Scottish Tourism Alliance boss Marc Crothall talks about the industry and the challenges ahead

Filmed in the Highlands near Spean Bridge, Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is hosting the premiere of the first episode of its 2020 online celebrations, titled Fare Well.

The Alliance was formed when the Scottish Government invited the sector to shape the national tourism strategy. We represent the voice of the industry to government and convey the ambition for growth to members, with the aim of making Scotland a world leader in tourism in the 21st century. I also sit on the board of the UK Tourism Industry Council.

Register to our daily newsletter

The newsletter mute the noise

I worked in bars and restaurants after school before accepting a management trainee position in South Africa. I worked there for five years in various hotels and a restaurant.

Chief Executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance Marc Crothal. Photo: Simon Williams

I returned to the UK in 1985 when the South African government suggested I was eligible for National Service…

Since then, my career has taken me to run the restaurant side of Alton Towers, work with major hotel groups and work in health and fitness.

I have spent 30 years working in almost every sector of the tourism industry. I don’t have a lot of degrees but I like meeting people and that has been the key to my career.

What does your typical day look like? I don’t really have a typical day. The past two years have been focused on the Covid response, but my usual day to day activities may include meeting government ministers, speaking engagements, visiting schools to encourage young people to enter the industry and attending workshops for members. I have the good fortune to travel quite a bit, representing our organization as a model of reference for other countries.

What are the factors that affect the success of the industry? Obviously, we are a people-driven industry and we need the right workforce. Migration policy therefore has an impact.

Supply chain issues are also a factor, and with the situation in Ukraine, rising energy costs are probably more of a concern than the pandemic. The rising cost of energy, like jet fuel, and the cost of living will influence people’s decisions about whether they can afford vacations, while individual businesses will see their costs rise, it is therefore a primary concern.

All of our priority areas should be considered from the perspective of socio-economic and environmental concerns.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in the industry? It’s sometimes a challenge to explain because people don’t appreciate the depth and breadth of opportunity – it offers so much more than just being a waitress or a hotel manager.

Tourism is everyone’s business, your careers can range from being an engineer on a CalMac ferry to being a digital marketer. In fact, anyone with digital expertise has huge opportunities right now.

If you’re a people person or want to be creative with food and drink, there are so many career paths. My own experience starts straight from school to a career that has taken me around the world and has been extremely fulfilling.

What innovations in the industry do you think will make the biggest difference in the future?

Technology is a big part of changing the tourism experience – whether it’s geotourism or advances in online food and drink ordering.

We already have robots in the industry that can address some of the food productivity workforce challenges. And end users can experience innovative technologies such as the Battle of Bannockburn experience or the incredible drones used in Edinburgh’s Hogmanay.

What could industry or government do differently? In terms of recognizing the industry’s importance to the economy, we still believe it can be undervalued and underestimated. But Covid suddenly shutting down so many different areas really underscored its importance. It’s not just restaurants and pubs, but all supporting industries.

We’re lucky that the Scottish government seems to recognize the importance of investment – other sectors come and go, but people are still going to go on holiday and eat out. They should continue to invest with real conviction in our value.

What are your predictions for tourism in Scotland in the coming years? Much of what we’ve seen post-Covid is a real draw to the outdoor environment, the pandemic has accelerated people’s interest in walking, watersports and adventure seeking.

There are “to-do lists” that people suddenly start to act on – perhaps when they realize that life can be short.

There is also a lot more environmental awareness.

We are also much more adventurous in our choice of food and drink, so food tourism is a growing industry. Agro-tourism is booming, implying a diversification of farms towards tourism, and there is a real increase in multi-generational travel for larger family groups.

In Scotland we also have a very strong music scene – it will be a record year for live music with hopefully over two million ticket sales.

born and raised Born in Guildford, Surrey, then lived all over the world as we traveled with my dad’s job. I have lived in Florida, Sweden, France and Switzerland, as well as stints in the UK.

Education Wellington College, then sixth form college in Oxford. In the United States, I went to school with Chris Evert, the tennis player.

Family Five children – aged 32, 29, 17 and twins at 14 – all born and raised in Scotland. Married to Adele, who is a personal trainer.

First job Milkman, driving a milk float while a friend’s father had a dairy. Then work in restaurants and bars before working in hotels in South Africa.

Favorite holidays We travel all over Scotland. but as a family we also love the sun and the hospitality of Turkey. We enjoy city breaks – we have just returned from Seville which is fabulous for food and culture.

Retirement plans Having teenagers, it will be a while before I retire, but Adele and I have discussed living in the Canary Islands. But travel will always be part of our lives.

Personal currency “Never say no to an invitation and take every opportunity.”