Olympic sailor encourages businesses to get on board to attract more visitors

Press release   •   Nov 14, 2018 12:45 GMT

The importance of tourism businesses engaging with the outdoor activity market was amongst the topics discussed at this year’s Highland Tourism Conference.

Keynote speaker and double gold Olympic medallist Shirley Robertson encouraged delegates to grasp opportunities to boost their businesses, including Scotland’s Year of Coast and Waters in 2020.

The annual event took place at The Drumossie Hotel in Inverness yesterday (Tuesday) and around 180 people involved in tourism from across the Highlands attended to hear thought-provoking presentations, content and workshops as well as exhibitions from a range of organisations and experienced industry professionals. 

VisitScotland worked in partnership with The Highland Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the Highland Tourism Partnership to deliver this year’s conference, the overarching theme of which was ‘Managing the Visitor Experience.’

From visitors looking to experience a niche market such as sailing, whisky or mountain-biking trails, to those visitors attending or participating in local events – there are multiple points at which ways tourism businesses can extend the Scottish welcome and enhance that visitor’s individual experience of the Highlands.

This year’s conference came hot on the heels of the announcement that travel authority Lonely Planet had selected Scotland’s Highlands and Islands amongst its ‘Best in Travel’ for 2019 – the only Scottish destinations to be included.

The workshops and presentations offered insights and practical solutions to help tourism businesses take advantage of a host of new opportunities to help increase visitor numbers.

In keeping with the themes of exploring adventure markets and Scotland’s Year of Coast and Waters in 2020, this year’s keynote speaker was double Olympic gold medallist sailor and CNN broadcaster, Shirley Robertson OBE.

Shirley is a renowned ambassador for Scotland and has much experience in extending the Scottish welcome and engaging with specialist activity markets.She made it into the history books by becoming the first British woman to win two Olympic gold medals at consecutive games.

Shirley said: “I was thrilled to be invited to the Highland Tourism Conference at such an incredibly exciting time for tourism in the region. Nailing a top ten spot in the Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel’ confirms what we all knew, especially if you love an outdoor adventure, that the Highlands are the place to be.

“But for me as a water lover I’m also delighted that 2020 has been chosen as Scotland’s Year of Coast and Waters. What a massive opportunity we have to showcase our stunning coastline, and get more people than ever enjoying one of the best cruising grounds on the planet.”

Born in Dundee, Shirley’s road to Olympic gold started at the age of seven in a Mirror Miracle dinghy which her father built from a kit in the garage of their home in Clackmannanshire. After competing in Olympic Games in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996), Shirley proved beyond doubt that she had mastered her class by winning gold at the Olympic Games in Sydney 2000. Later that year she was voted ISAF World Female Sailor of the Year, and she was awarded an MBE for her services to British sailing.

Following her success in 2000, Shirley switched to the new Yngling class and, after four years of hard work, she won a historic second Gold Medal at the Athens 2004 Olympics. The following year she was awarded an OBE, and in January 2006 became the regular presenter for CNN’s ‘Mainsail’. She continues to present and produce CNN’s monthly sailing TV programme, and works regularly for other broadcasters including the BBC and BT Sport.

Shirley shared her inspirational story of following her dreams to the Olympic podium. And with TV work taking her to marine tourism destinations around the globe, she knows more than most what it will take for Scotland to compete on the world stage.

Other speakers included adventure cyclist Ed Shoote, who spoke to delegates about engaging with the activity market; Graeme Ambrose, CEO at Visit Inverness Loch Ness who talked about LochNess 360 and Chelsea Charles, Senior Themed Years Communications and Engagement Manager at VisitScotland also presented on The Year of Coast and Waters 2020.

Workshop sessions included showing tourism businesses how they could work with the media; growing a business’s sustainability credentials and internationalising your market.

Chris Taylor, Regional Partnerships Director at VisitScotland, said: “This year’s Highland Tourism Conference built on the success of those held in previous years and I enjoyed welcoming everyone to the event.

