The buzzword in tourism circles in recent years has been the search for authentic ‘experiential’ tourism opportunities. ‘Experiential tourism’, also known as ‘immersion travel’, allows people to focus on a place by meaningfully engaging with its heritage, people or other special characteristics.
The Southern Uplands Partnership, using funds from the Galloway Glens Scheme and D&G Leader Programme, has been leading on an innovative ‘Galloway Glens Biosphere Experience’ project, exploring the potential for experiential tourism activities in South-West Scotland. The Galloway Glens project area was chosen as the study area, with its focus on the Ken/Dee Valley, constituting one of the seven river catchments that make up the Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere.
This innovative project ran from 2018 to March 2020 and was led by a Project Officer, Laura Davidson. Laura worked with a range of businesses up and down the Ken/Dee Valley to explore the potential for experiential ‘packages’ of activities and tourist itineraries that would provide an authentic experience to participants, while also being financially beneficial to host organisations.
This week sees the publishing of the project’s final report exploring the potential for this type of activity in Southern Scotland. The report is available here: https://gallowayglens.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Galloway-Glens-Biosphere-Experience-FINAL-Report-May-2020-Web.pdf.
The report highlights a number of findings:
- The trial events were well received by attendees. In general people liked the small groups, knowledgeable group leaders and the local focus.
- The project has been successful in helping to build working relationships that did not already exist. It is hoped that these networks will continue to function and expand as a legacy of the project.
- There was an increased momentum towards the final six months of the project with more businesses approaching and expressing an interest in being involved. This highlights that there is an enthusiasm within tourism businesses to develop their offering and work together for greater benefit.
- The workshops events running in the last three months of the project proved very popular and all booked up extremely quickly. Sadly, the COVID-19 outbreak meant some of these could not go ahead but they have shown there is demand for these types of activities.
- The project has also been well placed to raise awareness of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere. A number of businesses have signed up as Proud Supporters as a result of the project and are actively talking about the Biosphere in their own marketing activity. This is a key opportunity for businesses to capitalise on a world renowned designation and use it to attract more visitors.
It is hoped that the report will be widely distributed to inform future activities in this sector.
The project was overseen by the Southern Uplands Partnership. Upon publication of the final report, Ed Forrest, Project Manager, said:
“The project has demonstrated that people really are looking for something a bit different these days. Whether it’s the personal services of a guide to show you the best places to experience the regions amazing wildlife or an opportunity to find out how some of our common flora can be used to create medicinal tinctures these type of unique experiences really celebrate the amazing people and environment of our UNESCO Biosphere and will leave people wanting to come back for more.”
The project was one of the 35 proposals supported through the Galloway Glens Scheme, a National lottery Heritage Funded initiative in the Ken/Dee Valley in Dumfries & Galloway. Nick Chisholm, Galloway Glens Project Officer, said:
“Tourism is such an important part of the region’s economy but we are still overlooked by many. This project has sought to explore ways in which we can promote the Galloway uniqueness that all of us who live here know well. This report is a great starting point that can be used by other initiatives, such as work taking place around Loch Ken, to both improve our offering and enable us to make more people aware of our special place. We are in a really difficult period but if the region is to recover from the economic damage that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused, then approaches like that trialled in this project will be essential”
McNabb Laurie, the Galloway Glens Team Leader added:
Last week saw the investment announced into the South of Scotland Destination Alliance (SSDA). The publishing of this experiential tourism report is therefore perfectly timed as it allows discussion to take place of what type of activity could be supported as we hopefully now look to build a post Covid-19 tourism sector. There is an opportunity to focus on authentic, high quality and sustainable tourism experiences which actually deliver the most benefit for the environment and people of our region. Many thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for their ongoing support.
The Galloway Glens Scheme have produced a video filmed at one of the workshops exploring the project further. This can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abeieiKSu6Q
The Galloway Glens Scheme is a suite of projects taking place up and down the Ken/Dee valley in Dumfries & Galloway seeking to connect people to their heritage, while boosting the local economy and supporting sustainable communities. It is a partnership of the public and private sectors, supported primarily by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. For more details about the scheme or the projects supported, please visit www.gallowayglens.org.