With summer approaching and plans for the Platinum Jubilee being finalised, the tourism trade in Aberdeenshire is poised to seize its moment.
Home to Balmoral, the royal holiday home for more than a century, the north-east Scotland destination is home to hundreds of square miles of rolling countryside, some world-class golf, a fine culinary tradition and the splendour of Aberdeen itself.
But, as Chris Foy, chief executive of VisitAberdeenshire, tells Breaking Travel News, the area remains something of a hidden gem, even to UK travellers - something he is working to change.
“I am one of the thousands of people who, over the last 50-years or so, have migrated along the path less trodden, towards the north-east of Scotland.
“Now, wild horses could not drag me away from that part of the world,” he tells Breaking Travel News editor Chris O’Toole.
“We promote our area as ‘Majestic Aberdeenshire’ and it is home to Balmoral, a location Queen Victoria referred to as her ‘dear paradise in the Highlands’.
“The Royal Family has been visiting us for 170-years, but we still feel a little hidden away, and we are working to change that.”
He adds: “This is Scotland at its most majestic, we have an abundance of wide-open spaces, seascapes and some of the most epic drives that can be had in the UK.
“There are also fairy-tale castles, including the famous Craigievar Castle.
“There is also the grandeur of Aberdeen itself, noted by many as one of the most architecturally distinct cities in Europe – and if you have had the chance to visit, you will know what I mean.
Foy was recently joined by Craig Wilson - aka the Kilted Chef - to promote the culinary offering in Aberdeenshire
To get the message out, VisitAberdeenshire has launched the ‘Make a Day of It’ campaign, encouraging visitors from across the county to give hospitality and tourism businesses in the area a much-needed boost in the run up to Easter.
The body has collated experiences and suggestions of things to do on its website, while a map builder tool enables locals and visitors to plan their time in and around the region.
Foy continues: “This multi-media campaign, supported by the VisitScotland Destination and Sector Marketing Fund, highlights the wonderful variety the region offers and illustrates how locals can enjoy a great day out here wherever they turn, with superb attractions and world class experiences only a short journey away.
“Visitors can enjoy new experiences nearby that they possibly weren’t aware of and help support the tourism sector at the same time.”
As airlines move to their summer schedules, Aberdeenshire looks set to be one of the prime beneficiaries, with new airlift coming into the market.
As Foy explains: “The airline schedules will really open up over the summer, providing more connectivity to the north-east of Scotland.
“easyJet will go double-daily from Gatwick to Aberdeen at the end of the month, which adds to the very robust schedule British Airways offer out of Heathrow.
“Loganair also offer some great connections from the rest of the UK, for those who do not have the time to enjoy the spectacular drive up through the east coast of Scotland.
“Flybe have also confirmed they will be running from Birmingham to Aberdeen, which is another option.”
The tourism chief is also quick to dispel negative preconceptions potential guests might have about visiting in Scotland – especially with regard to the local wildlife.
“We are really looking forward to the summer, as the days get longer, and it rarely gets dark.
“This is a really important part of the year for us in Aberdeenshire, we are located at 57 degrees north, so we have a long, long days.
“This is a time for festivals, for exploring the empty roads – there are some great spaces for motoring as you head up into the Cairngorms further north.
“This is a very dry part of Scotland, the mountains take the sting out of the weather for us, so we rarely get rain – you get a completely different experience and there are few midges!
“Aberdeenshire really lends itself to the great outdoors – there is such a demand to get out and explore.”
Elaine Bisset, marketing manager of VisitAberdeenshire, joined Foy in London to unveils plans for the coming summer season
Pre-pandemic, direct tourism expenditure in the north-east of Scotland contributed more than £730 million to the local economy every year, supporting almost 18,500 jobs across nearly 1,400 diverse businesses.
With the market reopening, VisitAberdeenshire is hoping the upcoming UKinbound Annual Convention can really move the needle for the region.
“We are hosting the UKinbound convention in September – which will give us a great chance to showcase the destination.
“The event attracts the leading inbound and wholesale buyers, and we have the opportunity to show them something new – we can put ourselves front of mind.
“This has the potential to be a real gamechanger for us, in terms of perceptions within the travel trade.
“We have always had a strong domestic base to the market, but what we have seen over the past couple of years is people travelling from further afield in the country in order to get to us.”
With so much happening, there is also a feeling of optimism in the hotel sector, with properties reopening after a challenging two years in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hoy adds: “Aberdeen has been an oil town for many years, there is no getting away from that and people have long memories.
“There are concerns we offer high rates and no availability, but that is no longer the case, and it has not been for a decade.
“We now offer some fantastic value, some great rates and availability across the city.
“Aberdeen is presenting a perfect storm for the travel trade to contract into the city right now and we are here to showcase that.
“We have all the main brands, as well as a lot of independent properties, many of which are reopening right now.
“Sandman Signature Aberdeen Hotel & Spa opened right before lockdown, a strong Canadian brand, and they are coming back to the market right now.
“We are also seeing more development in the countryside, some new properties there, led by the posterchild the Fife Arms.”
VisitAberdeenshire is the lead tourism agency for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.
It promotes visitor experiences in north-east Scotland to targeted audiences in the UK and overseas.
The organisation also works to develop the visitor economy through initiatives that help tourism businesses to understand, and meet demand from an ever-changing market.
Find out more on the official website.