Scotland: country of surprises

Scottish Tourist Board

Scotland is above all else a country of surprises. Where else in the world but Scotland could you hold conferences in magnificent ancient castles once inhabited by royalty?

Where else in the world but Scotland could you convene in cities founded by saints, fought over by kings and developed by some of the world's most inspired architects? Where else in the world but Scotland could you see the truly awe-inspiring scenery which captured the world's imagination in films such as Braveheart, Rob Roy and Loch Ness - the same scenery which inspired Queen Victoria to declare: "The romance and wild loveliness of everything here all make Scotland the proudest, finest country in the world." If you want to enjoy the world's most famous whiskies in the very buildings in which they were distilled and play golf in the home of golf itself or fish in the best salmon rivers in the world, Scotland is the only place to be.

For the business or incentive travel buyer looking for something special, something a little bit different but with all the state-of-the-art facilities that are expected of a world-class destination, Scotland has it all and more. You will be surprised.

The conference and incentive travel industry in Scotland is currently booming as never before. Last year, the industry was worth in excess of £370 million and that figure looks set to keep on rising as ever more delegates and incentive winners meet the friendliest race of people imaginable and are extended ceud mile failte, or 100,000 welcomes, as expressed in Gaelic, one of Scotland's ancient languages.

A conference in Scotland mixes business with pleasure; it is a great place to do business but it also offers a chance to discover a whole new cultural, artistic, culinary, scenic and sporting world.

In the last decade alone, Scotland has seen the construction of a huge selection of purpose-built conference venues and ancillary facilities. These include the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) built ten years ago in Glasgow and being further expanded this year, as well as the smaller, beautifully renovated venues found in many of Scotland's impressive castles and country houses.

The first conference to enjoy use of part of the new SECC was the mammoth Rotary International Convention with no fewer than 27,000 delegates from all corners of the world.

As the business market has grown, so too has Scotland's investment in specially constructed facilities. Recent exciting developments include the 1995 opening of the £38 million Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), Europe's first purpose-built centre with a spectacular revolving auditorium and a comprehensive armoury of the very latest technology offering truly unique conference opportunities.

Situated at the heart of one of the most beautiful and characterful capital cities in the world, within sight of the renowned castle, the facility was purposefully designed to be equally suitable for sophisticated product launches, international conventions, training seminars, annual general meetings and customised events and exhibitions.

Among the many blue-chip events held recently at the EICC have been the IBM pan-European conference and the Coopers & Lybrand European Partners Meeting.

The newest Scottish conference facility is an architecturally stunning £30 million extension to the SECC in Glasgow, Scotland's largest and busiest city. The new three-level auditorium, affectionately nicknamed 'The Armadillo' due to its unique shell-like design, is capable of accommodating up to 3,000 delegates.

Both the original SECC building and the new extension are served by the purpose-built Glasgow Moat House Hotel, itself a top-notch architectural edifice, providing a fully self-sufficient conference and exhibition facility unrivalled in the UK.

'The Armadillo' opened in autumn 1996 in time to host the prestigious American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) conference which was attended by almost 7,000 travel agents from across the globe. This was the first time in its 66-year history that the event had ever been held in the UK.

The ASTA Senior Vice-President of Meetings and Education, Chris Vranas, was so impressed with what he saw that he was moved to say: "The beauty of the country, the efficiency of the meetings trade and the facilities make Scotland one of the most desirable conference and incentive locations in the world."

On the north-east coast in the oil-rich city of Aberdeen is another purpose-built centre, the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC), which was further enhanced three years ago with the opening of The Forte Posthouse Aberdeen, a 123 room hotel linked to the AECC.

Events held in Aberdeen in recent times include a Vidal Sassoon staged fashion event and the biennial international oil and gas show, Offshore Europe.

Outside the main population centres, Scotland has no shortage of unique incentive travel and conference opportunities. From breathtaking Culzean Castle perched on a clifftop on the south-west coast to Ackergill Tower castle near Wick on the extreme north-east coast, there is something spectacular to suit every taste.

As for accommodation, Scotland has everything you would expect, and a lot that you perhaps would not. In common with most countries Scotland has, of course, a wide selection of top class international hotels. There is a also a huge array of more inexpensive options from hotels to guest houses and bed and breakfasts (B&Bs;). What you may not have expected are the welcoming farmhouses, the traditional cottages on many of the country's 790 islands, the luxury castle accommodation or the uniquely beautiful country houses.

Getting to Scotland is just as easy as getting to London, Paris or Rome. There are six main airports in Scotland and a further 12 regional airports covering the length and breadth of the country. Only an hour's flight from London, Scotland also has many direct flights from North America as well as from Europe and Scandinavia. The rail and bus network is extensive, efficient and inexpensive while the roads are fast and clear.

The good news for conference and incentive travel buyers is that thanks to the Scottish Convention Bureau (SCB), finding venues in Scotland suitable for your requirements couldn't be simpler. As the business wing of the Scottish Tourist Board, the SCB offers a full and comprehensive one-stop shop information service which is completely free of charge to enquirers and covers hundreds of venues across the country.

A network of regional convention bureaux will then be able to provide in-depth objective information and services for particular areas or venues for every aspect of your conference or incentive. The expert advice offered will allow you to find that something special that you are looking for, or maybe even something which you never knew existed.

Scotland really is a country full of surprises - all you have to do is look.

The SCB is contactable via e-mail at or by calling (+44) 131 343 1608 or faxing (+44) 131 343 1844. Alternatively, you can log into the SCB Web site on and you will begin to understand the enchanting mystery of Scotland