Action note of Caithness Joint Ward Forum (Wick, Thurso and Landward)
held on Tuesday 16th February 2010




Councillor David Flear (Chair), Landward Ward Member
Councillor Robert Coghill, Landward Ward Member
Councillor Graeme Smith, Wick Ward Member
Councillor Donnie Mackay, Thurso Ward Member
Councillor Willie Mackay, Landward Ward Member
Councillor The Lady Thurso, Thurso Ward Member
Councillor David Bremner, Landward Ward Member
Councillor Katrina MacNab, Wick Ward Member
Councillor Bill Fernie, Wick Ward Member.
Billy Manson – Halkirk Community Council
Janet Mowat – Halkirk Community Council
Bill Brown – Caithness West Community Council
Donald Henderson – Tannach and District Community Council
Elizabeth Henderson – Tannach and District Community Council
Neil Buchanan – Berriedale and Dunbeath Community Council
Alan Roberts – Bower Community Council
Coreen Campbell – Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council


In attendance


Scott Armstrong – Regional Director, Visit Scotland
Colin Simpson – Tourism Coordinator, Highland Council
Rachel Skene – Head of Tourism, Highland and Islands Enterprise
Jill McNichol – Marketing and Membership Manager, North Highland Tourism
Ian Hargrave – Corporate Manager, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, Highland Council
David Sutherland – Ward Manager (Wick, Thurso and Landward Wards), Highland Council
Robbie Mackintosh – Ward Managers Team, Highland Council
Alex Macmanus – Ward Managers Team, Highland Council.
Gordon Calder and Bryan Nelson – Press
34 Members of the general public.

1. Apologies

Catherine Paterson – Milton Residents Association
Lorna Simpson – Ormlie Community Association
Councillor John Rosie, Thurso Ward Member
Jean Lipa – Thurso Community Council
Irene Hendrie – Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council
John Green – Dunnet and Canisbay Community Council

2. Tourism

Councillor David Flear opened the Forum by welcoming the four guest speakers along with all the Forum members and members of the general public.


He touched on various local tourism projects that the Highland Council through the local Members had continued to provide revenue support to.e.g. Scrabster cruise ship shuttle buses, additional copies of Caithness Explorer magazines. Also capital support to projects such as The Broch Centre and Caithness Horizons along with many heritage and cultural projects through the Highland 2007 Legacy Fund.


The local Members are very much looking forward to working with all their partners this year in ensuring that the Caithness National Mod 2010 is a resounding success.


Scott Armstrong – Visit Scotland, Regional Director


Visit Scotland is a Non-departmental government organisation (NDGO) or Quango. It is not a membership organisation.


Total annual funding is £72m of which 60% or £42m comes direct from the Scottish Government; £6m comes from the 32 Scottish Local Authorities. Highland Council contributes £450k which is covered by a service level agreement (SLA). Remaining £24m comes from the tourism industry through payment for services and visitors fees.


European funding through the Growth Fund is used as a marketing fund with 70% going to the public sector and 30% from the tourism business industry.


Employs 800 staff with 50% of them working in 102 Visitor Information Centres across Scotland. Their HQ is in Edinburgh and they operate 4 main divisions – visitor engagement, business engagement, strategic partnerships and corporate services.


Events Scotland is a separately run, at arms length, division. They will deal with marketing, information and inspirations and quality assurance but do not deal with product development, business development and tourism training.


Events Scotland is primarily a marketing organisation. 90% of visitors are from the UK with the other 10% from overseas. This 10% accounts for 30% of the value of the tourist industry.  2009 was a good year with many UK residents holidaying in the UK plus the exchange rate was in our favour. The rural areas did better than the urban areas.


Visit Scotland is identifying key markets outwith the UK such as USA, Canada, Australia, NZ and Europe. Merging countries such as China, etc are being targeted through the press.


In the past there had been 180 information centres but because visitors are sourcing information about holidays from different sources closures were necessary.


Colin Simpson – Highland Council, Tourism Coordinator


Colin works closely with Scott at Visit Scotland. He is at the Forum to hear what is important to the forum members and to listen to what is said. This will be his 6th forum.


Highland Council has a funding relationship with Visit Scotland. The tourism team are part of the Planning and Development Service This service looks at the economic development of the Highlands


They have been working with Cruise Scotland looking at developing the Scrabster market and working along with Invergordon the previous and subsequent ports of call. Council contact for cruise ships in Gordon Ireland.


Tourism Service provides advice and assistance to the Highland Council and also works along with North Highland Tourism. Grant aid has been squeezed at this time due to economic factors


Service works closely with the Ranger Service, Core Path development, Seadrift visitor centre at Dunnet and various trails e.g. Pictish, wild coastal. Trail at present from Nairn to Golspie with aspirations to lead round to Ullapool.


