Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID), Visit Inverness Loch Ness (VILN) has appointed Don Johnstone as its new CEO, due to take up the position on 2nd October.
Don Johnstone brings a wealth of tourism experience having worked at VisitScotland for over three years, latterly as a Quality and Tourism Advisor.
He is also an experienced marketer and spent over eight years raising the profile of Inverness Caledonian Thistle F.C. as Head of Marketing, Communications, Press, Social and Digital Media, where he managed to bring the club to the number one spot of the Sport Social Media Index in Scotland.
Inverness born and bred, Don knows Inverness and Loch Ness better than most and has an excellent insight into everything the area has to offer visitors as well as a deep understanding of the challenges faced by tourism operators.
Speaking about his appointment, Don said:
“I am delighted to join VILN at what is a pivotal time for the tourism industry.
“I join in October which is the deadline by which self-catering providers need to have applied for a short term let licence.
“I know that many small businesses have been struggling with this application process which has led to less than a quarter of eligible businesses within the Highland Council area submitting an application.
“If the deadline for applications is extended, then VILN will do all it can to support its members with this.
“Then there is also the prospect of a visitor levy being introduced.
“If the Visitor Levy (Scotland) Bill is passed by the Scottish Parliament, then it will give councils the power to apply a levy on stays in overnight accommodation based on a percentage of the accommodation cost.
“Again, I am keen that VILN will do all it can to ensure that members’ voices are heard when it comes to how the levy is applied and how revenue raised from it is spent.
“These are the challenges faced by tourism providers just on a national level, following all the issues that arose following Brexit, the pandemic, rising energy costs and the cost-of-living crisis, all of which presented a body blow to the industry.
“I also have clear objectives at a local level.
“Top of my list is engaging with members and ensuring that their views are represented.
“VILN is a membership organisation and our next ballot is in March 2024.
“I will know many members already from my role at VisitScotland but will make it my mission to meet and listen to as many members as possible as soon as I start so I can hear first-hand about their challenges and if we are doing enough to support them.
“I very much believe that I will need to wear two hats at VILN.
“We are a TBID so that is all about supporting businesses to improve, but we are also a Destination Management Organisation (DMO) and that is very much about marketing Inverness and Loch Ness.
“I have a lot of experience here and have watched with interest from the sidelines as the team at VILN has upped the ante on marketing the area both as a destination but also everything that has been done to promote sustainable tourism.
“I think the team has done a phenomenal job and I am keen to continue that especially looking at how we can make the area a year-round destination and how we can grow sustainable tourism in a way that benefits everybody.
“I am a great believer in the ‘3 Ps of sustainability’ – People, Planet and Profit – and for me sustainable tourism means balancing the needs of each element in order to succeed both environmentally and financially.”
Don’s appointment follows the resignation of outgoing CEO Michael Golding in July.
The board at the TBID was keen to find the right person for the role as quickly as possible given the challenges facing the industry at the moment.
Jo de Sylva, Chair of VILN, explained:
““We are delighted that Don is joining the team at VILN.
“Inverness and Loch Ness is an iconic destination and the local economy relies on tourism, so it was important to get this appointment right.
“We had some fantastic applicants for the CEO position, but Don really did stand out.
“He is a local, his track record on marketing is amazing and the empathy that he has with tourism businesses, especially in the current climate, really shone through.
“We look forward to him starting in October.”