East Lothian Tourist Board: an insight 1980s-1994

Raymond Binnie

The East Lothian Tourist Board (ELTB) was formed in the early 1980s as a partnership to co-ordinate the work of the East Lothian District Council, the Scottish Tourist Board and all elements of the Tourist Trade, with the objective to promote tourism. The partnership was a major leap forward, as at the time of the formation of the Board there had been little success in promoting the Tourism interests as a whole.

Prior to this, four main obstacles had prevented East Lothian from maximising its tourism potential:

  • The tourist trade simply existed with the various hotels and other service providers promoting through their own attempts in marketing – no collaboration for mutual benefit was evident
  • Operators in North Berwick and Dunbar gained some, but not full, advantage from their town’s media advertising. Other smaller towns did not have this benefit
  • Much trade was derived from tourists who had arrived en route for other destinations in Scotland, with no specific desire to stay/utilise tourism facilities in East Lothian
  • In some cases, operators saw no benefit in co-operating with other local businesses to enhance East Lothian as a popular tourism destination.

The first tasks of the newly formed Board were to identify the tourism product and then encourage support from members from as many sectors as possible. The main areas of interest were identified as follows:

  • golf
  • coast and countryside
  • sites of historic interest
  • family holidays, especially in North Berwick (Dunbar had declined in popularity as the construction of Torness power station had taken all available accommodation. This led to a campaign in the early 1990s to rejuvenate the town).
  • the business traveller

With these having been identified, interested parties from each area were encouraged to serve on the Tourist Board Executive Committee. The administration and staffing for the Board was seconded from the District Council Department of Leisure & Recreation. Initially, the East Lothian Tourist Board was based in the Brunton Hall, Musselburgh before moving to Court Street, Haddington.

The administration had five main tasks to provide a proper service to the Tourist Trade, namely:

  • Administration to the Executive Committee and members
  • Operation of Tourist Information Centres
  • Liaison with the Scottish Tourist Board
  • Advice and Advisory services to members
  • Promotion and Marketing

The success of the Board was due to the dedication of the East Lothian District Council, the administration and the willingness of the members to promote and market ‘The East Lothian Tourist Board’, and not just their own business. The Board was recognised through the various ‘personalities’ who liaised with the membership and although it is difficult to list everybody the following all played their part: Len Abbey, Anna Berry, Douglas Buttenshaw, Jean Foster, Ian Fullerton, Ann Jones and Ian Wallace.

With a relatively small Tourist Board, the marketing budget had to be carefully spent. One of the main groups targeted was the golfing sector. This was due to East Lothian having an excellent range of courses to suit all types of player. The publicity received through the British Open Championships staged at Muirfield in 1987 and 1992 helped enormously to promote East Lothian as a golfers’ paradise.

Golf was not the only attraction for tourists and amongst other areas promoted were coast and countryside, the proximity to Edinburgh, East Lothian’s history, and the warmth of hospitality.

A range of publicity was produced annually and the East Lothian Board won accolades for its brochure, which featured activities available and a list of accommodation with prices. In later years, establishments were able to take advertising space bring in much needed additional revenue.

There were many issues to be addressed but at all times, through a co-ordinated approach, positive progress was achieved. However, when in 1994 the Scottish Tourist Board decided to reduce the number of individual tourist boards, East Lothian was faced with two possible options:

  • to join with Scottish Borders Tourist Board
  • to join with Edinburgh, West Lothian and Midlothian

The decision was made that East Lothian Tourist Board should become part of Edinburgh & Lothians’ Tourist Board.

This resulted in a complete new set up, new marketing objectives and, ultimately, higher membership fees. A condition of membership was the requirement to join the Scottish Tourist Board’s Grading and Classification scheme. This also required a substantial participation fee and this resulted in a considerable drop in membership numbers from all sectors of the tourist trade. The most affected group was from members operating a Bed & Breakfast business in the summer months from their own homes.

Throughout its life the Tourist Board saw many changes in customer expectations. These proved to be a challenge for every operator and I am sure the Tourist Board played its part in assisting the development of tourism in East Lothian.