chief executive's statement
By now, there can be few people who have not heard of Brave, or have not seen Merida, its flame-haired heroine, firing her arrows on television, in newspapers or, of course, on our cinema screens.
But far beyond the considerable and hugely exciting impact of the Disney•Pixar animated blockbuster, this has been a memorable year for VisitScotland.
In a year that has seen the number of visitors to Scotland increase by 5 per cent, despite the continued effects of the recession, a greater emphasis has been placed on partnerships and working together as both the public and private sectors strive to meet the economic challenges before us.
Our partnership working has gone right to the heart of Government. Working with our partners in the Strategic Forum, which includes Scottish Enterprise, Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council, we have been looking at ways to effect efficiencies through shared services; exploring ways of utilising skills and expertise, allowing other agencies to benefit.
Founding members, including Highlands & Islands Enterprise and VisitScotland, have set up a research working group, where we have shared projects, outcomes and, in terms of joint initiatives, costs, making projects more efficient and cost effective.
We are also working with partners such as Historic Scotland on digital, marketing and procurement projects, as well as Scottish Natural Heritage, in relation to finance and human resources.
Underpinning this kind of activity is one of our core strengths - partnership working, not just working with industry, but across the public sector.
This will continue to be a core strategic theme going into the next budget period. It's about cost efficiency - and protecting our core activities.
Highlights of 2012, the Year of Creative Scotland, have been many, and it's great to see that core projects such as VisitScotland expo, our flagship travel trade show, continue to be hugely successful. There was a great turnout in terms of suppliers and buyers, with members of Scotland's tourism industry getting the chance to meet hundreds of tour operators from all over the world. There is always a terrific buzz around VisitScotland expo and I am delighted that next year's event in Glasgow has already sold out.
Another great success story has been the Conference Bid Fund, launched by Tourism Minister, Fergus Ewing, in March.
Over the next three years, the Fund will provide £2 million to local authorities to attract more business tourists to Scotland.
In terms of marketing, our Surprise Yourself campaign has gone from strength to strength, while Local Marketing's Explore campaign has also been hugely successful.
Our EventScotland team has also continued to perform exceptionally well, helping to secure events such as the World Orienteering Championships and the FEI European Eventing Championships in 2015. Events such as these will ensure that Scotland's reputation as the perfect stage will continue long after we host the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Our unique partnership with Disney•Pixar was a fantastic opportunity that was grabbed with both hands, not only by the industry, but by our world-class marketing teams. It is testament to this organisation that Disney, the world's largest entertainment company, was so keen to go into partnership with VisitScotland. The success of Brave in the cinemas is undoubted but, more importantly for us, the success of aligning ourselves with the movie is beginning to come through and I am delighted to see that Adventures by Disney have, for the first time, introduced a Scotland tour - The Brave Adventure - in their programme.
Brave has captured the imagination and brought Scotland to a whole new generation. This is something we need to build on in the years to come.
As we turn our attention to 2013, the Year of Natural Scotland plays to Scotland's strengths as a destination - from our natural and built heritage, all the way to our world-renowned food and drink.
This just goes to show that tourism is truly at the heart of the visitor economy and its impact is felt the length and breadth of the country in both urban and rural areas.
There is no doubt that the climate continues to be challenging but I'm absolutely certain that, if we continue to harness the platforms created by the Winning Years and continue to develop strong partnerships, we will generate sustainable economic growth for the benefit of Scotland.