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Park Talk – National Park is a ‘global brand’

28th November 2016

By Peter Argyle, CNPA Convener

I was pleased to be able to attend the Cairngorm Business Partnership’s Annual Conference at the start of the month. Held at Coylumbridge, the theme for the event was ‘Building a Global Brand’, with a clear focus on the strength of the Cairngorms National Park as a place to visit; in part because it is a National Park.

The designation is particularly important to overseas visitors, as the Visitors Survey last year showed. In this context it was extremely interesting to hear about the work that is being done by the CBP and the CNPA on building links with China. The Chinese market is growing in importance as the more traditional overseas markets – the US and Germany in particular – start to contract.

China is already the largest spender on out-bound tourism; it is estimated that by 2020 some 200 million Chinese citizens will be travelling on leisure or business. Since only 350,000 Chinese tourists visit the UK as a whole – never mind the Cairngorms – there is clear potential for considerable growth if collectively we can find ways of accessing this market.

It was good to hear about the recent visit by the CBP and the CNPA to the Xing Yi National Geo Park in Guizhou province, at the invitation of the Chinese. The Cairngorms delegation were able to discuss ways of building links between the two parks culminating in the signing of a formal agreement.

The Chinese approach to tourism in Xing Yi sees visitors being transported to the key ‘scenic places’, such as the spectacular Maling River Canyon, rather than being left to explore by themselves. There was great interest in our approach, encouraging our visitors to engage with our landscape, nature and communities by themselves. This more relaxed approach would be appealing to Chinese visitors.

Importantly the visit also highlighted the three major concerns for Chinese people thinking of visiting places like the Cairngorms. The first is language and whether they will be able to communicate effectively. The second is around food and whether they will be able to understand what is a very different cuisine to their own, while the third is about connectivity; will they have fast connections to the internet and to their mobiles?

On the language issue it was good to hear of the work being done at Grantown Grammar and Kingussie High School to teach Mandarin language and Chinese culture, learning that is now being extended to P5-7. Having local folk, within a few years, able to speak Mandarin will be a massive advantage in a competitive market.

The question over food is one that all those involved in the sector will need to be aware of; I am certain that they will find ways of providing reassurance about the excellent food and drink offering within the Cairngorms, particularly as Chinese visitors do tend to go for the high end of the market.

We heard a battery of statistics about the importance of internet connectivity, particularly through mobile devices and especially for travel. This issue will become increasingly important as a decision-making factor for visitors in the next few years and should act as a spur to everyone involved in addressing broadband speeds and mobile connectivity in the Park.