WHEN Andrew Dalgleish, the British Ambassador to Croatia, needed an inspiring speaker to tell an audience of politicians and business people about the endless possibilities of the “Experience Economy” he of course sent for a Scot.
Alexander McCuaig, originally from near Helensburgh on the Clyde, addressed an audience of more than 430 eager participants all ready to learn from the award-winning designer, founder of the successful MET Studio in London.
McCuaig has specialised in the “Experience Economy”, the fastest growing sector in tourism, and he did not let them down.
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His company has designed everything from the Manchester United Experience to the Hong Kong Wetland Park, and MET are at the forefront of the latest design technology for this sector across the world. By common consent of the participants, McCuaig gave a unique insight into the design field, and the principles that underpin it. The Croatian media – every major outlet attended the event as the conference was seen to be vital for the country’s tourism future – descended on McCuaig who also took part in panel discussions. Last month’s event is being eagerly followed up by many of the participants including Nick Colgan, the former manager and producer of British band UB40 who has extensive tourism interests in Croatia – Colgan founded the Garden Festival in Zadar - and his own brewery.
Events like the conference are going to be vital if Croatia is to fulfil its tourism potential. More than 15 million tourists visited Croatia in 2016 and this sector makes up more than 20 per cent of Croatia’s GDP. The goal of the Croatian Tourism Development Strategy is to make Croatia a globally recognized, all-year-round tourist destination: hence the need for Experience Economy venues.
It aims for the sector to be competitive and attractive to investors, with planned investments into tourism and visitor attractions projected to total more than £500 million in 2017-18.
So could Scotland assist Croatia with its tourism development and vice-versa and more importantly should we assist a potential competitor? In the EU, it would be no problem, and committees and cooperative groups would already be established, it now being almost four years since Croatia joined the EU. Outside the EU, EFTA or the EEA, would Scotland not fear the presence of a big tourism hitter – one that is only going to get better?
Ambassador Dalgleish smoothly dealt with questions about Brexit before moving on to talk about the economy and tourism of a country he has clearly fallen in love with in a relatively short time. “Croatia is a country of great opportunities which is interesting to the British not only as a tourist destination but as a destination for business cooperation as well,” he said.
He pledged that Brexit would not harm friendly relations with Croatia and said the situation of UK citizens resident in the Croatia and Croatian nationals living in the UK is a “priority.”
He did digress on Scotland: “We believe now is not the right time to ask the people of Scotland to take a decision on their future.
“The negotiations with the EU will be carried out on behalf of the United Kingdom and then we will see where we are.”
That is the choice Scotland faces – do we stay and get the “deal” that Theresa May has promised, or do we take our own place in Europe and deal directly with friends and colleagues in Croatia and elsewhere?