Hospitality & Tourism: Susan Colquhoun, Visitor Services Manager, Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

Today we have a guest blog by Susan Colquhoun who is the visitor services manager at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway, Ayrshire.  She gives us an insight into what she does, why she works in tourism and some great advice for our students and anyone considering a career in tourism.

Susan Colquhoun

How did you get into Tourism?

I’ve worked in a number of tourism roles, from being the operations manager for the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh, working for the British Motor Museum, South Warwickshire Tourism to working in Canada.

I made the move to Ayrshire in 2015.  I love it, it’s interesting because it’s so varied.  You’re dealing with National Trust members who are very committed to tourism in the area, speaking to people who know nothing about Burns, to welcoming American bus tours.

How long has the museum been here?                                                    

The museum officially opened in January 2011.

What is the main purpose of your job as visitor services manager?

My main focus is on managing the visitor experience in its entirety at the museum.  It changes daily, but I look after the marketing and promotion of the property, down to managing the details of every visit to Alloway itself.  I’m here to coordinate and champion the experience of every visitor and help to make the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum a must-see visitor attraction, acclaimed internationally and enjoyed locally.

Describe your typical tourist visitor to the museum?

That’s just it, there isn’t a typical visitor as such.  We have lots of local people from Ayr, from South Ayrshire and more widely from the Glasgow area too.

In the summer it becomes more international with 15% of visitors coming from overseas. As the museum is owned by the National Trust for Scotland we get a lot of local members who support the centre and use their membership to visit. We have very strong links with the local Rotary Club and we get support from them.

There’s obviously a huge amount of people who come because they have an interest in Burns, that’s really what brings them in – from Burns clubs to Burns specialists or absolute enthusiasts.  We’re also lucky that we are situated in a beautiful area that people like to visit.

What would you say to encourage people to consider a career in tourism? 

I think get as much experience of different types of tourism and attractions.  Ayrshire is a bit of a hidden gem, it’s got a wealth of attractions.  There’s so much happening at the moment, the re-opening of Trump Turnberry, The Open golf tournament, the Racecourse, Culzean and Brodick Castles; there’s all sorts of different attractions on our doorstep.

For me, it’s the interaction that I get at the museum.  Every day I learn something new. I learn from the people I meet and I enjoy sharing what I know with visitors.  And that’s a really lovely thing to do.  Personally, throughout my career in tourism, you can’t beat the feeling of learning all the time, and being part of preserving something that can be shared.

Understanding how visitors tick and what they are looking for is important, and one of the ways to do that is to become a tourist yourself, travel as much as you can, if you become a tourist, you become an expert, which you can then apply to your own career in tourism.

It’s not a 9-5 job and it’s not a Monday to Friday job, but it’s really rewarding.  Get as much experience as possible, know what you’re going into, and work hard!

College is a great place to start a highly successful and rewarding career in Travel and Tourism.

Apply now for courses starting in August.

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