Also have connections with the Museum Service, Broch Centre, parks & gardens and cemeteries in respect of families tracing genealogy.


3. Rachael Skene – Head of Tourism, H.I.E.


Has been in post for 4 months and has already met with the Caithness Councillors at one of their business meetings.


Turnover from the industry is expected to rise to £600m in the North by 2015. Tourism faces a challenging time but the area has to make the most of its resources which are available to achieve its aim. Area has so much to offer but we need to improve our competitiveness and our ability to contribute to the economic growth


Plans are in place to redevelop John O’ Groats which should bring advantages to the area in the future. It is encouraging to already see the success of recent developments at Caithness Horizons and the Castlehill Heritage Centre.


Keen to work with other areas, to hear of any new ideas and to source local products when ever possible. There are significant opportunities for proactive work in the tourism field.


4. Jill McNichol – Marketing and Membership Manager, N.H.T.


N.H.T. area covered Caithness, Sutherland & Ross-shire and had 120 members to date. NHT is sustainable by its membership. Promote area with Castle of Mey, Clachan B&B and Mackay’s hotel being members of N.H.T.


N.H.T. aim is to increase the number of visitors to the area by 20% and to see a rise of 30% in their spending. Aiming to attract 650,000 visitors by the year 2015.


Target marketing to North and South of England where 50 % of that population have never been to Scotland. Encourage tourism journalists to venture north. Also make use of on-line advertising. Sainsbury running a competition to win a trip to the Highlands. A product audit has been done on the area.


Looking to develop a robust marketing data base and to market on specific themes e.g. historical, relaxing, etc. Caithness is on the route to Orkney endeavour to keep these people a bit longer in the County.


National Mod in October will greatly help this year in extending the tourism season. 9,000 additional visitors are expected to the County. It is very important that we all work to together to make the Mod a wonderful experience for our visitors which may encourage them to return the next year. Caithness Councillors have been meeting with the Mod Committee to keep abreast of happenings and further meetings are planned before the actual event in October.


The fact that the County boasts an airport should not be overlooked as this is a very important asset. At the recent industry day people from all over the world were in attendance with many flying into Wick.


Question from Brenda Herrick


Are the organisations present aware of the scale and number of windfarms operational and proposed in Caithness and are they not concerned about the potentially disastrous effect this will have on tourism in the area?


Answer from Visit Scotland


There is no evidence that visitors are being put off by windfarms. There needs to be a balance. Support renewable energy and trust the Highland Council and SNH to make the right decisions.


Answer from Highland Council


Concerns were raised 12 years ago about fishfarms but these concerns did not materialise and therefore not convinced that windfarms will decimate the tourist industry. Business tourism may be an offset of windfarm development.


Answer from H.I.E.


Nothing further to add to what has already been said before.


Answer from N.H.T.


Green tourism may be a positive to the windfarm growth but we are too small an organisation to take this matter forward.


A further question was received from Stewart Young and, because of its contents, was discussed with Mr Young in private by the Chair of the Forum.


A statement from William Wilson of Lyth Arts Centre was not read out or discussed at the Forum but was passed to the relevant bodies.


Councillor Robert Coghill raised the question of the lack of acceptance of the euro by local businesses. He felt that the message should be given out that by not taking euros businesses were losing revenue and not showing the County in a good light.


Councillor Willie Mackay raised the point that during a recent survey Scotland was noted for The Loch Ness Monster, Billy Connolly and Robert Burns! Scenery is important and that 50% of the English and Welsh adult population have never been to Scotland. A big market.


Visit Scotland acknowledges that Scotland has an international market with Edinburgh and the Highlands being world famous. The average visitor to Loch Ness only spends half a day there so is not spending that much at the attraction.


Jill McNichol was keen that Sunday flights into Wick tie in to local events and she has already spoken to Angela Donaldson at Wick Airport about this.


Councillor Graeme Smith felt that the Highlands were not getting value for their £400k commitment from Visit Scotland. Colin Simpson however felt that with the spend being measured he felt that it was value for money. The new Düsseldorf to Dalcross service was working well however there have been problems with the Immigration Control people at Dalcross. This would be taken up with HIAL.


Councillor Fernie enquired if the potential of the new Wick marina had been explored in light of the increase in tourism cruising on the west coast. There are more facilities in the east and for sailors using the Caledonian Canal to get to the west they have to travel down the east coast


Councillor Willie Mackay felt that the key is to extend the tourist season. With the Mod due later in the year will there be a lasting legacy of this event by further Gaelic events. Surfing could be marketed for the spring and also look to the Scandinavian countries for Nordic type events.


Colin Simpson welcomed the opportunity to increase the tourist season. He commented that for every £1 spent on winter tourism we got £40 back and for every £1 spent on spring tourism we got £59 back.


