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Tourism body 'should be scrapped'  Sep 08, 2008

A new tourism body should be set up in Scotland, a report by an independent committee of academics has claimed.

The study by the Royal Society of Edinburgh said there was "frustration and annoyance" at the performance of the existing VisitScotland agency.

The committee behind the report was tasked with examining the economic future of Scotland's hills and islands.

A spokeswoman for VisitScotland said it was committed to promoting tourism in rural areas of the country.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh committee concluded that rural communities were at a significant disadvantage compared to the lowlands and more heavily populated areas, and made more than 60 recommendations on what could be done to address that.

The report said a new body, which it suggested be called Tourism Scotland, should be created because of the "frustration and annoyance at a lack of funding or professional tourism support from VisitScotland" among rural communities.

It went on: "Given the levels of criticism of VisitScotland, the Scottish Government should radically change the institutional structure for tourism by establishing a new national tourism organisation with combined responsibility for development, investment, marketing and training and regional tourism boards."

The committee, chaired by leading economist Professor Gavin McCrone, said the new body should be "responsible for the marketing of Scotland as a whole in domestic and overseas markets and focus on marketing those areas where there is potential that has not been fully developed".

The report pointed out that VisitScotland's marketing expenditure for 2007 was £27m - slightly more than half the £50m spent by Ireland.

It added that if the level of funding from the Scottish Government was increased, the resulting economic benefits would far outweigh the additional investment.

As well as calling for changes in the tourism sector, the report also hit out at the UK Government over its stance on European funding for farmers.

It stressed the importance of farming in hill and island communities, stating that agriculture in these areas accounted for 58% of Scotland's beef and 78% of sheep output.

But it warned: "The future viability of agriculture in the hills and islands is a major concern."

The report's authors said they were in "complete disagreement" with the UK Government policy that direct support for agriculture from the Common Agriculture Policy should be ended after 2013.

'Recent restructure'

It argued such a move "would be profoundly damaging not only to hill and island agriculture but to the welfare of communities in these areas".

A spokeswoman for VisitScotland highlighted the recent Perfect Day campaign, where a cinema advert featuring Barra was shown to hundreds of thousands of potential visitors in London and the south east of England, and the Winter White seasonal campaign, which focused heavily on rural areas and brought £35m of tourism revenue to Scottish tourism businesses last year.

She added: "Our recent restructure enables us to focus even more closely on our customers, from visitors to tourism businesses."

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said VisitScotland had a "fantastic track record" in promoting Scotland, having won a number of awards, and said there were no plans to change its remit.

He added: "The Scottish Government is taking action to help the tourism industry work towards its shared ambition of 50% growth by 2015, supporting the tourism industry across the country by ensuring the public and private sector work together."

Tourism body 'should be scrapped'

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