Funding boost means facelift for region’s tourism industry

More than 60 Dumfries and Galloway tourism businesses, based the length and breadth of the region, have been successful in raising their game when it comes to providing a top service and a quality product, thanks to a pilot scheme implemented here over the last 12 months.

From Stranraer to Langholm tourism businesses across all sectors including accommodation providers and visitor attractions engaged with a Quality Assurance pilot project. The project was put together in partnership with Dumfries and Galloway’s Council’s South of Scotland Business Competitiveness Project and delivered with the national tourism organisation, VisitScotland.

The pilot invited businesses to participate in VisitScotland’s Quality Assurance scheme which is responsible for star ratings on properties offering substantial support with fees.

To help support local businesses during the current economic climate, VisitScotland reduced fees by 10 percent and Dumfries and Galloway Council paid 75 percent of the cost of an initial Quality Assurance advisory visit, where a VisitScotland Quality Tourism Advisor meets with a property owner to help grade their business.

On top of this, businesses were also supported with 50 percent of the participation fee for the first year of joining VisitScotland’s Quality Assurance Scheme.

During the pilot two of the region’s businesses - Castleview B&B in Kirkcudbright and Holmhill Country House at Thornhill, who were rated as four star on their advisory visit, managed to achieve five stars.

Workshops were held across the region to assist businesses with advice from Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Economic Development Officers and VisitScotland’s Quality Tourism Advisor. A significant number of businesses who used to be quality assured but had left the scheme were encouraged back in during the pilot project.

Paula McDonald, Regional Director of VisitScotland, said: “The pilot Quality Assurance scheme has been a tremendous success in Dumfries & Galloway with more than 60 providers getting involved. The advisory visits are conducted by our Quality and Tourism Advisor who has worked hard with businesses to help assess which improvements or changes they would need to make to achieve a higher star rating in our Quality Assurance Scheme. In most cases businesses acted on the advice and managed to achieve a higher grading which is an excellent result and shows the commitment of local businesses to growing tourism not just for themselves but for the whole region.”

Following advisory visits to properties businesses were also offered financial support through Dumfries & Galloway Council’s Financial Assistance for Small Businesses (FASB) Grant Scheme which helped them invest into the development of their business.VisitScotland’s Quality Assurance Scheme currently boasts over 7,000 participants and the national tourism organisation is aiming to increase this by the end of 2013. Around 94% of participants in the scheme, which has been used as an example of best practice with countries all over the world, including Sweden and Namibia, have made an investment in their business in the last two years, totalling around £70 million.