Scottish tourism leaders vow to ensure remote areas are not ‘overwhelmed’ with visitors when lockdown lifts

Scottish tourism industry chiefs have pledged to take a cautious approach in how they promote different parts of the country once lockdown restrictions are eased to avoid creating “an anti-tourist vibe” and “overwhelming” some areas.

Tuesday, 19th May 2020, 7:30 am
Updated Tuesday, 19th May 2020, 12:10 pm
The Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis are one of the biggest attractions in the Outer Hebrides. Picture: Kenny Lam

Lesser-known parts of the country and others which are seen as easy for visitors to reach are being lined up for the first wave of promotional activity to help reboot the ailing industry.

National tourism agency VisitScotland says it is identifying parts of the country which will require “careful management” when they reopen to domestic tourists.Its initial efforts will also be focused away from the most popular destinations and remote corners of the country with limited facilities or supplies of “precious local resources.”

However the government body’s tricky balancing act will also be taking into account “fragile communities which only have tourism at the heart of job and wealth creation.”

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Writing on his blog, VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead said the worldwide industry said the coronavirus pandemic had “forced a monumental shift” in an industry which was already grappling with demands to tackle over-tourism problems and rising carbon emissions.

Mr Roughead, who hopes the tourism industry will be able to welcome back visitors to Scotland in the autumn, said: “Now we have seen the overcrowding gone from city centres and improvements to the local environment by reduced travel, we need to build on the consumer and societal changes that are already in place.

“Creating meaningful connections between tourists and hosts is one of the characteristics of responsible tourism and tourism is a major part of the experience economy.

“It is very much the case that tourism will be part of the solution rather than the problem for a sustainable and successful future.

“I really hope that it sparks discussions in local communities and with destination organisations about how to continue to run a successful tourism industry which allows locals and visitors to coexist in harmony – as that big Scottish welcome must continue to be at the heart of the authentic experiences visitors have.

“How do we balance the local resources and needs of the community against the requirement to build a booming visitor economy?

“Particularly, as some fragile communities only have tourism at the heart of job and wealth creation.

“How do we ensure that precious local resources are available to all and we don’t create an anti-tourist vibe which was becoming prevalent in some communities before the lockdown? For me – it’s those communities that hold the key.

“We are currently conducting an audit of places people will be able to visit easily post-Covid-19 and others that will require careful management.

“Our marketing will reflect that in our initial domestic campaigns – which will be about ensuring that some areas aren’t overwhelmed, and others get a bigger taste of tourism success.”

Mr Roughead admitted that the “economic and social importance” of tourism will “need to be resold” to some parts of the country and that some communities will need to feel “safe and secure” about the return of visitors.

He added: “This resetting of tourism is going to be hard. There are businesses out there that are desperate to make some money before we head for the winter, and people who need jobs in this crucial industry.

“Tourism will still be an economic powerhouse for Scotland but this crisis has taught us one thing – that local quality of life has to be at the heart of creating a visitor experience and economy.”

Rob McKinnon, chief executive of the Outer Hebrides Tourism body, said: "The anxiety levels among businesses on the islands are increasing, as the period they will be unable to open is extended, the initial support received is used up and the uncertainty in the future remains high.

"Businesses want to do the right thing for the communities they are part of, want to get their businesses safely through the winter ahead in as good a shape as possible and want to get them ready for what is probably a very different tourism season in the spring."