Michael was interviewed by Nick during X. Festival where he talked us through his successful journey of leading the destination as the pandemic began.
Michael started as the CEO just six months prior to the first lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the most challenging phases in the tourism industry. Michael discussed the pandemic impact on his career at a point where the industry, which has been focused on growth and competitiveness, needed re-assessment to survive. He reflects on the pandemic as a life-changing event that required them to form a strategy to communicate and practice differently.
Michael Golding, CEO of Visit Inverness Loch Ness, was interviewed by Nick during X. Festival where he talked us through his successful journey of leading the destination as the pandemic began.
Michael started as the CEO just six months prior to the first lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the most challenging phases in the tourism industry. Michael discussed the pandemic impact on his career at a point where the industry, which has been focused on growth and competitiveness, needed re-assessment to survive. He reflects on the pandemic as a life-changing event that required them to form a strategy to communicate and practice differently. In response to the challenges caused by the pandemic, Inverness Loch Ness held three events to get to know their members, including tourism businesses and their funders, to establish strategies according to the situation with post-pandemic marketing strategies and action plans, including re-opening and this time stronger.
Despite many other sectors, Inverness Loch Ness has grown from 4 to 17 members of staff. They are a relatively small team managing large scale success. They started as a voluntary organisation in 2006 based in one village in the destination. In 2014, they became the first tourism BID in the UK. Their agility is built in the way they operate, shaped by a board of 11 businesses representing diverse industry sectors.
As a destination, Inverness Loch Ness is a nature-based in north Scotland known as the highlands. Geographically, Inverness Loch Ness is sizeable. The population is 81000 people. Pre-covid, they had around 1.6 million visitors per year. However, mosts take place between April and October. The economic impact of tourism in the area is approximately 300 million pounds.
Michael reflected on the value that stakeholders seek from the destination. For example, around 26% of the population in Lochness are directly employed by tourism. The value of tourism for the area is well understood and has led to decision makings for narratives to grow and balance the industry. He mentioned that 2022 is Scotland’s year story, which encouraged them to build narratives around why visitors should come to the destination and what is authentic about it.
Michael also discussed the importance of collaboration at a destination level. Collaboration has been critical for Inverness Loch Ness as a small organisation. They have worked with large-scale bodies such as the National Trust for Scotland and the Historic Environment Scotland, which has multiplied their impact. For them, partnerships are also a way to ensure they package the best that the destination can offer to consumers. Michael mentioned that the partnership with the LNER railway had had a tremendous positive impact for them with minimum cost. It resulted in a four times higher number of web visits and became one of the UK’s national recognised websites.
Michael stated that partnerships initiate from transparency, willingness to share. He discussed the partnership model with NTOs such as Visit Scotland with a vision to achieve nationally. Hence, for Visit Inverness Loch Ness came with the opportunity to align their strategies that benefited the destination and on the national level. They are looking forward to future partnerships with Visit Scotland, especially to provide them with tools to attract visitors, encourage longer stays. They hope to increasingly become part of the visitor journey to the highland, which can be achieved through partnerships with other local and regional destinations and organisations.
1. Considering the impact of the pandemic on the industry, agile workflows and situation assessment are key to survival and success as the industry recovers.
2. Understanding the value of tourism for the area is vital in developing narratives that encourage visits and offer authentic experiences.
3. Having a vision to become part of the visitor journey drives destinations to further success. It is achievable through partnerships with other stakeholders who operate in the area.
An award-winning leader and self-motivated high performer, specialising inefficient strategies to maximise value for stakeholders and achieve sustainable growth.