September 2012


by Jeff Heilman

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Mesmerized by the cityscape views from atop Edinburgh’s monument-rich Calton Hill, I recalled Mary Todd Lincoln’s 1869 letter stating, “Beautiful, glorious Scotland has spoilt me for every other country!” I heartily agree with Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, whose husband’s statue stands sentinel in the nearby Old Calton Cemetery. Never mind that Edinburgh is my ancestral home: There is no resisting the appeal of this World Heritage city and beautiful, glorious Scotland’s numerous other attractions.

Few countries are as possessing as Scotland. Resilient and spirited, the brave Scottish heart seems to stir the very air. The whisky warms well after the bottle is tanned; the bagpipes play long after the band goes home; St. Andrew’s Cross, the national flag, waves even when still.

This year, VisitScotland’s co-promotion of Disney/Pixar’s animated hit Brave was its biggest global marketing campaign ever. The bureau has also launched its “Winning Years” campaign, focusing attention on eight major events over the next three years, including Year of Creative Scotland (2012), Year of Natural Scotland (2013) and the 2014 Ryder Cup.

Building on the government’s original “Major Events Strategy” from 2002, the updated 2020 strategy (“Scotland: The Perfect Stage”) describes how events can help Scotland compete in the global economy. With $3.2 billion committed to venue and infrastructure development by 2015, Scotland’s roughly $1.3 billion business tourism (MICE) industry is another essential ingredient—with the U.S. a key target.

“Scotland’s warm hospitality, breathtaking landscapes and iconic history make it one of the world’s most intriguing destinations for American groups,” says Richard Knight, marketing manager for VisitScotland’s North America and Emerging Markets Business Tourism Unit. “The coupling of Scotland’s creative meeting planners with top technological resources and innovative incentive programs provides the ideal platform for programming in Europe.”

It’s an initiative strongly tied to 1776; more than one-third of the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence were of Scottish descent. “Every line of strength in American history is a line colored with Scottish blood,” U.S. President Woodrow Wilson once wrote.

Today, the U.S. is Scotland’s leading overseas visitor market, with more than 400,000 arrivals every year. On the business front, half of all foreign investment in Scotland comes from the U.S., which is also Scotland’s largest overseas trading partner. Canada also has a deep Scottish identity, from the Scots who settled Nova Scotia (New Scotland) and fanned out across the country in successive waves from the 18th century on.

With direct flights to Edinburgh and Glasgow from New York, Philadelphia and Orlando, plus service from Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver, magical Scotland is calling.

Enlightening and Enterprising
Scotland’s capital since 1437 and center of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment, Edinburgh remains one of Europe’s most influential financial and intellectual cities. Dominated by its medieval hilltop castle and arrayed with landmarks such as the Parthenon-like National Monument, the “Athens of the North,” is a feast for the eyes. Whether shopping along Princes Street, trekking the Royal Mile up to Edinburgh Castle or navigating the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Old Town and New Town, the urban explorations are as immersive as they come.

Compact and offering good value for groups, welcoming Edinburgh is also on a MICE development hot streak. Due to open next spring, the $136 million multilevel expansion of the Edinburgh International Conference Center (EICC) is a showcase of Scottish ingenuity.

Heralded for its “Plan-it Green” sustainability program, the striking venue will feature a new glass atrium and the multipurpose Lennox Suite, uniquely equipped with a moving floor system that flexibly transforms from tiered auditorium to arena-style to flat floor.

Without trams since 1956, the city’s long-anticipated new system, linking the city center to Edinburgh International Airport, should be operational by 2014.

Groups have more hotel choices than ever with an exciting mix of old standards and new arrivals. Opened in 1903, the legendary 241-room Caledonian Hilton reopens under the Waldorf Astoria flag this fall after a $38 million makeover. Also on Princes Street, the 188-room Balmoral is another Edinburgh landmark.

Across from the EICC, the 269-room Sheraton Grand Hotel and Spa, Edinburgh’s largest hotel conference and banquet venue, is coming off a multimillion-dollar refurbishment.

New to the Royal Mile are the 136-room Hotel Missoni, a five-star design hotel with three fashionable meeting rooms, and the 238-room Radisson Blu Hotel, housed in a 16th century structure and featuring event space for up to 240 people.

