David Johnstone: Cultural feast just the starter for visitors

TOURISTS can take their pick from a world-class offering, says David Johnstone

Scotland should be tremendously proud of what it has to offer in terms of tourism. Picture: TSPL
Scotland should be tremendously proud of what it has to offer in terms of tourism. Picture: TSPL

When the multitude of visitors descend enthusiastically on our capital city for the Edinburgh Festival, they will arrive not only to enjoy a cultural feast but also to celebrate Scotland.

It goes without saying how much this great influx of people means to the Edinburgh and the wider Scottish economies in which tourism plays such a critical role.

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Scotland should be tremendously proud of what it has to offer in terms of tourism. Breathtaking scenery, unrivalled outdoor recreation, outstanding built and natural heritage as well as food, drink and entertainment are all part of our world-class offering.

The continued innovation in these areas is hugely encouraging and we need to look no further than the success North Coast 500 to see a real desire to keep improving the tourist experience and develop new business opportunities.

Beyond the so-called “big ticket” destinations and attractions, much of our tourism and leisure activity takes place in rural areas and as a result its economic significance is immense. Success, however, does not come easy and does not come without significant investment.

Following its re-election in May, the Scottish Government has sent out a strong signal that it intends to do what it can to prioritise economic and business development and investment across rural Scotland.

The creation of a Cabinet Secretary’s post for the rural economy underlined this commitment and a showed a willingness to get to grips with tackle pressing issues such as broadband provision and transport infrastructure. People from all walks of life and the businesses they operate have a contribution to make in achieving these objectives - and they include private landowners, who, in the main, are running fully-fledged businesses. These enterprises are striving to succeed in the same way as any other type of business.

Many estates are at the heart of country’s tourism offering, and you don’t have to travel far from Edinburgh to access many of them.

Hopetoun House, beneath the giant structures of the Forth crossings, is a jewel in our built heritage crown and is constantly developing its events and visitor attractions. Scotland’s independently-owned historic houses attract in the region of 12 million visitors per year, employ 2,500 
people and spend in excess of £20 million with businesses in their local areas. Buccleuch is in the process of investing £4m in developing an outstanding leisure destination and adventure playground at Dalkeith Country Park and also within a short distance of the capital Swanston Farm and Mortonhall Estates have diversified to provide a wide range of valued tourist and leisure facilities such as a garden centre, restaurant, caravan park and pony trekking.

Further afield, Angus and Zara Gordon Lennox have, since 2008, have been investing in Gordon Castle and Estate at Fochabers, Morayshire as a luxury tourist destination.

They began by investing in the traditional estate businesses of salmon fishing on the river Spey, holiday cottage accommodation and farming as well as investing £1.2m in the regeneration of a delightful walled garden that is proving proved extremely popular with visitors. The 15th-century castle was modernised to provide a much sought after wedding and conference venue. The estate has also put in place the infrastructure to host major events in the grounds, one of which is the annual Gordon Castle Highland Games and Country Fair.

Similar stories are to be found all over Scotland and are at the heart of an initiative by Scottish Land & Estates members called ‘Helping It Happen’ www.helpingithappen.co.uk - which showcases the many things that land-based businesses, often working in partnership with their communities and others, are doing to deliver a wide range of benefits throughout Scotland.

All too often private landownership is viewed through the prism of divisive issues such as land reform. Of course, such matters are important but the biggest prize for all in rural Scotland is a thriving economy in which communities and individuals can prosper. At our recent annual conference, we discussed our desire to establish a ‘rural concord’ with communities and there can be no better area than tourism on which we can focus our partnership aspirations.

Tourism is a clear area where so much can be achieved for rural economies through constructive collective effort – the market continues to grow and there is real scope for innovative and diverse business development. As we enjoy the summer months we should all think how we can help that happen.

• David Johnstone is chairman of Scottish Land & Estates