Edinburgh is the U.K.’s leading destination for overseas visitors, after London, and attracts approximately 4 million visitors each year. In 2011, Scotland’s capital city had the second highest average occupancy rate in Europe, and the highest occupancy rate in Europe in May and June 2011.
“I think often Scotland punches above its weight, in that respect,” says Stuart Ward, vice president of tourism investment for Scottish Development International. “Edinburgh is very much a cosmopolitan city.”
Scottish Development International is the specialist inward investment and trade arm of the Scottish government, covering all of Scotland. The company works closely with developers, investors, and operators to help secure a successful investment and maximize the opportunities that Scotland provides.
“Our goal through our field offices is to build solid relationships with global hotel operators and investors,” Ward says, “and to try and understand what their international strategies and what the needs of their brands are. In parallel, we work with Scottish landowners and developers, in helping to develop their proposition for hotels and resorts, and try to match the two.”
Ward shares the wealth of assets and experiences that make Scotland a viable place to develop hotels. These include golf, which is worth an estimated 200 million pounds; mountain biking (119 million pounds); sailing (101 million pounds); business tourism (817 million pounds); the cruise industry (32 million pounds); and activities and adventure tourism (759 million pounds).
He also ticks off a list of developments in Scotland. The first Residence Inn by Marriott in the U.K. officially opened in Edinburgh this year. The Courtyard by Marriott Aberdeen, scheduled to open in 2013, will be one of the first hotels to debut Marriott International’s new European prototype for the Courtyard by Marriott brand.
The Hilton Caledonian in Edinburgh is now undergoing a 20 million pound refurbishment into a Waldorf Astoria hotel, opening later this year. “Hilton had said, in rolling out the Waldorf Astoria hotel, they’re focusing on key gateway cities that show strong luxury growth potential,” Ward says. “I think that says a lot that this is happening in Edinburgh.”
Starwood’s Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa in Edinburgh has recently undergone a multi-million pound refurbishment and is now seen as the U.K. flagship. Southworth Development LLC has redeveloped a 120-acre site on the West coast of Scotland into the Village at Machrihanish Dunes, including hotels, cottages, and an 18-hole golf course. And Caribbean-based Eden Rock group is collaborating in a soon-to-be-opened, high-end traditional hunting lodge, set within a natural reserve in the Glen Affric Estate in the Scottish Highlands.
According to PKF, in the first quarter of 2012, Scottish hotels had higher occupancy and revenue levels than the rest of the U.K. The firm’s monthly hotel survey found that occupancy rose by 4.1 percent in January, compared with an increase of 2.5 percent in the regional U.K. Key performance indicators for Edinburgh from STR Global show an occupancy rate of 70.4 percent in March 2012 and an annual 2011 occupancy rate of 80.1 percent. Ward says other key cities in Scotland, such as Aberdeen, are showing strong occupancy growth as well.
Scotland expects an influx of tourists over the next few years, as the country will be hosting a number of upcoming global events. In 2014, the Commonwealth Games will be held in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup, which last took place in Scotland in 1973, will be held in Gleneagles. “As sporting events go, [the Ryder Cup] is probably recognized as the third largest in the world, from a media and TV coverage point of view,” Ward says.
The Scottish government has designated 2014 as Scotland’s second year of homecoming. (The first homecoming was held in 2009, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth.) The country will also celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, which was a significant Scottish victory in the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Scottish Development International’s key goal is to bring more high-spending international visitors to Scotland. “That’s why we have a focus on accommodation as a demand generator,” Ward says. For Scotland to compete in the global marketplace, the company is placing emphasis on quality, upscale properties. “I think the demand is there,” he adds. “It’s about building the momentum of luxury in Scotland.”