Scottish program helping seafood sector diversify into food tourism
A pilot mentoring program set up by Seafood Scotland and VisitScotland, as part of a “Beyond the Boat” initiative, is proving to be a hit with seafood businesses keen to diversify into the growing food tourism sector.
The program was run earlier this year as a series of one-hour webinars, and included bespoke mentoring from experts in funding, compliance, tourism insights, storytelling, digital marketing, and organizing events. The 20-plus businesses that took part also benefitted from valuable contact with successful operators in the sector.
Seafood Scotland Head of Industry Engagement Karen Galloway told SeafoodSource that inspiration for the program came from Scottish agritourism, where farmers have worked collectively to expand farm-based experiences, such as glamping (a portmanteau of "glamorous" and "camping”) and farm shops.
“The germ of an idea came in 2020, when we took a group of seafood producers from Scotland on a learning journey to Iceland, where we saw a diverse range of tourism initiatives, especially in rural areas,” Galloway said. “Over the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have started to become more interested in travelling and eating locally, but the type of experience they are seeking is not always available.”
Sometimes, Galloway said, areas will have abundant local seafood resources, but no way of galvanizing tourists to access them.
“For example, the North Coast 500 tourist route around the top of Scotland has become hugely popular, and there is a wealth of fish and shellfish grown and landed there,” she said. “What is lacking though, is any visitor information about the industry, and often, there is little seafood to eat, apart from fish and chips.”
Galloway and her team looked to see how businesses could capitalize on the demand for a seafood experience, and hit on the idea of teaming up with VisitScotland.
“We asked companies what they might want from a mentoring program and found that they wanted someone to help de-risk the process of entering new territory and adding an income stream. They needed advice on business and financial planning, how to turn an idea into reality, how to obtain relevant permissions and licenses, how to engage the local community, run meaningful events and attract visitors,” she said.
To many participants, the news that working with trade marketing bodies, destination organizations, tour companies, and guides would help to bring the visitors in was a huge relief.
“They didn’t have to do all the work themselves, they just needed to develop useful partnerships,” Galloway said.
James Krisp Camp, a langoustine (Nephrops norvegicus) fisherman from Plockton, located in northwest Scotland, told SeafoodSource that he and his partner had long wanted to sell food directly to visitors to their 37-acre property where they live off the land, but had got stuck trying to figure out how to get around all the problems. The usual market for his langoustines is Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe.
“The webinars were excellent, and Karen (Galloway) and the team have been brilliant in introducing us to some knowledgeable people who can help us to realize our dream,” he said.
Krisp Camp is now confident that he will be able to open an outdoor langoustine barbecue experience at his boathouse next March and is currently working with Visit Scotland to design a package. He is already in contact with minibus tour companies, to offer a visit, garden walk, food demo, tutorial, and “the very best seafood.”
For John Farley from Sutherland’s of Portsoy – which sells fresh fish and produces an award-winning range of traditionally smoked seafood – the mentoring program has helped to develop new ideas for generating sales and brand awareness.
“As the company is situated in what can only be classed as an idyllic coastal setting, it seemed logical we looked to tourism as another channel. The traditional two-day boat festival held in Portsoy brings in an estimated 20,000 visitors, and we want to attract visitors from further afield, so we saw ‘Beyond the Boat’ as the perfect mentoring program to help with this vision," he said.
Galloway gave other examples of successful businesses, including a lobster fisherman who lost his markets and business during the pandemic, then hit on the idea of converting a trailer and cooking up lobster for locals and tourists. Now knows as the “lobster man,” he has a created a successful new business and has recruited chefs to work for him on the van.
Galloway is keen to see the program expanded to build a community of seafood tourism businesses that learn from and support each other. The team will also be bringing more mentors and seafood businesses together in the autumn to further engage and inspire them to expand into food tourism.
“The pilot was just the beginning. There are so many great ideas out there and we are keen to help bring them to fruition,” she said.
The webinar content has been turned into a series of open access presentations, which are available online.
Photo courtesy of Seafood Scotland