By Andrea McCallum
SCOTLAND is not spending enough on tourism, leaving it playing catch-up with the rest of the UK.
Hotels and restaurants have been slammed for paying out less than half the UK average on modernisation.
And that has left the country’s tourism industry lagging behind the rest of the UK, according to a government report.
Its failure to keep up-to-date has made attracting new holiday makers, and bringing back old ones, much harder.
According to the Tourism Key Sector report, Scotland’s hotels and restaurants spend an average of £620 per employee on improvements – compared to the UK average of £1,309.
Northern Ireland, the UK’s best performing region, spends £1,788.
Professor Richard Harrison, who led the study, found Scotland lacked in manufacturing, construction, wholesale, retail, transport and financial services.
The Queen’s University Belfast professor said: “Northern Ireland spends almost three times as much as Scotland.
“That’s the relevant figure as it is staff development, training and marketing, and these are central areas for development in the hotel and restaurant sector.
“That’s bound to put Scotland at a disadvantage.
“Higher expenditure levels will lead to a better internet presence, and to higher levels of customer service.”
The report suggested improvements including encouraging multinational companies to open hotels and restaurants in rural and remote areas.
It said: “Given the numbers of small businesses and the wide range of sectors – including accommodation providers, visitor attractions, and tour operators – the industry is often said to be rather fragmented.
“Also the lack of national brands outside the major cities could be described as a structural weakness.”
Lewis Macdonald, a Labour member of the Scottish Parliament’s tourism committee, said hospitality outlets had a mixed record.
He said: “There’s no doubt that in some areas we need to invest in innovation – that’s critical to the future of the industry in Scotland.”
A spokeswoman for VisitScotland said: “There is some great innovation taking place in Scotland, seen with the opening of Missoni hotel and the new training hotel in Dornoch–Burghfield House.
“We also have the prestigious Scottish Thistle Award which recognizes innovation in businesses such as Cruise Loch Lomond and walkhighlands.co.uk, which excel in quality and innovation.
“The pace of change maybe isn’t as quick as people want to see but the issues are being addressed in many ways such as the Tourism Framework for Change and groups like Tourism Innovation Group.
“Scotland has everything to offer and a great balance which is very much part of its charm.”
The Scottish Government said the Scottish Enterprise’s Tourism Innovation Fund – which provides funding and advice to the industry – would address the issues in the report.
A spokesman said: “Innovation is a key driver in the government’s economic recovery plan and it is clear that it is a vital part of the way forward for boosting tourism to Scotland.”