We were delighted to see the Hainan Airlines’ flight – the first direct flight coming into Edinburgh Airport from Beijing – emerge from the early morning cloud and arriving at the Airport after its overnight traverse from the Far East yesterday morning.
Once again this is a clear indication of the worldwide appeal both Edinburgh and Scotland offer as a destination and an outcome to be proud of for those involved in delivering it.
Picking out China as just one area of growth; Chinese tourism is growing by around 15% per year without a direct air route to Scotland. Hainan Airlines’ twice-weekly flight will provide a massive fillip for our tourism industry. The huge potential for growth is abundantly clear and the Far East market is one of the biggest spending markets in the world.
We’ve always known this potential for Scotland’s share of the Chinese ‘Yuan’ exists. Just think what this ‘springboard’ of a direct flight now offers us! The potential is significant. Our contacts in China have been telling us for a long time that there is unsatisfied demand – once established, this new route will tap into this and offer a fresh boost.
However, we must not be complacent and take our visitors for granted. Our investment in infrastructure and facilities, must also match our ambition.
We regularly hear direct feedback from customers commenting that we lack simple basics such as decent toilet facilities, car and coach parks struggling to take little more than a handful of vehicles and single track roads leading to some of the most idyllic beauty spots this country has to offer, simply are not coping with the current level of tourism and as that will increase with more carriers bringing tourists from North America as well as the Far East, we need to ensure our Government at local and national level are up to the task to deliver the tourist experience and that it remains a positive one in every way.
However, we must also be mindful of strategies that can undermine development of this new connection and others, such as proposed new tourism tax for Edinburgh and APD – Air Passenger Duty. In my view, these strategies seem to be at odds with the various initiatives and trade missions promoting our natural assets abroad.
Coach tour operators like Timberbush do battle with the A9 every day as we ferry tourists to a number of Highland destinations such as Loch Ness and over to Fort William onwards to Skye. These are popular destinations and if we, as coach tour operators, can continually invest in our people, products and fleet – we’ve invested over £1.5m in vehicles and training this year so far – then surely it is the responsibility of our government to match our ambition?
It seems the increasing demand has pretty much been left for the local authority and residents to address without appropriate resources. Both the local and national economy benefits through employer and employee contributions, however local authorities do not have the national perspective, budgets or resources to available to deploy and provide some of the investment required.
We truly welcome Hainan Airways to Scotland, However, the Scottish Government’s support in delivering much needed infrastructure improvements and strategic planning for the future is vital, or it will be an opportunity missed with worsening experience for both the locals and the visitors.
Gary Voy is founder of Timberbush Tours, the Edinburgh-headquartered coach tour operator
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