I'M SUED FOR £7 MILLION
Tourism and conferences are big business for Scotland although I am consistently astonished at the attitude of many hotels and restaurants in so-called tourist areas where it is impossible to get a meal outside the traditional lunch and dinner hours. In some places which should know better the staff will give you a cup of tea, but no biscuit, if you make a fuss. I think our problem in Scotland is that we equate service with servility. The sooner this attitude changes the better.
These figures may well be considerably increased by events like the Festival of Visual Arts in 1996, the Rotary International conference in 1997, and the city's role as City of Architecture and Design in 1999.
In May 1978 a writer in the magazine Conferences and Exhibitions wrote, If Glasgow becomes one of Britain's major conference cities.....thanks will be due to six people. The first is Harry Diamond, Public Relations Officer of Glasgow District Council, the person responsible for convincing several committees and individuals that the city should have a full-time conference officer.
I had long been interested in conferences as a source of revenue for the city. I had spent a great deal of time the previous year doing a survey on the subject which revealed that not many people in the city appeared to know much about this very fruitful source of revenue.
There were exceptions like Hamish Taylor and his colleagues in the Round Table movement who had successfully negotiated Glasgow as the venue in 1978 for the annual conference of the National Association of Round Tables in Great Britain and Ireland when something like 6000 Round Tablers came to Glasgow. Hamish was generous enough to thank me in some of their promotional literature for my "forward-looking" help with the conference.
During my survey I was surprised at the attitude of the city's big hotels, even the ones that belonged to international groups. Their idea of promotion was to produce expensive, coloured brochures with pictures of empty rooms and hotel managers and guests wearing funny hats. The hotel people didn't seem to understand that a hotel cannot effectively be promoted in isolation. People also want to know what the location, town or city, has to offer after the day's talking is over.
I decided that another way to publicise the city far and wide was to appoint someone whose specific function would be to persuade conference organisers and tourist agents throughout the world that Glasgow was the place to come to.
One of the people who encouraged me into doing something about conferences was John McGhee, chairman of the Scottish Conference Association, who was quoted in the Glasgow Herald as saying, Glasgow has exceptionally good conference facilities but there is no one there with the sole responsibility of spreading the word among conference organisers.
Although John was also Conference Manager of Edinburgh District Council and a rival, he took the sensible view that there was enough business for us both, and that we should both go after it. In the Daily Express a writer said, Glasgow may be losing millions of pounds a year by failing to cash in adequately on the conference business.
I gathered a lot of information about the industry and eventually submitted a proposal to my council to let me employ a conference promotions manager in my department. A member of the council, Dr Michael Kelly, an economics lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, told the General Purposes Committee, "This is the best proposal we have had for a long time." The proposal was approved.
The following day a leader in the Glasgow Evening Times said my proposal was an excellent scheme which would have many spin-off benefits. Most important is that it will bring people from other cities and other countries to Glasgow to see what we have to offer.
Business will get a chance to see the city's potential and individuals who enjoy their stay may come back and bring their families. There are major cities in America and Europe which are known almost exclusively as conference centres - and there's no reason why Glasgow shouldn't cash in. The council has no choice but to give it the go-ahead. It could give Glasgow a new lease of life - and a new image.
A number of candidates applied for the Conference Manager's job and I appointed a young man named Chris Day from another department of the council. Chris worked very hard, travelled widely, and created quite an impact on the conference scene. I also encouraged him to stir up interest in the tourist business and we formed GLASGOW ACTS, the Glasgow Association for Conference and Tourism Services. The council had a tourist information hut in George Square from the early 1960s but it catered only for passers-by or people who wrote asking for information.
The real trick was to go out to the big, wide world and tell everyone what Glasgow had to offer and persuade them it was in their interest to go there. We produced brochures containing information about conference facilities, hotels, function suites, and exhibition areas and sent them all over the world. And of course we continued to write news stories about the city's attractions which also went far and wide.
Our efforts did bring a lot of people to Glasgow to find out what all the noise was about. Among them was a young lady named Yoko Hasegawa, Senior Information Officer of the British Tourist Authority in New York, who wanted to gather information for a BTA guide book being published in Japan.
Yoko spent three days in Glasgow seeing the sights. She also went for a ride in the underground which she said the Japanese were asking about. At the end of her stay in the city she dutifully commented with a smile, "Glasgow is very interesting!"
There was one exhibition in which I played the major role in bringing to Glasgow through my friendship with John Whiffen, Director of Public Relations in the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) in London. The JAPAN TODAY exhibition came to Glasgow for nine days in October 1981. It was the first exhibition of its kind in Britain and was devised to explain the Japanese way of life in the 1980s.
