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Influx of motorhomes and campers to Ross-shire prompts tourism investment appeal

By Hector MacKenzie

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The visitor influx to the Highlands has caught many off guard, according to MSP Gail Ross.
The visitor influx to the Highlands has caught many off guard, according to MSP Gail Ross.

A JOINT call for extra funding to improve tourism services in the Highlands has been made by two Ross-shire politicians.

MSP Gail Ross and MP Ian Blackford are responding to concerns about an "influx" of post-lockdown visitors which "seems to have caught everyone off guard".

The SNP politicians, who represent Ross-shire at Holyrood and Westminster respectively, say they've been contacted by constituents concerned about the impact of visitors and the ability of the area to cope.

They are appealing to the Scottish Government and Highland Council to consider additional funding for improvements to tourism services.

They are also urging apps and websites which promote the area as being perfect for “wild camping” to ensure the term is correctly used and that areas being promoted are not farmland or common grazings.

"We are now at a turning point in terms of what services are available for tourists and this needs to be addressed." - Gail Ross MSP

Mrs Ross - MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross – said: “We are rightly promoting Scotland, and especially the Highlands, as a fantastic place to visit and stay this summer. People are desperate to get away after lockdown and we should have been prepared for them, but the influx seems to have caught everyone off guard.

“I can understand why some campsites are nervous about opening and have remained closed. But, we are now at a turning point in terms of what services are available for tourists and this needs to be addressed."

She is flagging a scheme called Aires used in mainland Europe. These are mostly public parking areas, and some private land, where motorhome and campervan users are permitted to stop overnight for free or for a small fee.

She said: “We could be looking at helping communities introduce a scheme like the one on mainland Europe. Aires is very successful in places like France, giving tourists an affordable overnight option without the need to commit to more than one night.

“Tourism is a huge sector for us and we need to make sure it is managed correctly. People should always feel welcome to visit but they should treat the area and its communities with respect. Some of the negativity I have seen recently on social media has to stop – it is not doing the reputation of the area any good.

“I also think that if levels of visitors continue as they are, then an NC500 permit should be given serious consideration. This has been mooted before and should now be on the table as a possible solution, along with many others.”

Mr Blackford, MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said: “I have been contacted by residents from across the constituency who are concerned about the influx of visitors to fragile communities throughout the Highlands over the past week or so.

“It is natural that people will be keen to travel slightly further from their home, but it is only right that they do so in a responsible and safe manner which is respectful to our natural environment and to local residents. Campers should follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and leave the area as they found it.”

He added: “In the Highlands we are renowned for the welcome we provide and are delighted to welcome visitors back to enjoy our wonderful scenery and hospitality. We need to be having a conversation with our colleagues at Holyrood and Highland Council to ensure a safe and sensible way forward for both visitors and local residents.”

What do you think? Email newsdesk@hnmedia.co.uk

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