Dumfries & Galloway is looking to build on its links with Robert Burns to hugely expand cultural tourism in the post-Covid world.
Burns-related tourism currently generates £21m a year for the region – a fraction of the estimated £121m it earns for neighbouring Ayrshire.
A four-year action plan has been produced which explores a range of options to start closing the gap. It places a particular emphasis on the Nithsdale area which is especially closely associated with Burns.
The plan is at the heart of a specially commissioned study entitled Burns Tourism in Nithsdale which highlights that the poet wrote over 130 poems ad songs after moving to Dumfriesshire with his family in 1788.
These include celebrated works such as Tam O’Shanter and Auld Lang Syne. Others, like The Banks of the Nith and On Seeing a Wounded Hare refer to places and incidents in the region.
Burns’ leased Ellisland Farm not far from Dumfries and later moved into the town. He famously declared The Globe Inn to be his “favourite howff”. And it was Dumfries where he died in 1796 and where his mausoleum stands.
The report states that strength of this heritage means Dumfries and the surrounding area of Nithsdale “can rightly claim to be at the heart of Burns Country”.
The proposed 2021-24 action plan makes wide-ranging recommendations such as:
- Burns events and festivals celebrating his local links.
- A south of Scotland Burns and Books Tourism Trail.
- A programme of events for the 2022 Year of Scotland’s Stories.
- An annual Burns Tourism Conference hosted at Ellisland Farm.
- A Burns Tourism Innovation Fund providing small R&D grants for Burns tourism experiences and products.
- Supporting the development of around 30 Burns tourism initiatives by early 2024.
A new half-time Burns Tourism Officer is proposed to build partnerships and drive the project.
With growing interest in literary and cultural tourism and 2022 having been designated the Year of Scotland’s Stories, this is seen as an ideal moment to put renewed emphasis on the Bard and his heritage.
It also comes at a time when the charity which runs Ellisland Farm and Museum, built by Burns in 1788, is campaigning to raise funds to assure its future.
Among those who feels there is a great deal of future potential in Burns tourism is Professor Gerard Carruthers, one of the foremost authorities on his life and work and general editor of the New Oxford Edition of the Works of Robert Burns.
Prof. Carruthers, who is also University of Glasgow Head of Scottish Literature and Secretary of the Robert Burns Ellisland Trust, said: “Post-Covid, people might well have a fresh appreciation of what is on their door-step or nearby, Burns’ Dumfriesshire is one of the historic cultural jewels of the South West of Scotland.
“This is the area that witnessed Burns most mature period of creativity for 1788 onwards. Here Burns was a farmer, exciseman and militiaman. He also found time to involve himself in the local and international politics following the French Revolution, be a patron of the theatre and become one of the great songwriters of European Romanticism.
“The landscape and culture around Ellisland, Dumfries and Nithsdale played a large part in inspiring Burns’ involvement and artistry here.”
Senior councillors have expressed support for the report and hope it will lead to flourishing partnerships between business, the arts, funding bodies, government, local authorities, event organisers and Burns-related attractions.
Councillor Andy Ferguson, Chair of the Communities Committee for Dumfries & Galloway Council said: “I warmly welcome this report, which was produced after detailed research and consultation with stakeholders in the cultural and business sectors of the region.
“It is clear that there is real enthusiasm for the report and its associated action plan, which recommends a series of valuable projects to develop the legacies of Robert Burns in Nithsdale, including an annual conference and the Burns and Books Tourism Trail across the South of Scotland.”
Councillor John Martin, Vice Chair of the Communities Committee of Dumfries and Galloway added:“People are drawn to creative places – as visitors and potential residents.
“This report provides a detailed roadmap for our region to enhance our creative reputation and take forward specific projects and actions to help close the £100m economic gap we have with Ayrshire linked to Robert Burns related tourism and business development.
“It’s vitally important that all public agencies with an interest in the economic future of the South of Scotland take note of this report.”
Notes for editors
Among the many Burns-related attractions that already exist in the area are the:
- Burns Mausoleum
- Burns statue
- Ellisland Farm and Museum
- Friars Carse
- Globe Inn
- Jean Armour statue
- Robert Burns Centre
- Robert Burns House
About the report
- Burns Tourism in Nithsdale was written and prepared by David Hicks of Heritage Consulting in Edinburgh.
- The report is available at dgculture.co.uk
- The Burns Tourism in Nithsdale Study was funded through Dumfries and Galloway Council’s major festivals and events strategy. This strategy aims to make Dumfries and Galloway the best place in rural Scotland to plan, manage, deliver and visit major festivals and events. The strategy generates £8m for the regional economy from its £275,000 budget.