Rethink of Scottish tourism industry ordered to curb environmental impact

A radical rethink of the Scottish tourism industry to ensure it lowers its environmental impact, benefits rather than damages local communities, and transforms its workforce so that it reflects the country’s population more has been unveiled.
A view of Loch Maree from Glen Doherty - part of the North Coast 500 scenic route around the north coast of Scotland. Picture: Getty ImagesA view of Loch Maree from Glen Doherty - part of the North Coast 500 scenic route around the north coast of Scotland. Picture: Getty Images
A view of Loch Maree from Glen Doherty - part of the North Coast 500 scenic route around the north coast of Scotland. Picture: Getty Images

The Scottish Tourism Alliance, the main voice of the industry, has vowed to focus on attracting the “right visitors” instead of continual growth as part of a drive to ensure the country becomes “the world leader in 21st century tourism.”

Visitors-of-the-future will be encouraged to “live like a local,” stay in destinations for more than one night and visit outwith traditional peak periods, as well as help protect the nation’s landscape and scenery for future generations.

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A new long-term blueprint revealed by the STA, which represents more than 250 industry bodies and associations, states: “We must protect and consider the environment in everything we do.”

A draft 2020 strategy was hailed as “a new dawn” at an STA summit in Edinburgh, which heard how there was likely to be an increasing focus on healthy living breaks, food tourism and adventure holidays.

The first new Scottish tourism blueprint since 2012 commits the industry, which supports more than 200,000 jobs, to “understand and responsibly manage” how it impacts on the environment and local communities.

Industry leaders also hope to change the image of working in tourism to make careers more appealing to Scots in the face of the departure of 3000 EU nationals over the last 12 months, with a key aim to “attract, develop and retain a skilled, committed, diverse and valued workforce.”

Delegates were told that the industry needed to be “brave, outward looking forward thinking, collaborative, responsible and putting our communities, our people, our visitors, our businesses and our environment at the heart of everything we do.”

STA chief executive Marc Crothall said: "We know that the global climate emergency agenda has shifted the way we think about where we travel and stay, how we get there; the impact we ourselves have on our global environment and our destinations, we are being much more conscious in making our leisure and food choices.

"We also know that our domestic market is becoming ever more cautious in their decision making and that their level of spend on tourism and hospitality experiences is at risk of further decline.

"As such, there is an increasing need to attract more visitors, and the right visitors, to Scotland year-round in order to grow our tourism industry.

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"We want our visitors to experience more – enjoying immersive ‘live like a local’ rich experiences.

"We need to market the whole of Scotland and ensure that our visitors can experience all of what our landscapes and destinations have to offer."

Mr Crothall told delegates that the climate emergency, the prospect of Brexit and the potential introduction of a tourist tax in some areas had already left the industry in a "fragile state."

He added: "As a result of what is happening in terms of trends, forecasts and future consumer behaviour, there is a need for our tourism industry, government, public sector and communities to collectively respond, adapt and collaborate to deliver a responsible, sustainable, managed growth for the future. Future success will only be achieved through partnership.

"Our mindset as a nation and as a sector is now shifting from attracting volume to delivering greater economic and social benefits for our nation and for our local communities – the people who live and work in all our villages, towns and cities. The time to change and adapt has come.

"It is now more important than ever that we create the very best memories for everyone who visits and experiences all that Scotland has to offer with no long-term damage to our environment."

Stephen Leckie, chair of the STA, who also runs Crieff Hydro in Perthshire, said: "Brexit and a weak global economy were not part of our landscape in 2012 and both have undoubtedly had a significant impact on our visitor markets (although some of that has been positive), however we are experiencing decline in spend by our core market (UK residents), as the cost of living bites and household budgets continue to be squeezed.

"Decisions on where we visit, when we go and what we can afford to do as part of that visit are being given more careful consideration than ever before. The way people travel and stay has of course changed too.

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"The rise in short term lets and the rise in the popularity of Airbnb has reduced the average visitor accommodation spend as typically the self-cater rate per person is below that of more traditional hotel and B&B accommodation.

"Many more Scottish families are also opting to do day trips instead of overnight short breaks. The rise of low-cost budget travel makes it harder for us to remain competitive within the global market. It is today a much bigger challenge than it was in 2012 especially where our competitor destinations have lower levels of taxation and are becoming increasingly easier and cheaper to access.

"Scotland has for the first time in the last few years experienced what some refer to as ‘overtourism’ in certain areas, creating pressure on infrastructure, with negative impacts on local communities and widespread reporting of that in the media.

"The threat and no doubt subsequent reality of the introduction of a tourist tax by some local authorities has also created ripples that have travelled far and wide, reinforcing a perception that Scotland is an unwelcoming and expensive destination.

"We have also lost a significant proportion of our workforce as a result of Brexit and many of our tourism businesses are now facing a recruitment crisis.

"We simply don’t have the number of people we need working in our industry to deliver the type of product to the world we had hoped and planned to."

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of government tourism agency VisitScotland, said the new industry strategy was a "combined effort" which had been developed with its own representatives, tourism businesses, local authorities, the Scottish Government and agencies like Scottish Enterprise and Historic Environment Scotland.

He said: "Just like the Scottish Tourism Alliance, VisitScotland wants Scottish tourism to be recognised as world class. We want to champion collaboration, spearhead digital innovation, promote local areas and events and have tourism recognised for the positive impact it brings to Scotland.

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“The future of Scottish tourism needs to be managed responsibly to ensure it is one of the country’s most sustainable and enduring industries. We all need to continue to work in collaboration so that visitors see us at our best throughout the year.

“The impact of tourism goes far beyond the holiday experience. It is vital to the Scottish economy, reaching every corner of the country, creating jobs and bringing economic and social change. The strategy recognises this and aims to build a sustainable, vibrant tourism industry that will benefit all of Scotland’s people and our visitors.”