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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Supporting The Region’s Tourism Industry 

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editorial from VisitScotland Destination Development Director, Chris Taylor

Tourism in the Highlands is a 365-day a year industry – and one of Scotland’s most important industries.

In fact, in a survey of Scottish residents it was recognised as the most important. 

It is an economic and social powerhouse contributing significantly to the economy of the region.

It helps sustain communities, creates jobs and attracts investment – helping to support the vibrancy and vitality of destinations right across the region.

While the struggles of Scottish tourism post-pandemic have been well documented, demand for and interest in Scotland – and indeed the Highlands – has remained incredibly strong.

People still want to travel to this stunning region in whichever way they can, and we are very much still on their destination wish lists. 

In fact, Far North Scotland was recently named as one of Lonely Planet’s

Best in Travel destinations for 2024.

The region, which includes Caithness and Sutherland, is one of only two UK locations to feature on the coveted annual list. 

Our scenery and landscape are among the things that makes Scotland so special.

We all have a duty of care to preserve these natural assets for future generations.

This is why VisitScotland is encouraging responsible travel, inspiring visitors to discover more of the region, stay longer, visit during quieter periods and take time to really immerse themselves in a destination. 

We have seen growth in international markets.

Recent statistics from the International Passenger Survey show visits to Scotland and spend greatly surpassing both 2022 and pre-pandemic levels.

This undeniable demand gives a huge boost to our valuable tourism and events industry.

Our overseas visitors often stay longer and spend more, helping to support jobs and communities in every region.

None of us are immune to the challenging economic conditions currently facing the country.

From visitors to businesses, destination to public sector organisations, we are all having to consider our activities and ensure we are utilising resources as efficiently as we can.  

Even more important then, that we continue to talk and work together to achieve the best outcomes for the visitor economy. 

VisitScotland is steadfast in our support of tourism, and so for us, our focus is using marketing, partnership work and business support activities to promote the Highlands as a year-round destination – inspiring and influencing visitors at those crucial planning stages, using the channels we know they use. 

Of course, our job is made easier thanks to the Highlands’ outstanding tourism offering and the dedicated and passionate people behind it.

It was great to see some of those leading lights recognised as winners in many of the categories at the Highlands and Islands Thistle Awards recently.

I wish the best of luck to them all ahead of the national Scottish Thistle Awards final next month.

I continue to be impressed by how Highland tourism businesses evolve and innovate.

In just one example of a wide range of support, we recently highlighted, through the media, how MacGregor’s Bar in Inverness had boosted its visitor numbers this year thanks to its online social media following.

It had built up a strong international following on social media when it started live streaming traditional music sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, the bar has seen a huge rise in visitors this year, especially those travelling from North America. 

We aim to build on the global interest in Scotland when our flagship travel trade show, VisitScotland Connect returns to P&J Live in Aberdeen 17-18 April 2024.

Registration is open now for eligible businesses.

Earlier this year, it was fantastic to have more than 20 Highland tourism and events businesses join us and meet with tour operators and travel agents from across the world. 

This year, a number of events in the Highlands were supported by EventScotland funding programmes, including the Scottish Six Days Trial, Nairn Book and Arts Festival and Skyline Scotland in Glencoe.

In celebration of the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships, the Community Cycling Fund, designed to support sustainable cycling projects and free events across Scotland, also saw events take place within the region, including Pedal Power: Discover More at Loch Ness; the Cairngorms Cycle Festival and Active Ness.

Other 2023 highlights across the Highlands included the opening of Dundreggan Rewilding Centre, the launch of Uile-bheist, a low-carbon craft distillery, brewery and visitor experience at the Glen Mhor Hotel on the banks of the River Ness; the staging of the popular Etape Loch Ness, the return of the Under Canvas festival with live music, DJs and local food; the Taste of Nairn festival and Dornoch Whisky Festival, to name a few.

This year has also seen the reopening of Strathnaver Museum following its £1.2M refurbishment, as well as the Corrieshalloch Gateway to Nature Centre at Corrieshalloch Gorge NNR; and the reopening of the Loch Ness Centre in June, following its £1.5M upgrade. 

This year saw us continue our collaboration with High Life Highland on the Spirit of the Highlands and Islands project, with the launch of the recent autumn campaign – the final strand in a two-year project.

The campaign focuses exclusively on responsible tourism messages, inspiring visitors to explore relatively quieter places and to travel at quieter times of year and aims to bring benefits to local communities and unlock economic potential by creating and sustaining jobs, businesses, and services. 

Spirit of the Highlands and Islands spring and autumn 2023 paid media campaigns have generated more than 64M impressions, almost 7M video views and over 181,000 clicks to linked webpages.

Tourism in the Highlands is an industry that both supports and is supported by our strong local communities.

They play a huge part in making the visitor experience a positive one and ensuring the Highlands remains a must-visit, must-return destination, all year round. 

A perfect example of positive community-led tourism is Loch Ness Hub and Travel, which is owned by and supports the Glen Urquhart community.

It offers baggage and shuttle transfers for the Great Glen Way, e-bike hire and visitor information services.

It is also a one-stop shop for visitors exploring Glen Urquhart and Loch Ness.

All profits are invested back into the community to support local businesses, groups and amenities.

The return of international visitors is especially important while the domestic market adjusts to the cost-of-living challenges.

There are opportunities in our older-age domestic markets as well as our international markets – especially North America – which is critical to helping extend the season.

Our Great Days Out campaign has pulled together some of the best offers from across the country to help families get out and enjoy Scotland this winter.  

And our themes of outdoor adventure, seasonal food and drink, cosy places to stay and authentic local events provide the perfect opportunity for the region. 

Our travel trade and industry relationship managers recently ran a Spirit of the Highlands and Islands travel trade webinar for around 35 businesses, to demonstrate how travel is distributed across domestic and international markets, help them discover the latest market insights and trends, and explore the importance of ‘discoverability’ to increase their tourism revenue year-round.

Another travel trade workshop is due to take place in Dornoch next week.

But before all of that, we are looking forward to hosting the Highland Tourism Conference at the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness again on Tuesday (28 November).

The event aims to bring inspiration and encourage innovation within our region’s tourism industry, while allowing businesses to connect, make crucial contacts and explore partnerships. 

Together, we all strive to provide a quality experience for everyone who visits the Highlands, but we also need to keep on talking up tourism to make sure we all get the most benefit from the fantastic industry.

We’ll continue to work with, and support, businesses to grow the value of tourism to Scotland, helping create better places for people to live, work and visit. 

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