“Recent findings show that in the last 12 years, 254 new destinations have appeared worldwide leading to significant competition for Scotland’s £5.2bn tourism industry.

“With the accolade of Highlands and Islands being included in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2019, it is more important than ever that tourism businesses and organisations in the Highlands work together to leverage our existing reputation, harness new opportunities, engage in new markets, and continue to drive the quality of the visitor experience to ensure this region remains one of the top holiday choices after a rapid rise of destinations worldwide.”

Cllr Allan Henderson, Chair of the Environment, Development and Infrastructure Committee at The Highland Council said: “As one of the key organisations involved in tourism in Highland, the Council has been involved in supporting a Highland Tourism Conference for many years and this year is no exception.

“With the recent announcement from Lonely Planet that the Highlands is one of the top places in the world to visit and the awards to the Highlands from the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund, it's all the more appropriate that we continue our support to the industry.”

Graeme Ambrose, Chairman of the Highland Tourism Partnership, said: “Once again another excellent and well-attended Highland Tourism Conference, demonstrating appreciation once again by Highland businesses of the opportunity to be able to come together annually, to network, learn and hear from inspirational speakers such as Shirley Robertson OBE, who we heard from.

“The themes of the conference were very much about the outdoors and adventure markets and how to maximise the potential of these markets, something I think we all agree is fundamental to a more sustainable Highland tourism industry.”

Rhona Fraser, head of regional development at HIE’s Inner Moray Firth team, said: “Tourism is crucial to Scotland’s economy. The Highlands and Islands has a strong tourism sector with considerable further potential to build on our region’s many strengths, including outdoor tourism, heritage and culture.

“Our focus is on helping the sector to increase productivity by taking advantage of opportunities to expand the season and integrate the use of digital skills and innovation. We are also keen to help grow the range and quality of visitor experiences, attracting a high value visitor to sustainably enjoy the Highlands and Islands unique tourism offering.

“All of this will strengthen the sector, increase economic return and make tourism a more attractive career option, particularly for young people in rural areas.”

Notes to Editors

  • Follow us on twitter: @visitscotnews
  • VisitScotland is Scotland’s national tourism organisation. Its core purpose is to maximise the economic benefit of tourism to Scotland.
  • The organisation’s core objective is to contribute to the Tourism 2020 Strategy ambition of growing tourism revenues by £1 billion by 2020.
  • This will be supported by five overarching strategies: Marketing, Events, Quality and Sustainability, Inclusive Tourism, International Engagement.
  • The organisation employs 700 people and has offices and VisitScotland Information Centres across Scotland.
  • Spending by tourists in Scotland generates around £12 billion of economic activity in the wider Scottish supply chain and contributes around £6 billion to Scottish GDP (in basic prices). This represents about 5% of total Scottish GDP
  • For VisitScotland’s press releases go to, tourism statistics and frequently asked questions go to
  • Where possible, a Gaelic speaker will be made available for broadcast interviews on request (Far an tèid iarraidh, agus far am bheil sin nar comas, bruidhinnidh neach le Gàidhlig aig agallamh)
  • For holiday information on Scotland go to
  • For information about business tourism in Scotland go to

2018 Year of Young People

  • A global first, YoYP 2018 is a part of the Scottish Government’s themed-year programme which focuses on celebrating Scotland’s greatest assets.
  • A year-long programme of events and festivals are taking place across the whole of the country for all ages to enjoy, led by EventScotland part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate. More information at
  • Local authorities, schools, youth groups and organisations are running their own YoYP 2018 activity. Search #YOYP2018 on Twitter for the latest news.
  • Young people co-designed the Year. A group of young leaders, Communic18, lead on all key decision making. More than 380 Ambassadors based are championing activity.
  • The Year is delivered in partnership between the Scottish Government, VisitScotland and EventScotland - part of the VisitScotland Events Directorate, Young Scot, Scottish Youth Parliament, Children in Scotland, YouthLink Scotland and Creative Scotland.
  • More information can be found at, searching @YOYP2018 #YOYP2018 on Twitter or by emailing