They arrived by the hundreds. They wore orange, the colour symbolising excitement, enthusiasm, and determination as well as health, creativity, enjoyment and warmth. Most had travelled from Western and Southern Europe, yet some had even flown in from Russia.
For these 518 ladies were part of a new phenomenon in tourism, a way to discover a destination through what can best be described as competitive, cultural immersion. In teams of 2 and with ages ranging from 18 to 77, the ladies were competing in an urban raid in which they must complete as many of the 30 challenges as possible during the 8 hours of the event. But even more original, is that the challenges themselves are divided into the 5 themes of Art, Culture, Sport, Extreme and Charity. This is “Pop In the City”, a concept created in 2012 by 3 French ladies, under the company name of “Pop In Events”. Every year, they choose several new towns or cities across Europe to each host an edition of the event, with the added possibility of hosting the event again 3 years later.
Many towns and cities have already bought into the concept. These include Paris, Nice, Seville, Toulouse, Brussels, Gent, Hamburg, Utrecht, Lisbon and Geneva. Hardly surprising when one realises that each event is expected to bring a 20X return on investment and the organisation is almost entirely handled by the Pop In the City team, thus requiring little logistical effort from the host city.
So how is it that St Andrews landed such an opportunity, the first of its kind to take place in the UK?
“Well, for that you will need to ask our UK Consultant, Jonathan Findlay,” says Marie Arbeille, co-founder of Pop In the City, “he convinced us we had to do an edition in Scotland! When he recommended St Andrews to us, we were initially concerned that the town may be a little too small, but our site-visit reassured us immediately.” “Admittedly,” explains Jonathan, “we had considered other destinations such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Dundee, but St Andrews was clearly the best choice in terms of size, location, style and infrastructure.”
This was confirmed by many of the “Popins” (as the participants are affectionately known) who had previously attended numerous editions on the Continent, claiming that Pop In St Andrews was the best edition ever due to the size and beauty of the town as well as the variety of challenges, the warmth of the welcome and the proximity to nature. Never before had Pop In the City ventured this far North and yet a Scottish edition obviously had its appeal, for the event sold out within 5 days!
Thanks to BID St Andrews, the main partner, Pop In St Andrews has opened the eyes and minds of many local businesses and tourism professionals. The prestigious University of St Andrews, Fife Strategic Events Fund and Tourism St Andrews were other important partners of the event, that has triggered great cohesion and collaboration.
BID St Andrews, the University of St Andrews and Fife Council were quick to identify the appeal of the event from the destination’s perspective. Not only did it represent a significant boost to the local economy over the weekend with considerable business for the local restaurants, but the long-term benefits were also clear.
BID St Andrews manager, Jane Kennedy, says: “We are absolutely delighted with the success of the Pop In St Andrews event and thrilled we could help bring it to the UK for the first time. The impact on both the economy and the community has been incredible. Not only did our restaurants, bars and hotels all benefit from the additional visitors to the town, it was also really great to see our businesses and local community groups getting involved with the challenges, from Ice Cream Making with the Jannettas team, to lacrosse lessons with the St Leonards pupils and woodworking with The Men’s Shed. The Popins got to see St Andrews in all its glory and a great many of them I’m sure will be back to visit us under their own steam in the future.”
Scott Francis, Senior Events Manager at the University of St Andrews, says: “We were delighted to be part of this exciting event and we think St Andrews was a well-chosen place for the first UK edition of Pop In the City. St Andrews has a distinctly Scottish history, yet has an extraordinarily cosmopolitan and international modern community with over 130 nationalities residing here. This led to our visiting guests being greeted warmly and wholeheartedly by the community. Hosting the Popins at the start and finish lines, and welcoming them into some of our most exceptional and distinct venues, was a pleasure. We can’t wait to welcome the Popins back to St Andrews for years to come.”
Ann Camus, Founder of Fife Tourism Partnership says: “It is fantastic to see so many international visitors enjoying Fife’s incredible culture through Pop In the City. St Andrews is one of the Kingdom’s tourism hotspots; rich in heritage, arts, culture and sport. Fife’s tourism offering is growing year on year, and enabling more people to experience some of Scotland’s popular and hidden gems across the region. Tourism in Fife is worth over £588 million to the economy, supporting over 12,000 jobs and I am confident this will continue to increase. I hope to welcome Pop In the City to another of Fife’s beautiful cities in the future, congratulations to all 2019 participants!”
Debbie MacCallum, Chair of Tourism St. Andrews, is convinced of this: “The Pop In St Andrews event not only engaged visitors and event participants with St Andrews, but also demonstrated to them through their participation in the challenges, the depth and breadth of what St Andrews has to offer and why it is a leading global destination of choice. Our local businesses and attractions also benefitted from being part of something very unique, and they gained an insight into the extensive activities to see and do across the town which can be organised with the use of imaginative flair!”
Clémentine Charles, co-founder of Pop In the City, heads up the communications and partnerships. Looking at the figures they have achieved over the past 7 years, she has every reason to be proud. “With over 22,000 followers on Facebook and a 4 Million engagement annually,” she says, “we have welcomed over 11,000 participants and each event is split almost equally between new and repeat Popins. We have created quite a network across Europe and each edition is eagerly anticipated and generates a real buzz!”
When you consider the variety and calibre of challenges that awaited the participants at St Andrews, the buzz-factor is easy to understand. For instance, the extreme challenges are designed to take the participants out of their comfort zone and, with Catriona Morrison MBE, World and European Duathlon Champion, overseeing the run-swim challenge on East Sands, this certainly set the scene as they boldly braved the waves, chilled to a gentle 10°C. Meanwhile, in town, soldiers and musicians from The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, based nearby at Leuchars, were introducing Popins to the delights of military drill and sword dancing accompanied by the talented Sarah Hendry School of Dance. Elsewhere, the challenges included a boot camp, Highland games, bagpipe playing, reciting the Address to the Haggis, climbing, abseiling, landscape drawing, acting, beer service, ice-cream making, potato-peeling, jewellery making, Celtic knot carving, stained-glass window making, virtual reality, fire burning and breathing, Lacrosseplaying and of course several golf challenges, itself becoming an increasingly popular sport for female players.
With all of these sporting and cultural activities, it is important not to forget the challenges themed for charity that not only help to benefit the community and provide visibility to various worthy causes, but which also enhance the experience and nurture an even deeper exchange with the community. These included planting flowers at the Botanic Gardens, assembling cabinets at the Men’s Shed to give to charity, ringing the bells for St. Trinity’s Church, sorting clothes collected by Transition USTA and painting stones to help decorate the Old Harbour.
Although events are ephemeral by nature, the legacy of Pop In St Andrews promises to be long-lasting. As the inhabitants treasure the memory of so many smiling and enthusiastic orange-clad Popins. The Popins themselves are already talking of returning with their friends and families for longer holidays in Scotland. Some have already extended their stay and are currently touring Scotland.
The event has introduced a fresh approach to destination marketing and yet the ripples of excitement have only just begun. Very soon, the journalists and influencers (bloggers and vloggers) who also participated as Popins in the event will be sharing the experience with their respective audiences and social media followers. A video of the event will soon be released on the Pop In the City website, visible to all current and future Popins.