The Scottish Tourism Alliance Autumn Conference 2023 – PhD Student Perspectives

On 31st October 2023, five PhD students (Jack Pedersen, Christopher Barnes, Mahendrran Selvaduray, Homa Rahimi and Judith Spaargaren) from the Tourism & Languages Subject Group attended the Scottish Tourism Alliance Autumn Conference. This blog contains our reflections on the event.   Exploring the conference through the lens of academia from PhD student’s perspective as this blog sheds light on the vibrant discussions and insights shared at this noteworthy event. In approaching this blog, we found the focus to be the intersection of sustainable tourism and digital marketing, vital topics in our ever-evolving industry. In discussing what topics and presentations we found notable, we hope to share some of the experience with you, the reader.

Sustainable Tourism – Bridging the Gap, Mahendrran Selvaduray 

The vision for sustainable tourism was inspiring, emphasising the fusion of practices with unforgettable experiences. This session not only enlightened attendees but also highlighted the transformative power of responsible travel. Another compelling talk by Stephen Whitelaw centred on digital marketing in the tourism landscape. The speaker, an expert in the field, shared groundbreaking strategies to engage travellers authentically. In the era of social media dominance, their insights into digital storytelling and online engagement were invaluable, resonating strongly with our tech-savvy audience.

The new traveller segments discussed by Caroline Bremner of Euromonitor explain that people seeking luxury are known for wanting fancy experiences. In the social aspect, 72% of luxury seekers choose to travel with their partner, perhaps to feel more comfortable. This choice may stem from their desire to share these fancy experiences with loved ones and create special memories together. While a smaller 4% opt for solo journeys, the reason could be to enjoy a relaxing session on their own. This suggests two groups implies the presence of based on spending preferences. Some priorities personal enjoyment and independence, while others emphasis shared family experiences, reflecting diverse values and priorities.

Scotland’s Tourism Strategy, Jack Pedersen

Sustainability plays a prominent role in the national tourism strategy. Marc Crothall (MBE), the conference host, examined the Scotland Outlook 2030 strategy which looks to position Scotland as the world leader in 21st-century tourism and has at its core “responsible tourism for a sustainable future”.

Set up in November 2022, the Tourism and Hospitality Industry Leadership Group (THILG) is the leading industry body for this strategic plan. As the co-chair, Crothall reflected upon the THILG’s first year of operation. Its evidencing endeavours, including stakeholder and activity mapping and international best practice guidelines, have uncovered common themes which he proposes will impact the national strategy. Sustainability, technological advances, transport infrastructure, and Scotland’s communities and people were at the heart of much of Crothall’s presentation. The THILG now looks to develop its missions in supporting recovery, driving investment, and growing a sustainable tourism sector.

The Minister for Small Business, Innovation, and Trade, Richard Lochhead, (MSP) also co-chairs the THILG. His enthusiastic and effusive ministerial address at the conference asserted that the Scottish government is taking the industry seriously. Notably, amid recent Commons debates on the King’s Speech, this support was corroborated by Drew Henry (SNP Economy Spokesperson) who lamented the absence of measures to support the tourism and hospitality industries at a Westminster level.

During his address, Lochhead reiterated the government’s commitment to growth deals of £150 million, further to the £250 million already invested, and praised its impressive economic figures: Scottish tourism and hospitality accounts for 8% of employment and 4% of the country’s GDP. Despite the challenges of the financial climate, skills shortages, and wider geopolitical instability, he reminded us that the growth of the industry is outstripping the growth of the Scottish economy as a whole and that there is a case for optimism.

Our Proud and Passionate People: Tourism Rising Stars and Hospitality Heroes, Judith Spaaragen

 Sustainability was a word which came up often, but to me, no presentation made it a more tangible concept than Kelly Johnstone’s. It can be easy, as an academic, to overlook the actual people involved in the industries we write about.

Tourism is often spoken about in figures and faceless masses, but Kelly, COO at the Springboard Charity, placed people front and centre. The Springboard Charity provides opportunities for young and disadvantaged people to develop hospitality and tourism careers, and in her presentation she made clear exactly how important this was not just to the people the charity helps, but also the industry to which they contribute. If Scotland is to be the sustainable tourism destination of the world, then we must make sure that sustainability flows reaches the people working in it. This talk was thus a welcome look at that how that future might look.

