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Tourism is key to region-wide recovery so the council needs to take it more seriously

By David Richardson

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FSB regional development manager David Richardson.
FSB regional development manager David Richardson.

by David Richardson, regional development manager at The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)

Tourists moving around the Highlands are the lifeblood that sustains businesses, communities and our way of life.

In short, tourism and hospitality firms provide the much-needed jobs that retain young people and families in communities, and they justify and preserve the services that we all need and that contribute massively to our lives.

If we want to rebalance our ageing and declining populations and create truly vibrant local economies, we should do everything in our power to nurture quality tourism. But are we?

While the importance of tourism and hospitality businesses and their financial predicament has been recognised by the Scottish Government in the support that it has provided during the pandemic, tourism has been a Cinderella industry when it comes to public sector support as a whole.

Investment in essential infrastructure has not kept pace with growing and evolving visitor demand for years, a deficiency that has been thrown into sharp relief by the great influx of staycationers during the pandemic – people very unlikely to visit in normal circumstances. The resulting strain on infrastructure and communities is obvious.

Quality tourism is about ensuring every element of a holiday is top-notch. Bad or inadequate infrastructure lets the Highlands down, leading to damage, mess, poor visitor perception and upset locals. It’s the antithesis of good practice and quality tourism.

Responsibility for providing essential infrastructure rests with the public sector, and Highland Council’s commitment to invest £1.5 million in things like roads, parking, visitor management, public toilets and litter collection as part of its new visitor management strategy is very welcome. However, when spread across the region, it’s a drop in the ocean.

Highland Council must take tourism – the only game in town for region-wide recovery – more seriously. But if tourism really is to flourish, governments at all levels must commit to greatly increased investment in infrastructure, and this does not mean introducing a damaging new bed tax to pay for it – we must be more creative.

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