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Highland Tourism Community Interest Company has sustainable vision

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Highland Tourism Directors Left to right: Yvonne Crook (Chair) Director Good Highland Food, Stuart McColm (Director) General Manager Castle Stuart Golf Links, Willie Cameron (Director) Business Development Director, Cobbs Group , Sam Faircliff (Vice Chair) Director Cairngorm Brewery, Chris O’Brien (Director) Chief Executive Nevis Range. Picture: Trevor Martin
Highland Tourism Directors Left to right: Yvonne Crook (Chair) Director Good Highland Food, Stuart McColm (Director) General Manager Castle Stuart Golf Links, Willie Cameron (Director) Business Development Director, Cobbs Group , Sam Faircliff (Vice Chair) Director Cairngorm Brewery, Chris O’Brien (Director) Chief Executive Nevis Range. Picture: Trevor Martin

Highland Tourism Community Interest Company (Highland Tourism CIC) has grown from a standing start when it was formed in March 2021, fighting through challenges such as Covid-19.

It is now recognised as a leading voice for the region in tourism and has brought about some remarkable innovations that have attracted industry recognition and international praise.

Incredibly, considering the importance of tourism to the region and to Scotland, there has been no specific tourism strategy for the Highlands since 2014.

Indeed, pre Covid international travel to the Highlands declined with the number of trips and bed-nights dropping by 15 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.

Yet National Geographic (the world’s leading multimedia source of stories in science, exploration and adventure) has listed the Scottish Highlands as one of the world’s best natural escapes alongside Slovenia, Azores, Big Bend National Park in Texas and Botswana.

This kind of global respect for the Highland region reinforces the opportunity for the Highlands to have a world-leading sustainable vision and to develop us as a premium environmental brand.

This is the mission of Highland Tourism CIC. It was formed by co-founders Yvonne Crook of strategic tourism consultancy, View Marketing and director of Good Highland Food, and Sam Faircliff, managing director of Cairngorm Brewery. They realised the extent of the opportunity to harness the drive of leaders in the community.

The duo had worked together on the establishment of what is now the Cairngorms Business Partnership. Ms Faircliff said: “The work that has been done to reposition the Cairngorms as a premium environmental destination is a blueprint for the rest of the Highlands.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Inverness had been listed as the fourth most visited city in the UK. And in June 2022, the Highland capital was named as ‘one of the top 16 European city break destinations’ by the world-renowned travel site, Time Out.

Along with the example of National Geographic, the interest in the Highlands as a destination is huge.

Said Mrs Crook: “This interest in the Highlands and the world-wide recognition and praise for what we have here, emphasises the need to have a specific regional tourism strategy. One of the many innovations of Highland Tourism CIC is the commitment to a ‘world first’ partnership between the tourism and renewables sectors in the Highlands.

“The aim is to access the sectors expertise and innovation in renewables, thus creating a powerful partnership in driving a world leading sustainable vision and mission.”

Fellow director and Scottish Tourism’s Thistle Award winner Willie Cameron has championed the marriage of tourism and renewables, he said: “It is the most powerful partnership with the greatest opportunity for the Highlands.”

He urged businesses and the wider community to get behind Highland Tourism CIC, saying: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the community to gain a strong voice in the future of Tourism in the Highlands and to be heard throughout the world for the vision, ambition and action we are going to take.”

Private sector investment of almost £300k has been gathered, which includes a three-year commitment of £150k from the organisation’s founding sponsor, Tomatin Distillery.

Stephen Bremner, managing director of Tomatin Distillery Co. Ltd. said: “It is easy to make statements about supporting sustainability and having a care for the environment, but it is actions that count.

“Our investment in the work of Highland Tourism CIC demonstrates our commitment to a number of goals. These include working along with fellow members of the Scotch Whisky “Association towards achieving the ambitious target, for the industry, of being carbon net zero emissions in our operations by 2040 as well as supporting our key responsibility to our local community by protecting the local environment through conservation and sustainable practices to enhance the ecosystem resilience.

“I believe Highland Tourism CIC’s goals for the sector, the region, and world-class sustainable status will bring many benefits for the economy and the environment which we are glad to support.”

In its short existence HT CIC has gained the support of 100 ambassadors and 14 communities as well as working in partnership to create a suite of Highland Brands that aim to work in harmony to reposition the Highlands as a premium environmental destination. The CIC, shortlisted as ‘the ones to watch’ by Social Enterprise Scotland, has also established a Climate Leadership Group chaired by board director George Baxter of Green Power International.

Mr Baxter, said: “I was delighted to have the opportunity to be part of this visionary strategy for the Highlands developed by the community for the community. It’s particularly exciting to see the marriage of two key sectors to work together to take positive action on climate change and to create a sustainable economy and environment for today, and for future generations.”

The Climate Leadership Group includes a number of business leaders in the community as well as Councillor Karl Rosie, chairman of the Climate Change Committee for Highland Council and Keith Masson, head of Net Zero for HIE.

Mr Baxter said: “We already have some great initiatives underway to reduce our carbon footprint, a review of the world’s best green accreditation schemes and we are aiming for the Highlands to have the best EV car charging system in Europe.”

Highland Tourism CIC Director, Stuart McColm, general manager of Cabot Highlands, home of Castle Stuart Golf Links, said: “We are hugely grateful to our main sponsor Tomatin Distillery for the confidence they have shown in the community developing a vision for the Highlands at such a pivotal time.

“As we at Cabot Highlands embark on a new phase of multi-million pound development from Cabot International, the timing for the development of Highland Tourism CIC is perfect as we work together to position the Highlands as a premium environmental destination.”

Highland Tourism CIC chairwoman Yvonne Crook, said: “We have one of Scotland’s best known tourism brands and one of the world’s finest natural environments. We have the greatest opportunity to create a strong community voice that contributes to circa £20m being spent on tourism development in the Highlands annually.”

Other icons and opportunities to reposition the Highlands as a higher value destination include adventure and outdoor activities as well as food and drink and culture and heritage. HT CIC director Sam Faircliff is the Scotland Food and Drink Highland Ambassador, she said: “We are grateful to Scotland Food and Drink for seeing the opportunity to support the development of 100 top food and drink experiences and a directory of local producers on Escape to the Highlands.

“Partnership working and investing together will make the biggest difference.”

Passionate director of Highland Tourism CIC Chris O’Brien of Nevis Range was shortlisted as business leader of the year in the Highland Business Awards. He said: “We have recently achieved a net zero target at Nevis Range.

“Part of that process was changing to only work together with businesses with a sustainable vision and mission - this was a very positive experience for us and Highland Tourism CIC has been an inspiration in this mission.

“As we continue this focus on ‘climate positive’ we also share the passion of new Castle Stuart owners Cabot Highlands in attracting more international flights into the Highlands - this is one of the greatest opportunities that will reap rewards for many businesses and communities across the Highlands.”

Mrs Crook said “Through these difficult times, we, as a community, are inspired by a new vision and mission for the Highlands and by the opportunity to work together to achieve it. “Our new partnership with the renewables sector is also a real inspiration with some exciting innovations, initiatives and conversations underway.”

The organisation also has some world leading rewilding experts including HT Ambassador Jeremy Leggett who said: “Bunloit Rewilding is delighted to be a Highland Tourism Ambassador. We very much support Highland Tourism’s sustainable vision."

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