TMF Director, David Francis, muses on a couple of recent tourism documents.

A bit late to this, but towards the end of last year two tourism strategy documents appeared, looking to the future of what many regard as a key industry for Scotland.

‘Tourism’ is a hard term to define because so much of the definition depends on the standpoint from which you are making it, whether that is as a visitor, a business, a worker in that business, a community visited by tourists, or the various public agencies that are concerned with developing the industry.

Tourism is first and foremost about individual experience – well-being, personal development, knowledge, entertainment, re-creation literally.  Visitors want to have a quality experience. Businesses want to monetise the presence of visitors and their experiences. Locals want to show their part of the country in a good light, provide hospitality for visitors, benefit from the economic activity without having their lives distorted and their communities disrupted.

The challenge is to meet these wants while recognising the possible impact on local lives and on the environment.

The difference in definitions is illustrated by the two strategies in question, one for the whole of Scotland produced by the Scottish Tourism Alliance, the other for Edinburgh, produced by the City Council.

The core of the STA strategy is ‘growing the value of tourism across Scotland’, economic growth by another name, with some rallying-the-troops stuff about Scotland being the world leader in 21st tourism. There’s no real sense of what that might involve, although I suspect that, for the many people who are looking for a way out of our current climate and environment crisis, an undue emphasis on economic growth would not cut it as an example of 21st century innovation.

Quality experiences – that’s what should be at the heart of any strategy, and those quality experiences happen in places. Visitors increasingly want to experience the local way of life. However, the experience of place and life in place need to be sustainable if communities are to flourish. Tourism businesses must act responsibly towards their workers, their communities, and the natural and the built environment. The Edinburgh Tourism Strategy acknowledges this when it asks, “how can we improve the quality of life for residents and contribute to the city’s broader economic goals?” These are key questions at a time when not just the capital, but other places like Skye, and the North Coast 500 are bursting at the seams.

Are those of us involved in trad music stakeholders? Do we have a stake in visitor satisfaction? Tourism, it seems to me, is not a primary focus. Traditional music veers between catering directly for the visitor to Scotland, and simply being part of the texture of life in the country (‘Fife’s got everything’ as the late John Watt put it), available to the visitor should they wish to engage, but not specifically aimed at them. Examples of the former would be the kind of tartan shows, now diminishing in number, which are a kind of theatricalised version of the ceilidh house, and the more contemporary Ceilidh Trails produced by various Fèisean around the country. Pub sessions, folk clubs, and other promoted gigs would be examples of the latter.

The tensions between different kinds of quality experience are perhaps illustrated by the case of the musicians in Sandy Bell’s in the capital who won’t allow anyone to film the sessions, as they find the practice highly intrusive. Perhaps visitors feel the quality of their experience is being reduced by their being asked to keep their phone in their pocket, but it’s an example of how you can still offer a good experience for the visitor without compromising the very thing they’ve come to enjoy.