AS local businesses vote on establishing a Tweed Valley Tourism Business Improvement District (BID), we asked the project’s Chair, Catherine Maxwell Stuart from Traquair House, why she feels businesses should back the BID

What excites you most about the Tourism BID?

As a tourism business in the valley for over 20 years, I have seen a variety of tourism initiatives come and go, predominantly led by the public sector. What is truly exciting about the BID model is that it is entirely business led and focussed on what businesses believe will bring them the greatest return on their investment. People running tourism businesses are the experts and know their local market best: they should lead such projects, with the public sector supporting and match funding their investment.

Ultimately, what is the Tourism BID trying to achieve?

Our goal is for the Tweed Valley to become a world-class activity destination. We already have a fantastic mountain bike offer, but there is also a wealth of other activities in the area for visitors to enjoy, whether coming from our own shores or beyond. We should strive for excellence in everything we do as we look to grow a strong, sustainable tourism industry long into the future.

And why is now the right time for such a project?

I have always been passionate about the Tweed Valley’s potential to succeed as a tourism destination. After all, we have a remarkable and diverse offer in an area that is easily accessible from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle. From biking to walking, running, canoeing, relaxing spa days, golf, fishing and simply enjoying our towns, there really is something for everyone – and all supported by a wide range of accommodation from budget to luxury.

So, it’s a case of keeping momentum going?

Yes. When I founded the Tweed Valley Tourism Consortium over 10 years ago, we could not have foreseen the growth in the activity market, and the regeneration of towns like Innerleithen that have seen many new businesses open as a result of the growth in mountain biking. But now is the time to capitalise on this growth and to be even more ambitious as we must be aware of increasing competition from other destinations. The Tourism BID is based on an initial five-year business plan, but this is only the beginning of a project that I believe could be successful well into the future.

In what way has the project been led by local tourism businesses?

The way in which the BID model works is that, before any business plan was created, we spent many months talking to businesses, conducting open meetings and one-to-one discussions to determine what businesses thought our priorities should be. A draft plan was drawn up which directly reflected these views, with the final business plan again revised following further discussion. The process has really allowed businesses to fully engage and feed in ideas, with many commonalities regarding the marketing and promotion of the area.

With businesses required to invest their own money, some might view the BID as an unwelcome additional ‘tax’?

There is no doubt that these are challenging times for all businesses and rates increases have significantly affected many tourism operators. However, I think it is a mark of the seriousness of this plan, its well costed projects, and its focus on delivery, that we have seen real enthusiasm from businesses who view the Tourism BID as having the potential to grow tourism in the area and genuinely deliver for their bottom line.

What happens next?

All ballot papers must be returned by 5pm on 14 November and Scottish Borders Council will announce the results within one week. If we succeed, then the real work begins; a Tourism BID company will be established as a not-for-profit limited company with the primary responsibility of delivering the projects outlined in the business plan, which will operate from April 1, 2020.