A BID to turn the Borders into a "world-class visitor destination" has taken a step forward.

The South of Scotland Destination Alliance (SSDA) has appointed Ross McAuley as its first chief executive, with a new marketing strategy unveiled this week too.

Mr McAuley said: “The south is the hidden gem of Scotland, overlooked in the past as a destination but with a proud history, stunning landscape, great people and enormous potential to engage and inspire.

"By bringing Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders together, we’re creating a new destination with the scale to bring tourism spend to local communities, and that really excites me."

The SSDA, set up in May last year, aims to make the south of Scotland a "world-class visitor destination". It wants to see visitors to the region spend £1bn by 2030, alongside hopes for the creation of 6,500 jobs.

Mr McAuley, who will take the reins in May, is described by SSDA as having a "strong track record in destination management and tourism".

He previously led "ground-breaking global tourism initiatives in the Middle East", according to the SSDA, including nine years at luxury hospitality brand Jumeirah Group.

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Mr McAuley went on to build a global travel and tourism consultancy business.

The Scotland Starts Here campaign, launched on Monday, includes a website and app promoting the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway as destinations for visitors to discover and explore. The SSDA says 1,000 businesses are already on board.

Mr McAuley said: “Clearly, the impact of COVID-19 has been felt far and wide through local businesses and communities while at the same time completely disrupting the travel market.

"However, I believe that tourism will bounce back strongly – I can’t wait to join the team and help develop a sustainable tourism strategy in a way that leads to opportunities for both businesses and communities as well as attracting investment.

"Scotland Starts Here is our first step on that journey taking the south of Scotland to new audiences.”

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SSDA chairman David Ibbotson said: “This is an exciting time for SSDA. With our members and region preparing for reopening later in the spring, we’re delighted to have Ross at the helm as we embark on our next stage."

VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead said: “After a year of job losses and business closures, it will take time, significant investment, funding support and strong leadership to rebuild this vital part of Scotland’s economy.

"With the right support and partnership working between agencies and industry tourism and events can lead the economic recovery and boost inward investment where it is needed most.

“There has been a renewed commitment to the south of Scotland in the past three years and the South of Scotland Destination Alliance now has the opportunity to build on this activity with the launch of the new-look Scotland Starts Here campaign and promote the wealth of experiences on offer across the region.

“Tourism is a force for good and if managed responsibly, sustains communities in every corner of Scotland, creating jobs, tackling depopulation and improving the wellbeing of everyone who experiences it.

“We look forward to working together with Ross and the SSDA to support the recovery of this vital part of Scotland’s economy.”

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Professor Russel Griggs, the chairman of South of Scotland Enterprise, said: “I am delighted to welcome Ross as CEO of the SSDA.

"Ross brings with him a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience which aligns with our bold ambitions and huge vision for the south of Scotland.

"When we announced our investment of £2.7m in the SSDA just four months after going live as SOSE, we made it clear that it was confirming our commitment at a crucial time – to look beyond COVID-19 to the future growth and sustainability of the economy of the south of Scotland."

SSDA is supported by South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE), VisitScotland, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Scottish Borders Council and also received initial funding from the former South of Scotland Enterprise Partnership.