Edinburgh’s many cultural explorations include the newly refurbished National Portrait Gallery and the National Museum of Scotland. Reopened this summer after a comprehensive refresh, this magnificent, event-capable venue features treasures ranging from pre-Christian Iron Age artifacts to Scotland’s own Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned animal. Nearby, the Elephant House cafe is where J.K. Rowling penned the first Harry Potter books.

An hour west of Edinburgh, enterprising Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city and second most popular tourist destination. Selected as European City of the Year in 2011 and awarded the Commonwealth Games for 2014, this once gritty manufacturing powerhouse on the River Clyde continues its remarkable post-decline renaissance.

Conventions and tourism remain key components of a diversification and recovery program that began in the early 1980s. Opened in 1985, the award-winning Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) has figured significantly in the turnaround, which has seen affordable and accessible Glasgow steadily create an attractive new brand identity.

While leveraging heritage assets such as its Medieval City and splendid Victorian and Georgian architecture, Glasgow’s style makeover includes investing in the future. Set to open in 2013, the $200 million Hydro Arena will augment the SECC’s facilities. Specifically built for concerts but flexible for other uses, the 12,000-seat arena will be Scotland’s largest entertainment venue, attracting an estimated 140 events and 1 million attendees annually.

Offering six major conference hotels and some 17,000 rooms city-wide, Glasgow is also endowed with cultural riches. Opened last summer, the Riverside Museum showcases Scotland’s transport and travel heritage. Other event-capable gems include the celebrated Burrell Collection, Glasgow School of Art and the Old Fruitmarket.

Energetic and Exceptional
Set amid the gorgeous Shire countryside, coastal Aberdeen is Scotland’s third-largest city and thriving center of the country’s energy industry. With its mica-flecked granite architecture and sandy beaches providing evocative backdrops, the city hosts more than 400 events each year at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Center (AECC).

“With an excellent reputation in bioscience, global software development and knowledge-based industries, Aberdeen is the ideal choice for your upcoming event,” says Brian Horsburgh, managing director of the AECC. “As a bonus, we were declared ‘Happiest City in the U.K.’ this year!”

Set on 1,400 acres of Aberdeen dunes and bluffs, the $1.6 billion Trump International Golf Links project features championship golf (now open), with a five-star hotel among the amenities due for completion by 2015.

With its long-established Ambassador program making it a key player in international conferences, Dundee is also experiencing major development. Part of a roughly $1.6 billion waterfront regeneration project, plans call for construction of the V&A; (Victoria & Albert) at Dundee Museum, sister to the famed original in London. Set for a boldly futuristic design, the project hopes to break ground in 2013, with an anticipated opening in 2015.

“With new investments bringing a renewed vibrancy to the city, there has never been a better time to choose Dundee as a conference destination,” says Karen Tocher, business tourism manager for the Dundee and Angus Convention Bureau.

Escape Zones
While having the same landmass as England, Scotland has but one-twelfth the population, or 5.1 million people to England’s 60 million. With 15 distinct tourism regions, including those in Scotland’s rugged, remote northern reaches, scenic escapes are a Scottish signature.

Located some 40 minutes northwest of Glasgow on the southern edge of Trossachs National Park, the five-star Cameron House on Loch Lomond is a former baronial mansion featuring 128 rooms and suites, conference and event space, and two golf courses straddling the Lowland-Highland divide.

Perched on Scotland’s western Ayrshire coast, historic Turnberry Resort, now part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection, is among Scotland’s most celebrated hotels. Opened in 1906 and serving as a hospital in both World Wars, the 800-acre resort features the world-famous Ailsa golf course, four-time stage for the British Open, and 10 meeting rooms.

Most compelling are Turnberry’s talismanic attractions. Turnberry Lighthouse sits atop the ruins of Bruce’s Castle, reputed birthplace of Robert the Bruce, Scotland’s hero king, while distant Alisa Craig, 11 miles out to sea, is mystical to behold.

Located in the Western Highlands south of Inverness, the 17-room Inverlochy Castle Hotel is a meetings-ready Relais & Chateaux property near Ben Nevis, the U.K.’s tallest peak. North of Inverness, the remote Alladale Wilderness Reserve is a luxurious retreat offering a range of outdoor activities and dining from legendary chef Albert Roux. The property’s main calling card, though, is the surrounding expanse of jaw-dropping mountains, glens, lochs and forests.

Beautiful and glorious, the scenery here, like Scotland itself, will spoil you.


Regular Meetings focus International contributor Jeff Heilman is a proud member of Clan Robertson, with family lineage back to ancient Edinburgh. Virtutis Gloria Merces!


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