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Business group calls for blueprint for Highland tourism's post-Covid recovery

By Calum MacLeod

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Business group Highland Tourism wants to see the creation of a blueprint for the region's post-Covid recovery. Picture: Girls on Hills
Business group Highland Tourism wants to see the creation of a blueprint for the region's post-Covid recovery. Picture: Girls on Hills

The co-founder of a new north business tourism group is calling for the creation of a region wide blueprint to guide the sector out of the coronavirus crisis.

Yvonne Crook, co-founder of Highland Tourism, was speaking after the first of the organisation's online Highland Tourism Talks.

Held on the anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown, the event attracted an audience of hundreds of tourism industry professionals and other stakeholders to listen to the inaugural talk from destination specialist, Professor Terry Stevens.

Professor Stevens, who runs his own tourism consultancy and has a long-standing connection with destination development in communities throughout Scotland, gave examples of how other international destinations are planning for recovery.

He urged the Highlands to adopt similar measures, such as a conscious travel ethos, to encourage a sustainable and successful tourist sector.

He commented: “Conscious travel is all about the resident community helping the visitor to connect with and have a better experience in the destination, whilst also considering the impact of their visit. Conscious hosts looking after conscious visitors is a strategy that will reap many rewards for the Highlands as a destination, which includes the tourism industry leading on the climate change agenda and attracting visitors who will respect and value the places they visit whilst contributing more to the local economy.”

Professor Stevens further encouraged the industry to consider how it could evolve as a partnership with other organisations in the Highlands.

“With the University of the Highlands and Islands, a strategic medical/wellness agenda and the Highlands fast becoming the renewables centre of the UK, there is a fantastic opportunity for the collective Highland tourism community to work in a strategic partnership, the likes of which has not previously been seen in the Highlands. This is real innovative thinking and undoubtedly would be highlighted as international best practice,” he said.

Mrs Crook commented that a strategic approach is needed to help the Highlands cope with the anticipated interest once travel restrictions are lifted and help disperse visitors to less visited areas.

“This year the Highlands with its natural and safe environment is in prime position to attract domestic visitors," she said.

"However, overcrowding is an issue and it is our duty as an industry to do our best to manage this, dispersing visitors from honeypot areas to other lesser-known but equally beautiful areas throughout the Highlands. This can only be done by the Highlands coming together with communities and destination organisations. This is a basic and fundamentally important requirement which we have now provided the platform for with both a Highland tourism networking site and a consumer facing visitor site under construction."

Mrs Crook added that the future of tourism in the Highlands must also take account of sustainability issues and the impact of climate change. This was an important issue for visitors with 81 per cent citing climate change as a concern.

“Highland Tourism is providing a leadership approach to working with business and communities to tackle this agenda together, whilst also providing a clear message for visitors – this is not ours, but it is ours to look after,” Mrs Crook continued.

“We have a shortfall in spend from our overseas visitors of £202 million and international visitor numbers were already in decline by 15 per cent in 2019 prior to the pandemic. We have a globally recognised iconic brand and have the ability to lead and drive a marketing campaign for their return. The organisation of Highland Tourism is also fundamentally important to the ability to think and act strategically and with agility to meet the demands of changing markets.”

Among those watching the inaugural talk was business owner David Parker of Lochbroom.

He said: "This was a highly professional and thought-provoking Zoom session on sustainable Highland tourism which highlighted the need for strong strategic planning that unifies communities and tourists alike. I look forward to hearing and seeing more from Highland Tourism in the months ahead.”

Highland Tourism was set up as an industry-led Community Interest Company (CIC) by Mrs Crook and Sam Faircliff of Cairngorm Brewery to provide a unified voice for the £541 million Highland tourism industry and its 19,000 employees.

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