Cllr. Donnie Mackay questioned if Visit Scotland had planned to contribute to the new Surfing Centre planned for Thurso as they require funds to get off the ground. Visit Scotland has only a revenue budget and therefore unable to contribute. The Councils Planning & Development Service may look at this project. Rachel Skene was unsure where HIE fitted in on this project.


Ward Manager announced that from the three ward discretionary budgets just over ½ of the combined totals was agreed to tourism linked projects.


Thurso Community Council questioned the prescribed list of books and publications that Visit Scotland retail from their outlets. Local books are not listed and are therefore not displayed to the best advantage. Visit Scotland has a Pan Scotland retail buyer and perhaps she should be contacted with any queries. (Lorraine Conner, Retail Buyer, V.S.)


Access to St Peters Kirk at Thurso is being denied to tourists as health and safety issues are a factor. Tourists tracing family histories are now visiting local cemeteries. Suggested that passengers from cruise ships docking at Scrabster are not visiting Thurso but rather go on bus tours. The funding model for cruises normally means that these companies make their money on selling excursion trips.


25%/30% of cruise passengers do not go on organised excursions but rather make there own trips. The majority of these cruise ships have a ratio of 1 crew to every 3 passengers so there are many crew members who also do not go on excursions. Cruise Scotland has commissioned a report on this and their AGM is due on 23rd February.


Question from Neil Buchan on who was responsible for the promotion of Caithness as a tourist destination. Colin Simpson advised that there was no one because of the restructuring of the Highland Council Caithness was part of the Highland Area.


Alex Patience advised that she had had problems with Visit Scotland over the distribution of promotional material for her artist business. Jill McNicol would meet with her to discuss this and other issues.


Paul Cariss suggested finding out which ports cruise ships were docking at before Scrabster and make our information leaflets available at the gangways to advise passengers on what they can expect at Scrabster. Caithness Horizons do carry materials for other tourism providers and organisations.


Mr Wilcock felt that an increase in wind turbines would have a detrimental effect on visit numbers. He stated that these turbines would be stuck with us for 25 years before they are pulled down.


Wind turbines are a planning issue and it is acknowledged that there is a great deal of interest in Caithness and it is really all a question of striking the correct balance Stuart Young questioned the proposal for 200 wind turbines as a balance.


Coreen Campbell enquired if these passenger numbers were being directed towards Wick but it was generally agreed that they do not have a great deal of time onshore and Wick and down the east coast was maybe just too far away.


Billy Manson enquired about the possibility of the north walk route between Durness and John O’Groats having the potential to be joined together to make a continuous route. With new access legislation in place local traills are being developed by local groups. These walks are best being driven from the bottom up.


Cllr Fernie remarked about the cliff climbing potential there is in the County which does not get sufficient advertising. This is contrary to popular belief that Caithness is flat as the coastal cliffs are forgotten about. Janet Mowat also commented on the Caithness Waybaggers who have been in existence for a few years and offer hill walking.
Neil Buchanan commented that in Spain, Germany and Denmark wind farm develop had not affected tourism.


Jenny Bruce queried if a plan for tourism in Scotland existed. It is alleged that in Inverness tourists are being directed to the west coast or directed to Orkney. Scott Armstrong advised that he had been in the Highlands for 13 years and he has neither heard nor seen evidence that this is happening. Cllr Graeme Smith advised that this was an urban myth relating to a disillusioned Caithness student working in a Tourist Information Centre 15 years previous.


It is very important that the staff in Visit Scotland give a broad sweep of what the north has to offer tourists from home and abroad. Scott Armstrong did advise that staff are tested on their product knowledge at a regular basis. Neil Buchanan was critical of Historic Scotland as in their advertising the furthest north that is mentioned is the Broch at Strathsteven outside Golspie.


Cllr Coghill spoke about the works that are due to take place on the Kessock Bridge either in 2011 or 2012 when the bridge will be single carriage for 5 months. Colin Simpson advised that he was keen to stress the positives with this work. The North would not be cut off and it might not be as big a problem as people think.


The bridge carries 34k cars each day compared with 13k when she opened first. Most of these cars are travelling at the peak times and are inbound to Inverness. The majority of tourists will not be travelling that early and will be out bound from Inverness.


A member of the audience criticised Visit Scotland web site for still advertising Caithness Glass despite this business not trading for a number of years.


A member of the audience felt that for the County to have its own identity it needed its own post code. This was perhaps something the local Community Councils could pick up on.


Generally agreed that all need to work together to promote positive messages about the County and display a can do attitude


Any Ward Discretionary Budget questions or queries should be directed to David Sutherland, Ward Manager

3. AOB


4. Questions and answers session

No further questions were raised.