VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead said life was made “unpleasant” for people living in tourism hotspots after a sudden influx of visitors who caused drunken mayhem, left piles of rubbish behind and caused traffic gridlock.
Mr Roughead said although the industry was keen to “get back to normal as soon as possible” there was a risk that ignoring social distancing guidelines would “add to the number of people getting the disease.”
And he warned of a risk that visitors will not be welcome back to some areas if locals are not “treated with respect.”
Writing on his blog, Mr Roughead said First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was “quite right” to threaten to bring in legal curbs on travel in response to the scenes which unfolded at hotspots like Glencoe and Loch Lomond.
Mr Roughead described the experiences of some communities last weekend as “a terrible reminder of how a minority of people can spoil the enjoyment of the majority.”
He said: “Scenes of rubbish strewn parks and beaches, drunken behaviour, traffic jams and very little thought about social distancing did not showcase the Scotland we want to live in and promote.
“Everyone was told not to drive to beauty spots because no facilities were open, including toilets and car parks. So, people parked on verges and made life unpleasant for the local community – just what tourism didn’t need.
“We want tourism businesses to open up and the industry to get back to normal as soon as possible but we also don’t want to add to the number of people getting this disease. It’s a real dilemma for the many tourism businesses devastated by lockdown who need to be able to open quickly to get some summer income.
“We keep asking for dates from the government to help us restart our lives, but the reality is that none of this will happen if we don’t continue to follow the science.
“The tourism industry needs to get going as quickly as possible, but it needs to do that alongside the communities they are part of and they need to do that safely.
“This minority will continue to be a problem, but I did want to remind everyone that the visitor is not the enemy. The visitor, whether on a day trip or on an extended holiday, brings huge benefits to Scotland.
“It’s not just economic, taking a trip helps with people’s well-being and mental health and we’ll all need that after this lockdown ends.
“Tourism sustains many rural economies tackling issues like depopulation and brings entrepreneurial talent to life in Scotland.
“Tourism businesses are part of the community, providing jobs and allowing us all to meet people from across the world. They allow us to live in our communities and keep our families in the area.
“We talk about the visitor economy and the ripple effect of tourism – it doesn’t just sustain those businesses but helps sustain others around them. Without the tourism businesses, the florists, local craft shop or pub would not thrive.
“I hope that we can be kinder to our communities, and that our communities can work with tourism to create the right balance.
“Communities will not welcome back visitors if people don’t understand that locals living in these towns and villages deserve to be treated with respect.
“But we also know that visitors are important for these local economies and need to return to help those areas thrive.
“Finding that balance is tricky but I’m already seeing local destination organisations taking the initiative to have conversations about not just reopening businesses but working in their areas to see how the industry can restart with consensus across those communities.”
Argyll & Bute Council said “antisocial issues” had been reported in areas like Luss and Arrochar as “high volumes of visitors” flooded in over the weekend.
Robin Currie, convenor of roads and infrastructure, said: “It is disappointing that some people chose to ignore national advice and clearly travelled more than five miles to visit.
“We cannot be complacent whilst the risk of infection remains. The reckless actions of a few may impact us all. Ignoring advice to stay local will simply delay our recovery and have a further impact on the economy.
“We understand that people are desperate to enjoy being outdoors but we still need to exercise caution and help protect our rural communities. Our car parks and toilets remain closed so please think very carefully before making a journey.
“Our local economy depends on the tourism industry and we are just as keen as everyone to welcome people back to the area, but only when it is safe.”
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