V&A Dundee & Cultural Tourism Opportunities talk

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V&A Dundee is set to open its doors in just over a year and with it Dundee will have an opportunity like never before; the chance to be seen as a world class tourism destination. Can Dundee grab this opportunity with both hands and run with it? This was a question our members were asking themselves as we enjoyed an informative and lively presentation at Discovery Point on the 25th of July.

This informal event provided a platform to hear from both Tara Wainwright about the progress of V&A Dundee and Jennifer Caswell of Dundee City Council about the initiatives surrounding Cultural Tourism, whilst identifying new market opportunities for our members to take on board.

Jennifer presented first and detailed the formation of the new ‘City Promotion’ group that would lead the different subgroups within Dundee’s tourism related departments. Tourism, Events, the Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau, City Centre Management, the One City – Many Discoveries campaign and the Dundee Waterfront Development marketing initiatives will all now feed through City Promotion as the city looks to bring a coordinated marketing strategy forward.

Creating a brand experience for the city is seen as a vital step to realising the ambition of making Dundee ‘one of the best small cities in the UK for cultural short breaks’. With the particular priority of appealing to a demographic of food loving culturists, curious travellers and other identified visitor groups, the strategy hopes to highlight the available attractions, the improved environment and create an experience far above expectations. The evidence of an aggressive marketing campaign is beginning to filter through with articles on Dundee in national and international publications becoming less of a rarity.

Jennifer emphasised the importance of the digital strategy and the positive impact it could have in shining the spotlight down on the Dundee and Angus region. Bringing our members on board with a unified campaign to market the area can only help to further our attractiveness to visitors from home and overseas. If the result is more visitors and more visitors equates to more business, then we should look to engage with and support with the marketers to push that message home.

But many challenges lie ahead and one of those is the identity issue that sees us as Dundee and Angus, as one of the Tay Cities and as part of the local authority led East Scotland Tourism Partnership that includes Dundee, Angus, Perth and Fife. For DAVAA members the definition is clear; we are Dundee and Angus. But as Jennifer then went on to talk about the regional east coast partnership and their key objectives the need for a, dare I say it, destination marketing organisation to bring the assets of the City of Dundee and the County of Angus together under one umbrella is something many of our members will see as the logical choice. The question was recently put to our members in a survey; do you want to see a joint Dundee and Angus tourism strategy? A resounding 94% answered Yes.

But as the four Council driven ESTP struggles to find the commonality that will define four diverse regions as one, should Dundee and Angus, the two of the four with the poorest visitor numbers historically move ahead together? Given the timescale involved any such proposition misses the perfect window of 2018 –  year of the V&A, but could serve as a project to secure a legacy for continued growth locally and could tie in nicely with any European Capital of Culture bid.

A lively Q and A followed and Jennifer did admirably in answering our questions (she had to field a diverse array of them and being a representative of the Council does have a few drawbacks).

Tara Wainwright, the head of marketing for V&A Dundee, was next to present. The anticipation towards the opening of the new museum is beginning to grow throughout the accommodation sector and as we looked out at the building itself, across the bows of the RRS Discovery, our members were eager to hear about the developments to come.

V&A Dundee (don’t add a ‘the’ at the front) will be the first design museum in the UK outside of London. It will also be the first V&A anywhere in the world outside of London.  Tara stressed the importance of these two statements and it will possibly be two sentences that we will begin to repeat to our guests more and more as the world casts a bigger eye over Dundee.

This design museum focussing on Scottish design will create an opportunity for us to market ourselves as never before. Dundee and Angus has had to compete with the standard tourist view of Scotland as the land of the Highlands, Loch Ness, the Isle of Skye and festival city Edinburgh.  A well trod circuit around a country that totally misses the east coast (except St Andrews of course!). Add the new zeitgeist of the NC500 and many a potential visitor doesn’t even consider our wonderful city on the Tay or the delights that Angus holds. The sheer presence that V&A Dundee might create could muscle in on territory reserved solely for Edinburgh and Glasgow museums. ‘A new attraction in a new destination’ might bring even shake the foundations of the familiar circuit route and grow a whole new branch of discovery for many into Dundee and Angus.

In a way the celebration of all Scottish design will bring all of Scotland into Dundee. Rennie Mackintosh design could never be advertised here but if V&A Dundee add say ‘a Rennie Mackintosh tea room’, all of a sudden there lies the opportunity to appeal to any RM devotee who until 2018 would’ve made a bee line for Glasgow (and then go to the Highlands). Add again Tara’s news of 2 – 3 touring exhibitions per year and then it’s not just Scotland we’re bringing to Dundee it’s the rest of the world too. A pop culture explosion to pique the interest of the many and not necessarily the cultured few.

Accessibility is all important too and we hope that V&A Dundee really isn’t a ‘9 till 5’ attraction and it can acknowledge the real desire from our summer visitors to experience culture during daylight hours, not office hours. Let’s finally take advantage of our latitude and use the extended sunlight to shine prosperity into the City’s evenings economy.

We must also acknowledge the commitment given to bring an £80 million attraction to Dundee and we must reward it with a genuine effort to spread the news of what V&A Dundee as well as the rest Dundee and Angus can offer any visitor to the region.

DAVAA wishes to thank both Jennifer Caswell and Tara Wainwright for presenting to our membership and Kim Adamson of Dundee Heritage Trust and her staff for providing an excellent venue to host it.

This event was free to our members.