Mr Tadao Iguchi, director of JETRO, was widely quoted as saying they had chosen Glasgow because it was Scotland's largest and most important city, a statement which I was told later generated some indignation in the office of my opposite number in Edinburgh. The exhibition was held in the banqueting hall of the City Chambers and was a great success. Later it went to Manchester and Cardiff.
Officials from JETRO visited Glasgow a number of times in the following years. After one visit in 1988 John Whiffen wrote to me to thank me for arranging for his director general Mr Tsuneo Osumi to meet the Lord Provost and for driving him around the city. "Your excellent driving technique left Mr Osumi in a state of shock. It took him a week to recover!" John told me recently that Mr Osumi, who retired to Japan some time ago, still asks after my health and welfare. He is far too polite to say so but I get the impression he is surprised I am still alive!
Six months after Chris's appointment we were able to announce that he had brought ll conferences to the city bringing in £500,000 in revenue. His enthusiasm reached fever pitch when I sent him to an International Police Association conference in America. He made an enthusiastic and impressive presentation to the conference and later sent me a telex to say the organisers had decided to hold their 1984 conference in Glasgow. I spread widely the information that 1000 policemen from 50 countries would meet in the city, which would benefit from an income of about £200,000.
Unfortunately Chris had misunderstood a statement by the conference organisers who had decided on a different venue. The newspapers gave him a hard time because of something that wasn't altogether his fault and he resigned, quite unnecessarily in my opinion as he may have got some ragging from politicians and officials but they wouldn't have demanded his execution. They were more likely to have demanded mine. I certainly wasn't prepared to fire him as he was doing a good job. After he left me Chris and his wife Rosemary ran a beauty parlour for dogs for a while but I'm told they're now selling encyclopaedias in London.
The conference and tourist business went from strength to strength. In 1982 preparations began for Welcome Home to Glasgow 1983, the biggest tourism promotion ever mounted by the city, sponsored by the city council, Scottish Tourist Board, and the British Tourist Authority at a cost of about £130,000.
Lord Provost Michael Kelly told 25 million listeners to the Overseas Service of the BBC about the promotion. He also went to America and Canada to spread the word. News stories and advertisements appeared in most English-speaking countries, including America, Canada and Australasia in which three places there were said to be 10 million people with family connections with Glasgow and the West of Scotland.
Newspapers, airlines, travel agents, and individuals all helped us to collect many thousands of names and addresses of people abroad who had any connections with Glasgow and the West of Scotland. Fifty thousand booklets were produced listing nearly 600 events spread out through 1983, exhibitions, concerts, anniversaries, displays, and sports events among them.
At a launch in the City Chambers attended by about 1000 people a specially-produced brochure containing 70 holiday ideas featuring Glasgow and the West of Scotland was given to everyone. The brochure was produced by Harry Steven, UK marketing manager of the British Tourist Authority who had been seconded to Glasgow to help to promote the welcome home promotion. Steven also went to America and France with news of the promotion. Groups of travel agents from America and Canada arrived in Glasgow weekly. At the end of 1983 it was estimated that an extra 10,000 people had visited the city.
Among the business organisations in the city who used the promotion to help sell their own products was a whisky company who produced an attractively-boxed flagon of Old Glasgow blended whisky. The Managing Director of the company asked the Lord Provost to write a personal message to go into a presentation box and of course I got the job of writing the message. I have to admit I was rather pleased with the magnificent bit of hyperbole I conjured up.
Few potions devised by man have contained the magical properties of Scotch whisky. Throughout the centuries it has been immortalised in poetry, song and prose. Two centuries ago in the turbulent times that followed the union of Scotland and England the English tried to impose a tax on whisky, a circumstance which led to smuggling and illicit distilling on a heroic scale in the Highlands of Scotland.
It also prompted Robert Burns, Scotland's greatest poet, to write 'whisky and freedom gang thegither.' Round about the same time James Hogg wrote that if whisky were taken in the right proportions every day a body 'might leeve for ever without dying at a' and doctors and kirkyards would go oot o' fashion.' A fanciful notion but obviously written with deep sympathy and reverence. Perhaps that's why whisky is known to Gaelic speakers as uisgebeatha, 'water of life.'
In 1969 John Scott Livie, a formidable by knowledgeable figure in the Scotch whisky industry, was quoted throughout the world as claiming that even the animal feed which is a by-product of whisky-making has a magic of its own - 'It cures cows of rickets and makes blind hens see again.'
This flagon carrying the city's Coat of Arms and its contents have been specially produced for Welcome Home to Glasgow 1983, the most ambitious holiday promotion in the 808-year history of our great city, aimed principally at the estimated 10 million people in the world said to have family connections with Glasgow and its immediate environs.
