Destination Falkirk 2018: The drive to promote the area steps up a gear

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Falkirk is about to get better at blowing its own trumpet in an effort to attract even more visitors to the area.

A who’s who of everyone who is anyone in the local tourist industry will be putting their heads together to come up with ideas and initiatives to bring people flocking to Falkirk at all times of the year.

At a meeting of Falkirk Council’s executive committee on Tuesday, members looked at an update on the Tourism Falkirk 2020 strategy and agreed to form a new Visit Falkirk tourism partnership organisation designed to take forward marketing activities jointly with key industry partners.

The report stated: “Given the council’s resource pressures there is a need to attract external support to continue to raise awareness of the Falkirk area as a tourism destination.

“Tourism businesses within the Falkirk area are fully engaged with the promotional activity, and as such, the establishment of a formal partnership model to take forward area promotion opportunities supported by the council has been developed.”

Organisations on board with this new formal body – entitled the Falkirk Area Tourism Partnership – include the council, Visit Scotland, Falkirk Towns Ltd, Falkirk Community Trust, Scottish Canals, Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway and a number of businesses in the area.

Falkirk Council leader Cecil Meiklejohn said: “Falkirk has become a tourism town and we have some great assets which we have to make the most of by encouraging people to come and stay here.”

Members heard the importance of tourism to the Falkirk economy continues to grow following the creation of the area’s “big three attractions” – the Falkirk Wheel, Helix Park and the Kelpies.

Now significant investment is being made in existing and new attractions, as well as investment in new accommodation to give visitors a place to stay while they are moving through the area seeing what Falkirk has to offer.

Launched back in 2015, the Falkirk area tourism strategy, entitled Tourism Falkirk 2020, sets out to make Falkirk a destination of first choice, with high quality, value for money and world-class attractions offering memorable customer experiences delivered by skilled and passionate people.

The strategy, developed by Falkirk Council, local tourism businesses and the local community, has three key targets to meet – increasing visitor expenditure in the Falkirk area by 20 per cent by 2020; increasing overnight visitor accommodation – serviced bedrooms and self-catering units – by 20 per cent by 2020 and develop the aforementioned Falkirk Area Tourism Partnership to take ownership of, review and implement the strategy.

The sustained increase in visitor numbers to the Falkirk area does require consideration of further target measures in the food and drink sector to take advantage of the area’s rich heritage.

The recent interest in the popular television show Outlander was highlighted as another potential draw.

Councillor Robert Spears, portfolio holder for tourism, said: “There is a great opportunity here. Many people are not going abroad and instead choosing to stay locally. It is good value to holiday in Falkirk at the moment.

“This is the time to tell everyone to visit Falkirk – the exchange rate’s good, so come and visit us here, we look forward to seeing you.”

According to an external report commissioned by the council, visitor numbers to the Falkirk area between 2009 and 2016 increased by 50.2 per cent, while numbers of visitors went up by 6.3 per cent between 2015 and 2016 alone.

Falkirk remained within the top three areas of tourism growth in Scotland in relation to tourism in 2016 and full-time tourism employment within the Falkirk area increased by 3.8 per cent between 2015 and 2016, with almost 2000 people now working in this rapidly growing sector.

Councillor Dennis Goldie asked if anything was being done to provide camping and caravan opportunities for people.

Rhona Geisler, director of development services, stated there were exciting moves afoot including a new business being developed called Heart of Scotland Glamping.

She added: “There is a strong feeling of optimism for the future among local tourism businesses.”

The business improvement district side of Falkirk Towns Ltd – Falkirk Delivers – has worked with the council and other tourism partners to make an application to Visit Scotland’s Growth Fund, which supports collaborative marketing projects to help increase visitor numbers.

The successful application to the fund, made in March last year, provided £18,800 to help pay for the production of a series of videos based on the family fun, cycling, heritage and the evening economy.

These videos can be viewed at via a newly created Visit Falkirk YouTube channel.

The funding was also used to create an innovative marketing campaign to encourage visitors from the north of England and other areas over a 90 minute drive away to come to Falkirk and enjoy a two or three night stay in the area.

Tuesday’s meeting also gave members an update on the Rediscovering the Antonine Wall Project, which has now entered stage two of its bid for Heritage Lottery Funding and, if successful, the project will help increase awareness of this World Heritage Site and bring even more visitors to the Falkirk area.