Executive Summary - EQUESTRIAN TOURISM PROJECT
Undertaken by Vyv Wood Gee, Countryside Management Counsultant & Tom Costley, TNS Travel and Tourism
Several dedicated riding routes and various multi-use routes have been established in the South of Scotland, but scepticism remains about level of use and demand for equestrian tourism. The Equestrian Tourism project was set up to explore the scope and quantify the size of the potential market which could be attracted to riding routes and associated accommodation and other support services both in the south of Scotland and Scotland more generally; to profile potential users; identify visiting rider requirements and to research effective marketing mechanisms relevant to these routes. The main focus of the project was a comprehensive postal survey of riders, complemented by desk study and telephone interviews with relevant projects, accommodation providers and businesses elsewhere in the country. The project was funded by VisitScotland, Southern Uplands Partnership, British Horse Society Scotland, British Riding Clubs Area 1, Scottish Border Paths, Scottish Borders Council, South Lanarkshire Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Enterprise Dumfries and Galloway.
A total of 297 completed questionnaires were returned representing a response rate of approximately 6.5%. The project steering group agreed that overall respondents were representative of the target market and that within restrictions on data collection imposed by the study budget and timescale, the data generated was robust. The project provides valuable insights about the equestrian tourism market and the likely level of demand for self-guided riding routes in the South of Scotland, including useful pointers for individuals and organisations interested in development of equestrian tourism.
Interest in riding away from home
- Over 90% of respondents were interested in riding away from home. Those who were not were solely interested in competitive riding, restricted by lack of their own horse/transport or felt they had sufficiently good riding at home not to warrant riding elsewhere.
- The majority of respondents thought of a riding holiday as an organised trek/trail ride/instructional holiday rather than taking their own horse away from home to explore self-guided trails, which suggests need for careful phrasing of any equestrian tourism marketing initiatives.
- Over three-quarters (81%) of respondents expressed interest in riding in the South of Scotland, those who were not either lived too far away (e.g. south of England) or were solely interested in competing with no interest in leisure riding away from home regardless of location or what else was on offer.
- 83% of those interested in riding in the South of Scotland, equivalent to 67% of all respondents, were interested in self-guided riding routes.
- The majority of respondents interested in riding away from home indicated that they had family and/or friends who would be interested in accompanying them, which would effectively increase demand. Accompanying riders were most common, but with a significant number of accompanying walkers/cyclists and others interested in pursuits such as fishing or golf. Average group size is 3-4.
Awareness of self-guided riding routes
- Level of awareness of self-guided riding routes is relatively low, even amongst those keen to ride away from home. Two-thirds of respondents were unaware of any routes and only a minority able to identify specific routes.
- Not knowing where to go, lack of awareness of self-guided routes and difficulty finding suitable accommodation for horse and rider relating to riding routes are currently key limitations on riders taking their own horses on holiday.
Experience of self-guided riding routes
- Only 16% of respondents (half of those aware of self-guided routes) had actually ridden any self-guided routes, the majority in the last two to three years, numerous others having been deterred by foot and mouth or the logistics of organising a trip.
- Most of those who had ridden routes had ridden more than one, often a different route each year and/or returning more frequently to the most local route(s), which suggests that there is potential for return visits.
Preferences for riding holidays in the South of Scotland
- Approximately 40% of those interested in riding in the South of Scotland were interested in a fully organised guided trail riding holiday with everything arranged and provided.
- Over half of those interested in riding away from home were interested in half or full day rides (57%), and similarly a full week or more riding (53%) with slightly more interested in 2-3 days riding (61%).
- Weekends would appear to be most popular, endorsing general interest in short breaks because of other commitments and perception that breaks with one's own horse are not the same as a "holiday".
- Respondents expressed roughly equal interest in "petal rides" riding out from and returning to the same base, and trail riding moving between different overnight stops. Petal rides returning to the same base each night are particularly popular at weekends because of easier logistics, whereas the majority of those interested in riding for a full week or more preferred trail riding between different overnight stops, but based on long distance circular routes returning to the same base at the end of the trail.
