TOURISM is worth £169 million to the Borders economy and 5000 people are employed in the industry.
The River Tweed and the Berwickshire coastline play a major role in attracting people to the area - salmon fishing on the Tweed brings in over £18 million a year and supports around 500 jobs, while diving at the St Abbs Voluntary Marine Reserve and the area around it contributes £3.7 million and employs around 82 jobs. Cycling, walking, and visiting local attractions such as the region’s many country houses also brings in the tourists.
A programme of environment and habitat improvements to the River Tweed has resulted in better salmon and sea trout fishing which has paid off by increasing the sport’s potential earnings.
As well as a general increase in the rents paid for the fishing, the number of weeks within the season when fishing offers reasonable prospects has also gone up. And improved numbers of fish and a more effective on-line booking system has seen an increase in the summer lets now being achieved, when in the past this has been a slow period.
The prime months are attracting what is described as “a generally more prosperous clientele” as the Tweed’s international standing increases.
The St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve, the only one in Scotland, has a reputation as one of the top five dive sites in the world and the Berwickshire Dive Tourism Association was set up four years ago to promote the area’s natural attractions for divers and boost economic activity.
A recent report produced for the Scottish Borders Tourism Partnership revealed that 1.38 million people stayed for at least one night in the Borders in 2010, with campsites and self-catering proving to be the most popular accommodation option.
Altogether there were 3.85 million visits to the area - 34 per cent of them day visitors.
But hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation were well below the Scottish average occupancy at 47 per cent (nationally it was 63 per cent) for hotels, and 30 per cent occupancy for bed and breakfast against a national average of 52 per cent.
Chair of the Scottish Borders Tourism Partnership management committee, Catherine Maxwell Stuart said: “Tourism remains a major component of the Borders economy.
“Although the serviced sector share is experiencing a decline it still delivers the highest visitor spend values.
“Visitors seems to be ‘grouping’ - travelling with friends and families in larger units. We need to make it easier to attract more spontaneous visits, plus we need to ensure that we continue to promote when they are in the region.
“We will work to create better communication channels across all the tourism sectors within the Borders.
“It is now even more important that the tourism businesses had a voice and worked collectively to ensure that the Borders continue to have a thriving tourism industry. We recognise that activities and events needed to have a larger representation on the partnership as these sectors will be the key to driving increased visitor numbers.”
The region’s tourism partnership is also looking at making use of new media channels like social marketing.
The autumn and winter 2011 ‘Surprise Yourself’ brochure is aimed at people who have already visited the area in the hope of enticing them back to discover more of its attractions.
SBC’s economic and development portfolio holder, Councillor Vicky Davidson, said: “This additional push to encourage visitors through direct mail and on-line campaigns is very welcome.”
Local VisitScotland director Sandi Hellowell added: “We are encouraging more visitors to come and enjoy the region’s beautiful landscape at this time of year. The quirky and more unusual facts related to local areas are being strongly promoted.”
In 2010, there was a slight drop in the number of visitors from the previous year but the region’s share of people holidaying in Scotland has remained constant. 34 per cent of people coming to the Borders were day visitors, 16 per cent stayed with family or friends, 35 per cent chose self catering, caravan and camping accommodation, and 15 per cent stayed in hotels and b&bs.
A breakdown of the £169 million spent by tourists in the Borders last year shows: £31m (18%) spent on accommodation; £31m (18%) on food and drink; £21m (13%) on shopping/recreation; £24m (14%) on transport, £43m (26%) impacted on the wider economy such as jobs etc; and £19m (11%) on VAT.
VisitScotland, who receive funding from Scottish Borders Council towards promoting the region are focusing on ‘creative and culture’ for their 2012 campaign to attract tourists, in 2013 the focus shifts to Natural Scotland, and 2014 will be focused on the Commonwealth Games and trying to lure ex-pats and those with a Scottish heritage with their ‘Homecoming’ campaign.