Dornoch CIC aims to bring local people and businesses together in collaboration to promote the town and surrounding area, increase visitor numbers, extend the season and maintain an excellent standard of visitor experience.
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) identified Dornoch as an area of high growth potential in 2013, which led to a team of consultants being commissioned to develop the Dornoch Economic Masterplan.
This extensive piece of research and analysis identified priority projects in the area and assigned local businesses, as well as community and public stakeholders, to champion each one.
Dornoch CIC was assigned the majority of these projects and consequently set up a series of surveys for visitors and local accommodation providers to gauge visitor perception and understand what it was that brought people to the town and surrounding areas.
These surveys confirmed the need for a themed approach to branding Dornoch, which led to the development of a logo and strap line: “Dornoch…you can do it all from here”. This was accompanied by a new website, street signage, A9 signage, and a map and a mobile app to help promote local assets more effectively.
Local assets such as the globally-renowned Royal Dornoch Golf Club (RDGC) were critical to HIE’s decision to nominate Dornoch as an area of high growth potential, and the subsequent development of the North Coast 500 route has been a tremendous bonus. However, a large part of Dornoch’s success is down to its partnership building programmes.
The local high school, Dornoch Academy, works closely with local businesses to offer meaningful development to students (hygiene certificates, first aid courses, hospitality and tourism qualifications) while also building up their understanding of local attractions and services available.
In return, businesses benefit from better trained, more knowledgeable, highly-motivated staff to improve their visitor experience and signpost each other’s products and services.
Developing and promoting events to attract more visitors has been achieved in partnership with the Dornoch Community Association, who run eight summer markets on the Cathedral Green. Local businesses come together to run the Dornoch Whisky Festival and have worked to extend the Hogmanay Street Party into a three-day programme with community events such as the Loony Dook.
In 2018 a joint promotional leaflet was created to showcase events throughout the year including weekly Pipe Band parades, Sutherland Show, Highland Games, Festival Week etc.
Dornoch CIC is a member of both the North Coast 500 group and the Cruise Liner stakeholder group, while it also holds Visit Scotland VIP status. The new Visitor Centre created in the Carnegie Courthouse is shared with the Highland Council, and Dornoch has also achieved World Host destination status (25 % of businesses have trained 50% of their staff).
HIE’s decision to commission a Masterplan Strategy has been key to securing competitive grant funding and enabling projects to be delivered as planned.
HIE also put Dornoch in touch with VisitArran, who encouraged Dornoch CIC to follows their example and ask businesses for a turnover based levy (set at 0.3% of annual turnover) to generate a joint marketing fund.
With over 80 members of the business group, the levy generated an initial £20k to kickstart the project, which received an additional £20k in match funding from Common Good. Having raised £40k, this in turn was matched with a further £40k from the Visit Scotland Growth Fund.
This enabled the implementation of a digital marketing strategy (social media, search engine optimisation, Google adverts etc), the development off-season events, and the promotion of Dornoch to a wider audience to achieve its aim of increasing bed nights and extending the season.
Dornoch CIC was also successful in its bid for £200k from the Coastal Communities Fund to implement the street and A9 signage, maps, mobile app and the development of visitor leaflets. It also enabled capacity building with WorldHost, as well as marketing and social media training for business group members.
The ability to attract such substantial awards has been key to growing the area’s tourism strategy, leading to increased visitor numbers. New businesses have been established and jobs created.
The business levy continues to provide the joint marketing fund, which ensures a level of sustainability outside of grant funding.
Dornoch CIC’s partnership with Dornoch Academy ensures young adults in the area have opportunities for professional development. A number of work placements have been created in partnership with local businesses to allow the youngsters to develop soft skills and enhance their career prospects.
Creating jobs also encourages young people to stay in the rural town, ensuring the community has a mixture of generations rather than have an ageing population.
Volunteering plays a vital role at many Dornoch businesses, such as the Historylinks museum. Volunteers engaging in community activities are less likely to be acutely affected by loneliness and social isolation, while it also offers the chance for people to increase their value in the job market. Dornoch Cathedral runs a Welcome Table for visitors, with a team of 60 volunteers
Cultivating a busy schedule of events not only benefits visitors, but ensures people living locally have a wide array of activities on their doorstep, helping tackle issues such as social exclusion.