- Preference for length and duration of ride varied from those looking for 2 hour rides of 6-10 miles for a short day trip to those unlikely to transport their horse for routes of less than 25 miles/day. Rides of 15-20 miles/day taking 4-5 hours were the most popular with both those interested in a short/weekend break or longer trail ride.
Key factors in determining choice of self-guided riding holiday
- The single most important factor determining choice of riding holiday/location or interest in self-guided routes is good off-road riding on well-signed routes offering scope for variety of pace through attractive countryside.
- Both the survey and experience elsewhere confirm that most riders prefer routes/equestrian tourism opportunities within 2-3 hours drive of home, but other aspects of accessibility to start points/parking are also important. Steep hills which might defeat some towing vehicles, roads insufficiently wide to allow other traffic to pass so trailers do not have to reverse, and the proportion of the journey on winding minor roads which could cause problems for horses which travel badly are all significant deterrents to self-guided routes.
- Other key requirements of equestrian tourism based on self-guided routes are good quality horse and rider accommodation, preferably at the same location, within easy reach of trails and at regular intervals to enable riders to book in advance according to their individual preference for varying ride lengths; picnic/rest stops/safe tying up points identified on route guide; horse-friendly gates; good maps/route guides and emergency contact numbers.
- Experienced trail guides were not rated highly in terms of factors determining use of self-guided riding routes, but over 50% of those interested in riding in the South of Scotland expressed interest in trails led by a local guide on their own/hired horses.
Interest in horse-hire
- Approximately half of those interested in riding in the South of Scotland were interested in local horse-hire, those who were not interested preferring to ride their own horses, although numerous horse-owners (particularly those from southern England) were also potentially interested in horse hire.
- The main interest in horses for hire locally is for good quality, well cared for, fit, well schooled/mannered, experienced "but not a plod", although a smaller percentage of respondents were specifically interested in safe, calm cobs, for example for their accompanying partner to ride.
- The majority of respondents indicated farmhouse or local bed and breakfast as their first choice for human accommodation. " Interest in high quality, relatively costly accommodation is very limited.
- There is limited interest in self-catering or budget accommodation, and those that are interested still expect the option of packed lunches or provision of horse bedding.
- 55% of questionnaire respondents expected to pay less than £50/day for accommodation for horse and rider, and many of these hoped to pay nearer £30/day
The initial project brief required estimates of likely levels of demand for self-guided trails, but this assumed that reliable figures would be readily available from previous research on the number of horses and/or riders within the specified catchment of two to three hours drive of the South of Scotland. In the absence of any definitive data, the project steering group concluded that any estimates would have to be based on debatable assumptions and qualified to such an extent as to make accurate forecasts questionable.
In conclusion, the equestrian tourism market for self-guided riding routes would appear to be of great appeal to certain types of rider/horse-owner, and offers scope for economic development in the south of Scotland. However, unless riders' requirements, expectations and concerns are recognised and taken into account in developing and marketing routes or other equestrian tourism initiatives, level of uptake is likely to be limited. Accommodation providers and other operators should be realistic in their expectations. Whilst there are several successful specialist British businesses who offer high quality, high cost trail rides specifically targeted at the top end of the market, the majority of riders expect to pay a maximum of £50 per day for horse and rider accommodation, and many are not prepared to budget over £30/day. Margins are therefore typically low, and season restricted from May to September.
In terms of the overall tourism market, the self-guided riding route niche is likely to be relatively small, and it is questionable to what extent the market is sufficient to support and sustain a large number of new businesses. Investment in purpose built facilities such as stabling blocks is unlikely to be justified, but farm B&Bs or other accommodation providers with suitable grazing adjacent with scope to accommodate horses and riders with minimal capital investment could potentially generate useful income on a seasonal basis. The level of such income is likely to depend on location, facilities and marketing.
The most major constraint at present in the South of Scotland is lack of a well maintained network of attractive off-road riding routes which riders can confidently enjoy linked with suitably located, readily accessible accommodation. No matter how good the routes or accommodation, level of use will be low without resource investment in appropriately targeted awareness raising through media coverage, direct mailings, word of mouth and collaborative marketing campaigns.
For a copy of the full report please contact Marion Oates, Scottish Borders Tourist Board. Tel. 01750 20555