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Poor visitor behaviour is in the spotlight as Highland Council's tourism committee considers how to respond to 'dirty camping' while supporting the tourist industry

By Scott Maclennan

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Rubbish left behind by irresponsible wild campers.
Rubbish left behind by irresponsible wild campers.

Highland Council’s tourism committee made its first bid to tackle some of the many issues that led to one of the region’s top industries becoming a major problem for many communities over the summer.

A packed agenda that ranged through dealing with motorhomes and wild camping to boosting infrastructure as well looking at ways to support what is one of the most vital industries in the north.

In advance of the 2021 tourism season the committee agreed to continue ongoingwork and engage with partners, national agencies and local communities to meet the challenges and opportunities that exist for motorhomes and wild camping tourism.

One of the most significant ideas to emerge from the meeting is proposals to ask landowners to develop Aires – which function like short-term lets for motorhomes – with basic sanitary facilities.

Chairwoman of the committee Councillor Maxine Smith said that more campervans being bought and demand for staycations up poses questions: “These factors and the relatively cheap availability of tents and mass tent ownership all point to the need for joint future management plans to meet tourism needs next season and for future years.

“The council is also open to hearing from landowners who are interested in providing simple short stay facilities known on the continent as Aires. Primarily these provide short overnight basic stopping facilities for people on longer journeys that bring economic benefit to local businesses from those overnighting at an Aire.

“It may be that you are a farmer with a spare field or someone with an extra-large garden, but we need to start thinking more commercially as well as trying to alleviate any issues caused by motorhomes.

“We welcome tourists in the Highlands, but we need to make sure we have the right infrastructure in place for them. Anyone with any initial queries about 'Aires' can please email the Council's tourism officer.”

Councillors also discussed the problems that were experienced throughout the Highlands largely since the easing of lockdown in mid-July with a marked increase of visitors participating in dirty camping.

Members discussed a range of issues experienced in Highland that have been created by informal motorhome camping including overnight parking, waste disposal, and refuse and recycling.

Initiatives in Lochinver, Helmsdale, Bonar Bridge and Cromarty currently have plans to develop more dedicated overnight parking sites for motorhomes through the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund.

They backed moves to further look into provision of formal campsites, bins and toilets; better promotion of appropriate camping behaviour; restrictions on alcohol consumption and improved parking management at certain locations and more robust enforcement of wild camping.

To support the industry councillors were informed that the Transient Visitor Levy Bill is not part of the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government.

Committee Chair Cllr. Maxine Smith said: “We are fully aware of the pressures that all tourism and hospitality businesses are currently under due to the coronavirus pandemic – so what we are asking the Scottish Government for is to clarify their long-term future position in years to come for the Transient Visitor Levy.”

The committee also agreed that the chairwoman writes to the UK government to ask for a permanent reduction in VAT that would benefit the tourism and hospitality sector now and for the next few years.

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