keep improving and to keep learning.
With Christmas now just a few days away, I wish you all the very best over the holidays and look forward to sharing more of my Scotland adventures with you in 2018. Merry Christmas!
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