Region needs tourism ‘masterplan’

Calum Kerr, SNP MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk
Calum Kerr, SNP MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

Tourist businesses in the Borders should be encouraged to create their own masterplan for the future if they want to attract more visitors to the region, local MP Calum Kerr has said.

The Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP was speaking after he helped to lead a top level summit into the industry’s future at Abbotsford House.

The event was organised by the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce and the Abbotsford Trust.

Scottish Business, Energy and Tourism Minister Fergus Ewing participated and spoke to those present and listened to the ideas generated.

Mr Kerr said: “There is no doubt that there are tremendous opportunities in tourism in the Borders - the new railway is an example of this.

“I’m keen for us to go forward and develop plans to take advantage of this and spread the benefits across the region.”

The way to drive the sector forward and attract more visitors in was for those involved in tourism to work together collaboratively and develop their own strategy, he added.

“This is already happening with organisations like the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys Tourism Association, which held its inaugural conference only a few weeks ago.

“There are some great things happening here in the Borders and we should work together to make the most of them.

“By collaborating, we can do so much more. The question is how we do that. We don’t need a series of talking shops - we need to take control of our own destiny and look at specific projects, with funding which doesn’t rely on others.

“I really want to see the tourism sector grow and thrive. I’m happy to roll up my sleeves and get involved.”

Another senior figure from the region leading the forum was Jack Clark, Convener of the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce.

Mr Clark said: “Tourism and hospitality are a high priority for the chamber and if those involved can collaborate successfully, then we really can maximise our opportunities and make the most of the fantastic assets we have.

“We need to recognise that public funding may not always be the most appropriate or easiest option - budgets are constrained and it may not reflect our priorities.

“We need to look more closely at working out a new business model which looks at more use of private funding, probably through a dedicated study which will point us towards the best options.”

Dozens of representatives of the Borders tourism and hospitality sector attended the three-hour-long forum.

Issues which were discussed and brought to the attention of Mr Ewing included the living wage, developing food tourism, branding, more support for rural areas, fast tracking planning applications and designating the region as a national park.