The Irish Open which is returning to Northern Ireland and being played over Royal Portrush has attracted major coverage this weekend for a number of reasons not least that it may just be the precursor to The Open Championship returning to the course for the first time since 1951.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board are expecting in excess of 100,000 people for the event and it is reported to be the first European Tour event to have been sold out in advance.
And Scotland will have no official presence at the event.
We asked Alan Grant of EventScotland who are looking after the golf marketing activity at European Tour events who confirmed that there is no VisitScotland presence at the event this year.
He advised that VisitScotland were looking at some online activity - through Google and PPC mainly - around search results for the Irish Open, given the amount of online traffic the event looks like it’s going to generate. This will provide a good opportunity to capitalise and direct traffic towards the VisitScotland website.
He went onto advise that "In terms of presence, our experience of the Irish Open has been very poor in recent years; primarily due to the location of the tournament (away from the main areas of population) and specifically the footfall on to the pavilion when we were present, which was in the low 100s as opposed to the high 100s/1,000s that we experience at other Tour events. Clearly it looks like this year there is a lot more media interest around the Irish Open, however we couldn’t have predicated this at the end of last year when we were planning our schedule of events for 2012."
Our concern about this is the Royal Portrush venue for the Irish Open was announced in January of this year and with the high flying Irish golfers holding Majors it was a certainty that this event would be massive. That was never in any question and all you needed to do was ask any of the Scottish based golf tour operators. How come our tourist board can spend £7 million on a cartoon yet can't maintain a presence at the biggest attended golf event Northern Ireland has ever hosted?
Too close to the launch of Brave did I hear you say? Don't want to confuse our market place with mixed messages?
Are we so leaden of foot that our golf marketing bodies cannot divert some expenditure and activity to such a high profile event in such a lucrative "staycation" market place with six months clear notice?
It is so indicative again of the lack of joined up thinking that exists within the marketing of Scotland as the Home of Golf. A whole host of vested interests with fixed plans, aims and objectives and no apparent desire to act quickly to take chances as they arise. And as much as it pains me to ask the question where was the direction from the local and national golf industry bodies on this one too? Are operators again just sitting back and expecting others to do the job for them?
Did it never cross anyone's mind when the exhibition and events schedules were being planned that The Irish Open with Clarke, McIlroy and McDowell all playing may have been worth being at? That there may have been rather a lot of golfers within a two hour reach of our product who could be persuaded to visit again?
Now whilst I think that the private sector should be leading on such promotions, VisitScotland have been doing rather a lot of competitions and offers recently. Why therefore, no thought to a data collecting exercise with the Belfast Telegraph in conjunction with Stena or P&O for a three night three round prize to Ayrshire?
China more important or a visit to Dubai more fun? Causeway Coast not sexy enough as a venue?
The idea, as we approach 2014, that we have got our golf marketing act together is quite ridiculous. We have more golf are and regional groups all over the country doing their own thing with more and more public sector finance and with less and less communication with each other.
It's increasingly now about displacement of visitors pitching destination Highland against Fife against North East against Ayrshire against East Lothian. All spending (public) money to compete against each other and none of the activity fitting into a bigger picture. Duplication and displacement. This is the new lean tourism fighting machine that the new VisitScotland leadership promised. Reality check.
When are the industry going to demand that the situation changes and take greater ownership of their own product marketing? Golf Tourism Scotland - surely it's over to you now?
July 3rd sees the National Forum hosted and organised by Golf Tourism Scotland bringing together keynote speakers from the golf industry to discuss some of the key issues and challenges facing the sector. Speakers will include Fergus Ewing, Minister for Energy, Enterprise & Tourism, John Parker, Ryder Cup Travel Services and Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland.
Let's hope the industry members attending the event have the balls to ask the questions and demand straight answers.