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Collaboration helps Argyll and the Isles reach global markets

The Argyll and the Isles Tourism Co-operative was formed to showcase the region and reach out to wider markets, expanding the scope of local businesses through a collaborative approach.

10 Mar 2020 | 5 minute read

When it comes to promoting your region to a global audience, collaborating with other businesses brings many competitive advantages.

Argyll and the Isles Tourism Co-operative (AITC) is a prime example of how working together can help local businesses extend their marketing reach and entice new visitors from home and abroad.

Set up in 2012 with assistance from Co-operative Development Scotland opens in a new window , AITC is a consortium co-operative and strategic destination management organisation. It’s the strategic delivery partner for the Argyll and the Isles Strategic Tourism Partnership and influences policy decisions affecting the wider area.

By using a collaborative business model that combines members’ resources, the organisation has established an impactful brand which has already persuaded international tour operators to offer new trips to the area, bringing in thousands of new visitors.

Representatives from AITC

Meet the co-op members and team

Consortium co-operatives are established when businesses come together for a shared purpose such as exporting, marketing or jointly bidding for contracts. By collaborating, businesses can pool resources and knowledge to achieve growth and drive innovation, while sharing the associated costs and risks.

The consortium co-operative model gives all member businesses an equal say, regardless of size, allowing small businesses to work together to achieve scale.

AITC brings together the 11 area marketing groups across Argyll and the Isles, from Tiree to the Firth of Clyde. These include:

  • Colonsay Marketing Group
  • Cowal Marketing Group
  • Heart of Argyll Tourism Alliance
  • Holiday Mull and Iona
  • Inveraray Marketing Group
  • Islay and Jura Tourism and Marketing Group
  • Kintyre and Gigha Marketing Group
  • Kyles Marketing Group
  • Oban and Lorn Tourism Association
  • VisitBute
  • Visit Helensburgh 

The co-operative has a development manager, Carron Tobin, and a freelance team of development agents across Argyll who provide local resource on the ground. “This is setup both lean and nimble, and has been an excellent means for engaging remote rural businesses in training and development, as well as campaign activity,” says Tobin.

How the co-operative is funded

In terms of funding, the co-operative has adopted a programme approach. By the end of the current programme in March 2020, it will have pulled together more than £1.8 million in partnership funding for core costs, capacity building and marketing, which represents a 20 times multiplier for the member subscriptions.   

AITC has already completed three consecutive funding programmes, each lasting three years, with support from Argyll and Bute Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and others. Currently, they’re in the final year of the 2017-2020 programme. With public sector funding becoming increasingly stretched, AITC is now exploring a new model incorporating direct membership, which will provide a more sustainable footing beyond March 2020.

The collaborative approach was instrumental in helping AITC secure external grant funding, which in turn allowed them to develop both a domestic and global marketing strategy – including the creation of the Wild About Argyll place brand in 2017. 

Wild About Argyll: a collaborative marketing success

Wild About Argyll opens in a new window was originally a year-long campaign aimed at raising awareness of Argyll and the Isles as Scotland’s Adventure Coast. The primarily digital campaign targeted a younger, more active audience and was the first pan-Argyll campaign to be rolled out at any scale.

The campaign centred around videos featuring cyclist, adventurer, broadcaster, documentary maker and author Mark Beaumont on a 12-day epic adventure across the region.   

“The Wild About Argyll brand was originally conceived as a way to appeal to the adventure seeker, a much younger market on our doorstep in the Central Belt of Scotland,” Carron Tobin explains.

“However, with the involvement of Mark, who captured the very soul of our region on his travels, the campaign has attracted global attention and reached an audience of millions – success which has led us to adopt Wild About Argyll as the tourism brand for the Argyll and the Isles region.”

The Wild About Argyll campaign focuses on the proximity of Argyll to Glasgow and the Central Belt. In 2018, AITC also developed a groundbreaking partnership with People Make Glasgow and key travel partners to deliver the Heart & Soul of Scotland campaign opens in a new window , which promotes the best of both the city and the coast through short break itineraries.

Benefits for business and the local area

In addition to the Wild About Argyll and Heart & Soul of Scotland campaigns, AITC has helped 550 individuals take part in 67 different digital tourism training workshops through Digital Tourism Scotland. It has also rolled out a training programme in World Host principles of customer care, with over 600 people already accredited. 

What’s more, an independent assessment of AITC and tourism growth over the last five years was undertaken late in 2016. After reviewing government statistics, it concluded that Argyll and the Isles had comprehensively outperformed Scotland as a whole in recent years in terms of tourism growth. 

Specifically, the consortium encouraged tour operators in America, Europe and Asia to offer new trips to the area, delivering a significant boost to enquiries and bookings for local tourism-related businesses. An enhanced domestic presence has also led to an increase in the number of UK-based visitors to Argyll and the Isles.   

Celebrating the West Coast

AITC’s current focus is on leading the West Coast Waters opens in a new window campaign as part of the West Coast Marine Tourism Collaboration, which brings together 22 destination organisations from the region. 

AITC led an initial scoping exercise funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise in 2018, which revealed an exceptional opportunity to develop marine tourism across the west coast. When 2020 was announced as the Year of Coasts and Waters in Scotland, it inspired a summit event in Oban which in turn led to the development of six projects focused on the theme. Five of the projects have already been funded, with AITC taking the lead on two.

At a local level, AITC is also working on product development with specialists in adventure and food and drink tourism – including new events and festivals, tourist routes and trails and tour guide programmes. It will also soon launch a new campaign called Taste Trails of Argyll and the Isles, which focuses on the outstanding seafood, whisky, gin, baking, coffee and vegan products produced in the region. 

AITC now also works with other organisations within the sector, including Food from Argyll and CHARTS. Through its member organisations, AITC represents around 1,000 tourism businesses.   

Support available for co-operative ventures

Before AITC was created, two of the players in the Argyll and the Isles Strategic Tourism Partnership already had direct experience of working in a consortium. Both saw real benefit in applying the collaborative model to achieve the marketing groups’ goals and growth ambitions.

To help realise this vision, Co-operative Development Scotland worked with the partners to prepare a feasibility study exploring whether the consortium model was a good fit. Once the decision was made, Co-operative Development Scotland guided the members through the process of formalising their relationship and setting up the consortium. This included advising on a suitable legal and organisational structure and providing models for the required documentation, including a constitution and members’ agreement.

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