Following the Year of Sport in 2014, when Scotland hosted golf's Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games, 2015 was the Year of Food and Drink, bringing in more than $1.2 billion from tourists. This year is the Year of Innovation, Architecture, and Design.
Those are three subjects Scotland could probably separate out into more than one year. For innovation, look to James Watt's steam engine, the bicycle, Alexander Fleming's penicillin, and the big one: Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, aka The Bible of Capitalism.
As for architecture and design, a day walking through Edinburgh and Glasgow will show clearly why these could fill a year of their own. Take the Royal Mile, stretching between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House. Now sadly damaged by a 2014 fire, the Glasgow School of Art, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, was one of the city's masterpieces, but is beginning a long restoration. The city has embraced modern design as well: Take a tour of the Clyde's splendid bridges, the recently expanded Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC), and modern master Zaha Hadid's magnificent Riverside Museum (site of the Museum of Transport), which opened along the river in 2011 with an eye towards hosting public and private events indoors and out.
But there's plenty new happening in the MICE market, as visitor numbers rose above the pre-recession level in 2014, says Richard Knight, VisitScotland's marketing manager for the Americas. "We have recovered and are growing."
Last year, more than $10 billion in tourism projects were under way. And air connections are growing rapidly as new airlines are entering the Scottish market, says Knight, who notes, "New airlines are coming in because we keep the planes full."
Two More Players Step Up
While Edinburgh and Glasgow are the two major meeting, conference, and incentive cities, Aberdeen is ready to tee off with a new, half-billion-dollar replacement for its aging Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC). Set to open in 2018, the state-of-the-art venue will feature 506,000 square feet of flexible exhibition space, a 12,500-capacity arena with a moveable stage, 21 breakout rooms, a club lounge, six banqueting suites, an on-site energy center, and a four-star, 200-room, attached headquarters hotel.
While Aberdeen is upping its game, Inverness and Loch Ness have gotten together to join the MICE game. About eight miles apart, the two destinations last year formed the Inverness Loch Ness Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID), the first of its kind in the U.K., with more than 450 members. It has created a new MICE website, www.visitinvernesslochness.com/conferences.
"We are just now embracing and focusing on MICE business, and this is the first time the two destinations have worked together on this," says Alan Rawlinson, the TBID's business tourism manager. "Our biggest capacity venue holds 840, and the ideal size is 200-300 for a meeting and 50-150 for incentives."
Along with spectacular scenery, cuisine, and Highland distilleries (Inverness is called the Gateway to the Highlands), it is home to a pair of very famous venues: the 14th-century Cawdor Castle -- as in Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor -- and Culloden Battlefield -- as in Braveheart. And Loch Ness has beautiful scenery and outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing, sailing, fishing, and, of course, trying to spot Nessie looking back at you.
Off in Edinburgh, the massive expansion of the EICC, which doubled in size in 2013, is really paying off, says Amanda Wrathall, its sales and marketing director. The new, 21,500-square-foot expansion features a glass atrium, high-end lighting, and the 17,200-square-foot Lennox Suite, which can host up to 2,000 people in a tiered auditorium, or 1,400 in a flat-floored banqueting and exhibition format. Or really any other layout you can imagine, thanks to a computer-controlled moving floor that can transform from one extreme to the other in just 40 minutes, Wrathall says. "We are seeing the benefit as [planners] see what it can do," she adds. "We are now seeing the ability to have two conferences at the same time."
The city also has a strong conference ambassador's program, providing connections to the city's famed universities, finance and insurance companies, and its growing space industry, among others, she adds.
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This article appears in the April 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.