The visit by Prince Harry (or just plain ‘Harry,’ as he now prefers) to Edinburgh last month has put the challenges facing our tourism sector firmly in the spotlight.

The Scottish capital was chosen to host a conference for Harry’s Travalyst initiative, which includes some of the travel industry’s biggest players such as Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and Visa.

 

Edinburgh was an appropriate venue as the city was named as one of the world’s worst tourism saturation hotspots last year. Other parts of Scotland including Skye, Orkney and many of the communities along the North Coast 500 route, are also feeling a detrimental social and environmental impact from a huge rise in visitors in recent years.

 

Scotland’s current national tourism strategy – Tourism Scotland 2020 – is focused on growing both the quantity of visitors and quality of their experience to benefit the wider economy. So far it’s been a resounding success with tourism now worth around £5.5bn to the annual Scottish economy and supporting over 200,000 jobs.

 

The mounting concerns about the impact of over-tourism in some parts of the country and the Scottish Government’s own pledges to reduce carbon emissions do however raise real questions on how we can encourage more visitors into Scotland without inflicting long term damage to the environment.

 

In striking this delicate balance, it’s important to firstly recognise there are currently only a small number of tourism pressure points in Scotland. Part of the solution therefore lies in dispersing visitors more widely. This has already been acknowledged in Edinburgh where the City Council is investing in projects such as the redevelopment of the Granton coastline to help ensure a better spread of visitors around the capital. This strategy is similar to one adopted by Amsterdam when it renamed Zandvoort, 18 miles from the city centre, as Amsterdam Beach and included travel to the site as part of its City Card offering to tourists.

 

The magnet effect of Edinburgh in attracting tourists also presents a real opportunity for less visited parts of Scotland. The recent boom in Glasgow’s hotels sector, largely built on business travellers and the world-class SSE Hydro concert venue, now enables the city to better promote itself as a tourist destination leveraging attractions such as Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Riverside Museum and the Glasgow Science Centre.

 

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Through the opening of the V&A Museum, Dundee has improved and increased its hotel offering and is also well-placed to welcome additional visitors with open arms. Inverclyde, parts of which currently rank among the most deprived areas of Scotland, is also home to a number of ambitious tourism initiatives, including a new cruise ship terminal; with the rich heritage of the area’s shipbuilding industries, and breath-taking views across the Firth of Clyde, the region could conceivably become a ‘must visit’ area for international visitors.

 

Scotland’s tourism sector must also put greater focus on a higher value offering during traditionally quieter periods of the year to disrupt seasonality in tourism. While many of Edinburgh’s hotels suffer from low occupancy in off-peak periods, by developing new events and offering specialist group discounts in these periods the city can attract a more balanced spread of visitors throughout the year.

 

Lowering the level of carbon required to bring tourists here is also a vital aspect in the equation. The International Civil Aviation Organisation’s carbon reduction scheme – Corsia – aims to allow aviation to continue to grow but reduce its net footprint by requiring airlines to purchase carbon emission offsets or fund a CO2 saving elsewhere.

 

Continuing to grow rail travel as an alternative to internal flights for short break holiday-makers must also be a priority. The relaunched Caledonian Sleeper, marketing itself as an environmentally-friendly alternative to flying, is a welcome development but such initiatives often require commitment from government through subsidies. Scotland is also leading the UK in developing electric vehicle charging points, another important step in lowering tourism-related emissions and one that’s particularly relevant here considering the popularity of the North Coast 500 and North East 250 motoring routes.

 

There are major challenges ahead in maximising the economic value of tourism while ensuring it‘s done in a sustainable and managed way, but Scotland finds itself in a great place. Prince Harry’s address to the Travalyst conference in Edinburgh underlines how much this issue is being escalated here in Scotland. Success will require close cooperation from government, as well as the hospitality and transport sectors, to ensure we get the balance right, growing our tourism economy in a way that will ensure it has a long term future.

 

Comment piece by Roland Smyth, Head of Scottish Hotels & Leisure group at law firm CMS
https://cms.law/en/gbr/global-reach/europe/scotland

 


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