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Greetings from Scotland looks at the history of tourism

By David Porter

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The first episode of a new two part documentary series on BBC Scotland will take the audience on a jaunt through glorious archive footage and funny reminiscences to hear the story of how - after a faltering start - Scotland embraced tourism.

In 1969 the Scottish Tourist Board went professional becoming a government funded body whose remit was to promote destination Scotland.

And with that, came the responsibility of deciding what actually was good about the country.

Tourism was seen as a route to keeping jobs in the Highlands, as well as a chance to create employment at a time of rapid de-industrialisation.

But, as staff from the early days of the Tourist Board recall, it wasn’t as easy as laying out the Welcome Mat.

Many of Scotland’s hotels weren’t up to scratch.

The documentary looks at Aviemore.
The documentary looks at Aviemore.

Former staff recount that very few hotels had en-suites and the doors were often locked at 10pm and, Eddie Friel, the pioneering tourism chief who helped put Glasgow on the visitors’ map in the eighties, said the joke had been that a tourist wandering around the city was "someone who was lost."

In the Highlands, a great concrete hope had emerged in the drive to bring mass tourism - Aviemore.

Designed by ‘starchitect’ John Poulson, Aviemore rose in the Spey Valley in the 1960s, with the bold aim that it would be Scotland’s St Moritz.

At first it was a success, luring tens of thousands of tourists all year round, helped by the addition of the Santa Claus Land theme park.

The Tourist Board tried to raise standards across the industry– employing inspectors whose job it was to stay incognito at hotels across Scotland and to gauge the quality of accommodation, food and service.

Although some inspectors were chased from hotels, their assessments and finger-wagging ultimately improved hotels, guesthouses and b&bs.

Scotland’s biggest city had been a tough sell as a holiday destination.

Tourism boss Eddie Friel had an idea - bring people to Glasgow for an event and they’ll see it’s a great city.

First came the Garden Festival of 1988, with the City of Culture hot on its heels in 1990.

Glasgow was transformed from hopeless to hip.

But as Glasgow thrived, Aviemore withered and rusted away.

The lack of snow, and a dearth of investment, meant Scotland’s St Moritz crumbled.

The ice rink was knocked down, Santa was found drunk and the celebrated architect was sent to prison after a seismic corruption scandal.

In time Aviemore would reinvent itself as a gateway to the Cairngorms, but it was a long haul.

By the 21st Century Scotland was booming – the dishtowels flew from the shelves of the gift shops, standards were up and the hotels were full.

The Tourist Board had done their job.

Greetings from Scotland airs on Tuesday, April 6 on BBC Scotland at 10pm.

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