It took until 2018 for Dundee to even think about promoting itself, with VisitDundee being set up in preparation for the opening of the V&A in the city and the buzz that the new museum will create.
VisitDundee’s chairman Paul Jennings is eagerly preparing to capitalise on this and show off the city’s other attractions to the world. “The new V&A museum creates so much exposure, but there are plenty of other things to come and see. We just need to let the world know,” he says, adding that: “Dundee is a city that likes to surprise people.” VisitDundee gets no public funding; instead local businesses are pooling their resources, such is the hope that the new attraction is bringing.
The big day is on September 15, when the doors open on the only V&A outside London. “I often say the city chose the V&A, not the other way around,” says Philip Long, director of V&A Dundee.
“Our focus is the impact design has on everyone. Our building, by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, will hold exhibitions developed by our team here in Dundee, in partnership with our colleagues in South Kensington and with other institutions from around the world. It will also be home to our permanent galleries, telling the largely unknown international story of Scottish design.”
The V&A is Scotland’s first design museum and it is set to bring a whole new type of visitor to the city. “It will significantly expand our market opportunities,” says Jennings. “We are a small city, with a population of less than 150,000 people, but we are developing a reputation for punching above our weight.”
Dundee is indeed a small city, and an easily walkable one, but its position on the banks of the River Tay in Scotland’s east also makes it a great hub for touring. There are dozens of golf courses within a short drive, the nearby Angus Glens are ideal for walking and fly-fishing and just outside the city centre is Broughty Ferry, home to a castle and a lengthy beach. “Tayside compares with any other region in Britain,” says Jennings.
Scotland has an enviably positive reputation too. “We have to sell that Dundee is a Scottish city,” says Jennings. “Any train journey in Scotland is a spectacular one and you soak up the experience of being in Scotland the moment you get on the train. Then you cross the Tay Bridge and that really whets the appetite for the city.”
Dundee has an attractive position on the waterfront and, from summer 2018, an attractive new railway station to boot. The Caledonian Sleeper train service, which runs overnight up the east coast from London, is also getting a revamp and the new carriages should be in place well before the V&A opens its doors in September. Arriving into Dundee by train has never been so enticing.
And that waterfront makes an excellent first impression too. As well as the ultra-modern design of the V&A building, there is also Slessor Gardens, an open space that hosts large events and concerts, and the world-famous ship Discovery, which Scott and Shackleton travelled on to Antarctica.
Discovery has always brought in a significant international audience, Jennings says, with about 25% of visitors coming from overseas. It is of particular interest to the Australia and New Zealand markets and has excellent brand recognition globally. The museum here is also currently being updated, with more interactive displays and a redevelopment of many of the main galleries.
Then there is the DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts) centre with its cutting-edge exhibitions, the Dundee Repertory Theatre and the historic Verdant Works, an ex-jute mill that now tells the story of when Dundee was the powerhouse of the world’s jute industry.
The city has long been an innovator. Marmalade was invented here, as was Grand Theft Auto, and anyone familiar with British comics will also recognise Desperate Dan, another Dundonian creation, striding along the main shopping street.
“Dundee is a collaborative city, rather than a competitive one,” says Jennings. “The people here have the right attitude and intent. Having that appetite helped us to secure the V&A. Dundee’s attitude has evolved, we have moved out of the shadow of our industrial past.”
The main challenge for Dundee now is to encourage people to stay a little longer. With Edinburgh just 90 minutes away by road, day trips are all too easy. “Our goal is to convert day trippers into overnight stays,” says Jennings. “We are taking product and bringing it together in a package to encourage short breaks.”
As part of this push, the city is undergoing a renaissance in its hotel stock. Hundreds of beds are being added throughout this year, with Sleeperz opening at the newly revamped train station, Indigo opening just to the east of the city centre and a Marriott in the works for the waterfront. There is also a Malmaison in the heart of the city and recent new openings have included a Premier Inn and a Hampton by Hilton.
With the opening of the V&A, Dundee aims to bring in a million visitors over the first two years. With so much going on in the city, they can certainly expect to be surprised.
This article is from the latest edition of WTM Insights, the new quarterly magazine on global travel trends, analysis and updates from TTG Media and WTM.