The South of Scotland Destination Alliance (SSDA) has announced the organisation’s first major steps to making the destination a world-class tourism region.

The body has confirmed the appointment of its inaugural chief executive and the unveiling of a new look ‘Scotland Starts Here’ campaign.

Ross McAuley, a Scot with more than 20 years international commercial, entrepreneurial and marketing experience, will take on the leadership role in May.

In addition to driving forward the SSDA’s ambitious destination development plans, which include increasing tourism spend in the region to £1 billion by 2030 and creating 6,500 new jobs, he will oversee a commitment to enabling the region’s tourism and hospitality industry to recover and flourish in the wake of Covid-19.

McAuley has a strong track record in destination management and tourism having previously led ground-breaking global tourism initiatives in the Middle East including nine years at luxury hospitality brand Jumeirah Group, followed by building a successful global travel and tourism consultancy business.

His experience in challenging the status quo, developing insights into regional and cultural behaviour, promoting destinations and increasing visitor market share will help SSDA develop the South of Scotland as a new destination for visitors far and wide.

He joins the SSDA team, led by project manager Jemma Reid, who today brought together Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders as one destination through Scotland Starts Here, a marketing campaign and information hub for all those looking to discover the very best the South of Scotland has to offer.

Now featuring over 1,000-member businesses, travel inspiration and experience finders, this campaign signals a pivotal phase of SSDA’s marketing and product development activity.

Commenting on today’s announcement, McAuley said: “The South is the hidden gem of Scotland, overlooked in the past as a destination but with a proud history, stunning landscape, great people and enormous potential to engage and inspire.

“By bringing Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders together, we’re creating a new destination with the scale to bring tourism spend to local communities, and that really excites me.”

Stretching from coast to coast across the spectacular region, Scotland Starts Here comprises a website and app that will be supported by digital marketing activity including podcasts, eBooks, videos, blogs, social media channels and advertising campaigns.

It will showcase to local communities and visitors, that Scotland’s identity and soul were born in the south – not only in location, but also as an area that has shaped the nation’s history and culture for centuries.

By promoting the south of Scotland as a new destination for visitors to discover and explore, Scotland Starts Here puts a spotlight on authentic local experiences and award-winning products and businesses.

It will increase visitor awareness of what the area has to offer while inspiring more day visits, short breaks and holidays.

The website also includes a travel partners section designed to help agents build trip itineraries and access marketing information.