The Go Rural! initiative was unveiled yesterday in a bold move to encourage city dwellers and city visitors to experience more of Scotland's vibrant rural tourism sector.
Attending the launch at Craigies Farm Shop, Queensferry were the 50 rural tourism businesses already signed up as Go Rural! members and project partners VisitScotland, Scottish Enterprise, NFU Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates.
Those gathered heard that Go Rural! will start as a pilot project aimed at attracting Edinburgh residents and city visitors to take rural day trips and short breaks to experience the wide array of rural tourism offers within 90 minutes of the city boundary. The concept will then be replicated from Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow and Inverness over the next 12-18 months.
Go Rural! was borne from the 2011/12 Scottish Enterprise Rural Leadership Programme where its four founding directors met - Caroline Millar of The Hideaway Experience, Donald Riddell of Highland Safaris, Martyn Steedman of Mains Farm Wigwams and Jane Craigie, who has a holiday letting business and a rural marketing business in Aberdeenshire.
Julia Latto from Scottish Enterprise said of Go Rural!: "This is exactly the type of entrepreneurial outcome that we have grown to value and respect from the Rural Leadership Programme. It is innovations and sound business ideas like this which will continue to build Scotland's rural economy."
In recognition of the importance of rural tourism to the Scottish economy, Visit Scotland has just approved a £33,000 Growth Fund application for the marketing of Go Rural! and Scottish Enterprise has provided a further £5,000 of support.
Riddell Graham, Director of Partnerships at VisitScotland, said “The VisitScotland Growth Fund is designed to encourage businesses to work together and we are delighted to be associated with this innovative pilot project which brings together some of the best of what Scotland’s rural tourism economy has to offer for city-based visitors in a co-ordinated fashion. Agritourism is a term already well developed in other parts of the world and it is hugely encouraging to see this initiative being led and developed from the grass roots by rural businesses. And with next year being the Year of Natural Scotland, the timing of the launch is perfect.”
Also very supportive of Go Rural! from the outset has been Graeme Dey, MSP. He said: “The Go Rural! initiative has real potential for tourism in our country and having met the driving forces behind it I have every confidence that it will be a success. As an MSP who represents a rural area I fully recognise the need to re-invigorate rural tourism and I look forward to seeing the concept being replicated across Scotland in due course.’’
Nigel Miller, President of NFU Scotland, one of Go Rural's project partners, added: "Go-Rural! is an exciting window into Scotland's countryside and a perfect way to stimulate real impetus into encouraging footfall out of the cities. There is such diversity in rural Scotland’s visitor activities and attractions, as well as in our specialist farm food producers all of which make a very compelling case to venture out of the city boundaries for the day or for a longer stay.
"Over the last few years fantastic diversified farm and rural businesses have opened up to visitors. There is a genuine focus on providing a great experience and developing unique local features and skills. Go Rural is the next stage; adding value by building a collaborative network of attractions and providing an instant information pathway for visitors," he suggested.
"The funds agreed with VisitScotland will be matched by the revenue from Go Rural! members who will pay an annual membership fee to be listed on the Go Rural Scotland! website and be involved in the host of other marketing campaigns we have planned for promoting Go Rural! to Edinburgh city," explained Caroline Millar, Go Rural! Project Manager.
"Members will also be offered business development support and training in areas such as social media, digital marketing, cross-selling and collaboration to further invigorate the Scottish rural tourism sector.
"Scotland's rural tourism is also very much about the people who run the farmhouse B&Bs, or those who make their own cheeses on a their family farm or the farmer's daughter who runs riding safaris through the Scottish Highlands - Go Rural! will focus strongly on these people and the quality and care that they offer their visitors as part of their countryside experience.
"In terms of economic benefit for the rural economy from Go Rural!, our research suggests that city visitors would spend an average of £50/head for a day out with Go Rural! members or £100/head for a short break.
"We are encouraging rural tourism owners within 90 minutes of Edinburgh to sign up with Go Rural! over the next six weeks so that they can benefit from our discounted rate of £125/annum for the first 200 founder members."
Caroline added that the full member's rate will be £200/annum from the beginning of July 2012.
The launch last night marked an important milestone for this innovative new business following the commissioning of the Go Rural Scotland! website last week.
"We've commissioned Dundee-based MTC Media to develop the Go Rural Scotland! website and its associated e-marketing tools," said Jane Craigie, responsible for Go Rural! marketing. "We selected MTC because the company has a great track-record in the web integration of social media which will be a vital component of the Go Rural! growth strategy across Scotland.
"We're planning the full launch of Go Rural! and the new website on Wednesday 4th July at Glamis Castle. ScotRail has very kindly agreed to support the launch with a free rail travel for our guests from Edinburgh Waverley Station. Their support is very fitting because one of the objectives we have for Go Rural! is to encourage Scottish city visitors to use public transport as well as their cars to visit the countryside."