Industry charts progress towards delivering adventure tourism ambition

North east Scotland is capitalising on its adventure tourism opportunity.
The North East Adventure Tourism project has driven investment of more than £3 million into a high-growth visitor sector that is already worth £106 million a year to Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen. (Pic: Robert Grew)The North East Adventure Tourism project has driven investment of more than £3 million into a high-growth visitor sector that is already worth £106 million a year to Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen. (Pic: Robert Grew)
The North East Adventure Tourism project has driven investment of more than £3 million into a high-growth visitor sector that is already worth £106 million a year to Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen. (Pic: Robert Grew)

Increasing participation and visitor numbers, more events and new infrastructure investment are attracting national and international recognition for a sector that already turns over £106 million a year and includes a cluster of more than 50 businesses.

Transformational action and investment of more than £3 million through a unique partnership project are helping the region realise its ambition to become a world-class adventure tourism destination.

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More than 80 businesses and stakeholders from across Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray gathered in Aberdeen for the North East Adventure Tourism (NEAT) project’s annual industry engagement event. The audience at Maryculter House Hotel celebrated the progress achieved.

NEAT is the region's transformational project for adventure tourism—a £20 million investment to turn a rapidly growing sector into a market-facing industry. Established in 2019 and led by Opportunity North East (ONE), the project is developing exemplary low-carbon infrastructure, investing in industry and skills development, promoting the destination, and growing the sector through collaboration.

The project partners include businesses, ONE, Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland, Aberdeenshire Council, VisitAberdeenshire and the Cairngorm National Park Authority.

NEAT has supported event organisers delivering 18 regional, national, and international events. Last year, 9,000 people participated in NEAT-supported events, which generated £400,000 in visitor spending.

NEAT grant funding has enabled hospitality and accommodation businesses to enhance their offer to adventure tourism visitors with £60,000 invested in upgrading 24 properties, from Deeside and Gordon to the Buchan coast.

NEAT has also invested £160,000 in skills and training to empower people in the sector to achieve their goals, delivering upskilling for over 90 people across 30 local businesses.

Capital funding secured from the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Fund for NEAT by ONE has delivered the first iconic low-carbon infrastructure projects. The first phase of Transition Extreme’s ambitious development plans saw the installation of a pump track at its Aberdeen beachfront location.

Tarland Trails at Pittenderich mountain biking trail centre opened last year, creating a world-class and multi-award-winning mountain biking destination on Deeside. Over 40,000 riders have brought economic benefits to the region in under a year.

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The second year of NEAT Just Transition funding has supported investment in visitor facilities at Tarland Trails at Pittenderich, the next stage of outdoor development at Transition Extreme and new water sports infrastructure at Huntly Development Trust’s Greenmyres site.

The region has also garnered multiple awards in the past year. Aberdeenshire Trail Association was recognised with a Protect and Preserve award at the 2023 International Mountain Biking Association Europe Summit in Switzerland and collected Trail Association of the Year at the Scottish Mountain Bike Awards for the second year running. Aberdeenshire was named destination of the year, again for the second consecutive year. Limitlass, hosted at Glen Tanar on Deeside, was named the event of the year.

ONE chief executive Jennifer Craw said: “Over the past four years, NEAT has invested more than £3 million of public and private funding in adventure tourism development.

"The unique approach to developing the region's adventure tourism opportunity is driving forward investment in new and iconic community-led and not-for-profit infrastructure, upskilling people in the sector, building our portfolio of events, and promoting the destination.

“While our focus is on regional impact, our outlook is global. NEAT and this region are increasingly recognised nationally and internationally for what we achieve here. And we look to the best examples globally to draw inspiration and learn from.

“Fulfilling the region's full potential as an adventure tourism destination is not a sprint. We know there is more to do. The private sector-led partnership we have co-created with partners and co-funders is working. We will continue to make a case for significant investments to achieve the NEAT ambition."

The event, which included significant networking for the sector, also explored the experience of the Italian destination of Paganella in the Dolomites. Luca D'Angelo, the destination manager of the Paganella Tourism Board, and Andrea Gelsomino, the CEO and co-founder of The Outdoor Project, shared the region’s story of diversification, innovation and growth. Paganella has transformed from a traditional winter sports destination to a year-round hub for adventure and outdoor activities.

Luca D’Angelo said: “Since our last visit in 2019, we've witnessed remarkable strides in Aberdeenshire's journey towards becoming a premier mountain biking destination. The dedication to investing in top-notch trail design and fostering collaboration among local stakeholders to navigate the ever-evolving trends in Outdoor Tourism is truly commendable. These proactive steps are key to nurturing and enhancing the positive image of this vital tourism sector. We can’t wait to see the further implementation of these initiatives through the North East Adventure Tourism project and the partnership work it is driving.”