I hope that when you taste the warmth of Old Glasgow it will remind you of the warmth of your welcome home, of the renewal of old friendships and the making of new ones, of the fascinating changes you have seen in old Glasgow, which have transformed it from a one-time grimy but bustling heart of a great industrial empire into the famous commercial and administrative centre, holiday base, and acknowledged European city of culture it has become.
And I hope you will be persuaded to come back again and bring others with you.
At the height of the Welcome Home promotion Mr Raymond Gillies, a Glasgow businessman, came into my office one day and asked me to let him have a copy of the list of names we had collected from the various sources because he had a scheme to promote the city overseas. I wasn't at all happy about the idea as I didn't really see how a small businessman could do anything that we weren't doing a great deal better. Mr Gillies pleaded commercial confidentiality when I asked him what the scheme was but he insisted it was a good scheme from which the city would benefit, and he was willing to pay for our list of names.
I finally gave in and sold Mr Gillies the list for, I think about £150, a purely nominal sum as the various sources which had helped us to compile the list had devoted considerable time and expense to collecting the many thousands of names on it.
A few months later the Scottish press revealed that Mr Gillies's scheme to raise £100 million by selling square inch plots of Loch Lomondside had failed, leaving Mr Gillies with, he claimed, debts of £200,000. He had formed a charity called Mission Possible International and spent £35,000 on parchment certificates to give to buyers of square inches. The £100 million was to be devoted to sponsoring Highland gatherings round world, Scottish music and art studies, folklore, Gaelic mods, and a national park, among other things.
None of this was now possible, Mr Gillies told the newspapers, because the number of names sold to him by Harry Diamond had contained a lot less than the 85,000 names he had been told. Thousands of the certificates sent abroad had been returned "address unknown.".
I felt rather sorry for Mr Gillies, who was also principal of the well-known House of Hearing, as I felt his scheme had one or two flaws, one of them being that he did not own the land he offered for sale.
About a couple of months later a Sheriff Officer appeared at my office and handed me a writ issued by Mr Gillies for damages of £7 million pounds. Lord Provost Michael Kelly, Mr Steven Hamilton, the town clerk, and Mr Theo Crombie, a town clerk depute, were also named as defenders.
This was the first time I had ever been sued, although I had been threatened often enough, and the 13-page writ in legal jargon, looked extremely intimidating. The writ said, among a great many other things, that we had entirely decimated the Pursuer's world-wide sales campaign at a stroke by communicating malicious, injurious falsehoods and imputations on the honour and on the validity of the Pursuer's title to the aforesaid property which he had properly and correctly acquired from Glasgow District Council and paid for in full, thus severely hampering the Pursuer's sale marketing promotion, leaving his entire sales campaign in utter ruin.
There were a number of hearings at which we were represented by our very able solicitor Mr Peter Balance, and eventually a sheriff told Mr Gillies that he had no alternative but to dismiss the action on the present state of the pleadings and in order to save himself further expenses Mr Gillies agreed to the dismissal. I thought the whole matter was rather sad as I thought Mr Gillies was a sincere if rather misguided man. To add to his troubles he came off second best in later battles with the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland.
None of this interfered with our promotion of conferences and tourism and the conference business was given an enormous boost by the Confederation of British Industry's annual conference which came to Glasgow in November 1983. It was the first time the event was held outside England. Sir James (now Lord) Goold, immediate past president of the CBI in Scotland, was quoted as saying, "We chose Glasgow because it is the business capital of Scotland," a remark which I used to good effect in many press releases.
In 1983, too, the Greater Glasgow Tourist Board was opened. A couple of years later came the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre and in 1987 the tourist board added its Convention Bureau to its activities. A new auditorium costing £30 million, big enough to accommodate more than 3000 people, will be built on to the SECC in time for the Rotary International conference in 1997. Edinburgh's International Conference Centre opened for business in September 1995.
The Glasgow tourist board's first chief executive, an Ulsterman named Eddie Friel, was appointed in the second half of 1983. He immediately demonstrated his perceptive observation of the world's news media by declaring on radio and television that Glasgow's merits as a tourist centre were "the best kept secret in Europe." Eddie later went to Belfast as chief executive of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and generated headlines on both sides of the Irish sea by mysteriously disappearing a few months after he got there. He eventually turned up back in Glasgow as a tourism consultant.
Ever mindful of the value of a headline-making phrase Eddie, according to the Sheffield Weekly Gazette, told a press conference in Sheffield in July 1944, that their city was "one of the best kept secrets on the globe."