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Travel and Tourism: Conflict is 'Par for the Course' for Donald Trump

To some, it’s one of the most exciting developments in Scottish tourism for decades. For others, it was the “worst planning decision in Scottish history“. Donald Trump’s flagship golf resort in Aberdeenshire has certainly polarised opinion.

Locals v outsiders, environment v jobs, even local government v central government. Who would have thought that a golf course could provoke so much controversy?

For anyone with an interest in travel and tourism, it’s worth looking at the whole saga of Donald Trump’s development of the Balmedia estate. The whole purpose of the HND Diploma in Travel and Tourism is to equip you with the skills you’ll need for a successful career in the travel industry. Part of this involves learning about the issues that affect the tourism industry in the 21st Century: issues such as the need for a sensitive approach to planning and development as well as the conflicts that can arise between local inhabitants and the big players, and the importance of planning sustainable tourism. Once you’ve earned your qualification and embarked upon your career in the tourism industry, the chances are you’ll be dealing with these issues on a regular basis.

So who were the main players in this saga and why was there so much controversy?

Donald Trump

The floppy-haired magnate is far from a shrinking violet. Essentially a self-made man, Trump made his fortune in the US real estate market. In the 1960s he quickly graduated from developing middle class rental housing to multi-million dollar business complexes. Following a shaky period in the 1980s, Trump reemerged by completing the iconic Trump World Tower and a string of luxury hotels. Forbes puts his current net worth at $3.2bn. Host of the American Apprentice, there’s even a suggestion he could be a runner for US President in the 2016 race.

Donald Trump is certainly a man who’s used to getting his own way. So when in 2006 he bought the Menie estate in Balmedie, Aberdeenshire, he no doubt assumed that it would be a matter of plain sailing to progress his plans to create what he described as “the best golf course in the world”. Not everyone shared his vision however.

The Environmentalists

A $750 million golf course isn’t particularly good news if the back nine holes happen to cut right through your nesting site. This was the case for the many kittiwakes, guillemots and little turns already in situ. For some, the Balmedie Estate was a sandy wasteland crying out for transformation into a links course. For environmentalists, it was a 4000-year-old wetland habitat of huge importance – so much so that the area had been deemed a site of special scientific interest.

The local government planning committee that convened in 2007 was faced with a choice: allow the development of the site and see the influx of lots of tourists spending lots of cash in the area, or heed the arguments of the conservationists? At the local planning stage, the green lobby won and Aberdeenshire council rejected the plans. This was far from the end of the story though…

The Scottish Government

Golf is big business – especially if you’re Scottish. For instance, a recent KPMG report suggested that golf is worth £1bn to Scotland’s economy each year – not to mention the thousands of people the industry employs.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the council’s initial decision was reversed by the devolved Scottish Executive. The Executive weighed the arguments of the environmentalists against the fact that what was being proposed was a 1,400 acre resort including two championship golf courses, 500 houses, 1,000 holiday homes, an eight-storey five-star hotel and a golf academy.

As the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond put it, “The economic and social benefits for the northeast of Scotland substantially outweigh any environmental impact”.

The Locals

It wasn’t just the green lobby whose backs were put out by the flagship development. A controversial documentary ‘You’ve Been Trumped’ was full of vignettes from locals complaining of insensitivity bordering on bullying; power lines being cut, earth being piled up next to homes and a failure to take into account local sensitivities.

Is it the whole story though? ‘Up with this we shall not put’ is usually the loudest cry heard in situations like this. But what about the hundreds of people employed in the service sector? What about the boost to the local construction industry? Over the last year, some hotels in the area have reported a 93% increase in bookings to golfers – thanks largely to the “Trump Effect”. As a tourism industry professional with a HND Diploma under your belt, you’ll be able to look at these types of issues in a nuanced way.

The Fallout

The resort has been opened for a year and there’s no denying that it looks amazing:

Donald Trump's golf course is now a reality

Donald Trump’s golf course is now a reality

 

Will its reputation be forever tarnished though? Golfing royalty – including Colin Montgomerie and Martin Laird were invited to the opening – and most attended, despite an open letter from the Scottish Wildlife Trust asking them to avoid the back nine holes which interfere with the existing wetland habitats. The long-term success of the development depends upon being able to hold championship events. What happens if the calls of the green lobby continue and sponsors get nervous?

What’s more, Trump hasn’t done himself any favours by accusing the locals of nimbyism and then ploughing millions of dollars into an anti-windfarm campaign for a development, which he says will spoil the views from his resort!

There are also a lot of people who are still unhappy about the Scottish Executive apparently riding roughshod over the local council’s initial planning ruling. A petition calling for a public enquiry into the decision attracted 19,000 signatures and comments are being invited from all concerned. One of Trump’s main opponents, Michael Forbes – who refused to sell his land to the tycoon despite considerable pressure to do so even scooped the ‘Top Scot’ award at the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland ceremony.

Whether all this controversy will eventually be a footnote in the history of a world-beating tourism and leisure site or whether it will forever blight its prospects of long-term success – only time will tell. If it was a public relations disaster – or if there really is no such thing as bad publicity.

Would You Play on Trump’s Course?

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