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Opinion: We can make a difference by supporting sustainable tourism in the Highlands

By Calum MacLeod

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VisitScotland regional leadership director Chris Taylor.
VisitScotland regional leadership director Chris Taylor.

by VisitScotland regional leadership director Chris Taylor

Scotland will play host to COP26, one of the largest international summits ever held in the UK.

Around 120 world leaders will come together to agree action to tackle one of the biggest threats facing humanity; climate change. The outcome of these crisis talks in Glasgow will impact each and every one of us and will shape how we rebuild tourism responsibly following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has already made people pause and think about the future environment, and their impact on it. We’ve seen very positive trends with visitors increasingly keen to enjoy local produce, language, and take the time to slow down and experience more authentic experiences.

A recent study conducted by Booking.com found that, of the more than 29,000 global travellers surveyed, two-thirds (61 per cent) stated that the pandemic had influenced them to want to travel more sustainably in the future and almost half (49 per cent) admitted that the pandemic had shifted their attitude to make positive changes in their everyday lives.

In the Highlands, tourism has thrived for well over 100 years, based on the interconnections of people, place, culture and heritage. It is our environment that underpins and supports tourism and

VisitScotland is committed to working with the industry and communities to create a long-lasting sustainable tourism destination.

So, as the eyes of the world turn towards Scotland, VisitScotland is stepping up its commitment. VisitScotland was the first national tourism organisation in the world to acknowledge the climate emergency and sign up to the Tourism Declares initiative in 2020.

Through our activity, we aim to play a leading role in the development of Scotland as a globally recognised responsible destination - pledging to take action to reduce carbon emissions and support businesses to do the same.

As part of our plan, we've committed to reducing our own emissions, working with communities and focusing marketing efforts to encourage responsible tourism, in line with Scottish Government’s targets to become net zero by 2045, and the national tourism strategy, Scotland Outlook 2030, ambition for responsible growth.

Our plan also includes a long-term commitment to increase promotion of public transport and active travel, inspiring visitors to explore at quieter times of year and concentrating more on places with potential for sustainable tourism growth.

Improvements to the Nigg to Cromarty ferry service will allow it to cater for larger vehicles, easing pressure on the A9 and North Coast 500. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Improvements to the Nigg to Cromarty ferry service will allow it to cater for larger vehicles, easing pressure on the A9 and North Coast 500. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Encouraging responsible behaviour by visitors is central to our approach. This year we reached over 83% of Scottish residents with our responsible tourism messaging with 4.3 milion views of our main responsible tourism film. This complements work with local authorities, through the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund, to provide and enhance the critical infrastructure that our visitors rely on. In Highland, we’ve supported 22 projects to date with over £4.2 millon investment in places such as Glenfinnan, Glenmore, Skye, Cromarty, Ardnamurchan and many more.

Our latest marketing builds on previous responsible campaigns and invites visitors to "tread lightly" when enjoying Scotland by sharing ideas and inspiration on our website, via social and through our marketing that highlight the best of Scotland’s green offering.

Of course, it’s not just about what VisitScotland can do ourselves. Across the Highlands we are also working with many hundreds of businesses to help reduce impacts and promote good practice.

More and more businesses are already looking at what they can do to embrace responsible and sustainable tourism. Eagle Brae, the luxury log cabins on the outskirts of Beauly, offers carbon-neutral holidays. The five-star business is entirely self-sufficient in its utility and energy needs – it has its own micro-hydro scheme providing electricity and hot water to all its cabins, as well as biomass wood-pellet burners provide underfloor heating.

They also offer a scheme whereby guests are invited to plant a tree to offset the carbon output of their journey.

Elsewhere, the Loch Ness Hub is a fantastic example of a community-owned enterprise, where local people have come together to promote greener modes of transport for visitors, such as e-bikes and health walks in and around Drumnadrochit.

Statues of the geologists Benjamin Peach and John Horne at hiking trail at Knockan Crag in North West Highlands Geopark, Scotland.
Statues of the geologists Benjamin Peach and John Horne at hiking trail at Knockan Crag in North West Highlands Geopark, Scotland.

The world’s first UNESCO trail – Scotland’s UNESCO Trail - which was launched earlier this month includes North Highlands Geopark and the Wester Ross Biosphere as two of the 13 designated sites.

Through our campaigns and marketing activity, we are encouraging visitors to stay longer, visit all year round and explore more widely, contributing towards the sustainable quality of life of these communities. Staff from both designations have close links with our iCentre in Ullapool and are involved in educating visitors on how to look after the natural environment that is so iconic to this part of the country.

Sustainable tourism isn’t a niche trend anymore - it must be a fundamental part of our country’s tourism offering.

Well-managed tourism can be such a positive force, encouraging understanding, shared experiences, creating local employment and, especially in such challenging times, providing such a boost to our physical and mental health.

We remain hopeful for the future and despite the many challenges we face with the climate emergency, VisitScotland is committed to being part of the solution.

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