Deciphering Communication Codes in Hospitality, Homa Rahimi  

Embarking on the intricate journey of personal and professional well-being, the recent Scottish Tourism Alliance Conference brought to light a compelling discourse spearheaded by Cathy MacDonald, centred around addressing fundamental emotional concerns. Amidst the formidable challenges posed by market competition and workforce scarcity in the dynamic tourism and hospitality sector, the recognition and fulfilment of employees’ emotional needs emerge as a strategic imperative.

Organizations finely attuned to the emotional well-being of their workforce yield substantial returns in terms of commitment, heightened productivity, and talent retention. Nurturing a culture of transparent communication, where employees authentically feel acknowledged, not only mitigates turnover but also lays the groundwork for organizational justice, serving as a potent talent attraction strategy. This approach, particularly pivotal in the aftermath of the Covid-19 era, acts as a linchpin in cultivating a resilient and contented team.

In an industry where reputation and word of mouth wield considerable influence, prioritizing employee well-being becomes a cornerstone of an effective human resource strategy. By fostering a workplace culture that places a premium on its staff, organizations not only elevate their sector reputation but also optimize return on investment, thereby fostering a positive and efficient work environment.

Edinburgh Napier University’s Aspiring Tourism Alumni, Christopher Barnes 

After previous years of online conferences, where morning networking sessions were mere button on the edge a computer screen. The smell of freshly brewed coffee from Leith’s Catering in the EICC foyer, on the morning of, The Scottish Tourism Alliance Autumn Conference, was a welcome reminder that the days of our industries face to face restrictions, are slowly becoming a thing of the past! Tourism and hospitality in Scotland, is ready, and is about to thrive! Inspiring visions of industry officials and testimonies of young rising stars were only a fragment of the exciting and news put forward in a day of collective industry buzz!!! One thing is certain, Edinburgh Napier and more importantly the Tourism and Languages Subject Group, plays a significant role in producing emerging industry talent, in both the tourism and festival and events sectors. Both inspiring and motivating, were the testimonies of Edinburgh Napier University alumni of recent years, projected on the screens for a conference suite filled of Scottish Tourism Industry Officials. The hall witnessed how Edinburgh Napier University’s Tourism Research Centre, produces highly qualified tourism management personnel and offering degrees, both at undergraduate and post-graduate level, filled with both academic and practical content relevant for an everchanging and immersive tourism industry!

Closing Thoughts:

This blog serves as a testimony to the impactful ideas exchanged and the collaborative spirit that defines our tourism industry. With each presentation, we found inspiration and motivation, underscoring the potential for positive change within our tourism community.

Once again, thank you, the TRC, for this opportunity to share our unique perspective on the TRC webpage. As PhD students, we stand at the intersection of academic inquiry and practical innovation, embodying the spirit of continuous learning and growth. Let us continue this journey together, shaping the future of tourism one insightful conference at a time. Hope we can attend more conferences in the future.

Introducing Lynn Minnaert, our new Head of Subject

We sat down for a chat with Professor Lynn Minnaert, who has recently joined Edinburgh Napier University as the Head of Subject for Tourism and Languages. In this post, we find out more about her background and aspirations.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I am originally from Belgium. I have worked in tourism education for the past 20 years, most recently as the Academic Chair at the Tisch Center of Hospitality at New York University, and before that at the University of Surrey and the University of Westminster. I have also worked on projects in range of other countries, including Kazakhstan, Finland, Sweden, Dominica and Brazil.

What is your area of research interest? 

My research interest and passion is social inclusion in tourism: I have worked on studies about social tourism for low-income groups, family tourism, event legacies and DEI in the event sector.

Why did you decide to join Edinburgh Napier University?

I was excited about joining ENU because of its strong reputation in tourism, hospitality, events and intercultural communication. The teaching team is creative and dynamic, and has strong industry networks, which benefit students in and outside of the classroom. We have subject specialists who are world-renowned in their fields, and are one of the oldest providers of tourism, hospitality and event education in the nation. Also, Edinburgh is an amazing location to learn about and research these topics!

What are your aspirations for the subject group?

My aspirations are to strengthen our position and reputation as a centre for teaching and research excellence, and as a hub for industry innovation. The objective is that by delivering student-centred, applied and rigorous programmes, as well as producing cutting-edge research, our students, alumni and staff will play leading roles in their industries and communities, as a force for good.

Thank you, Lynn, for your time taking this interview. We are delighted to have you in the team and look forward to working together.