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Highland Tourism Talks

Image:  Lairig Leacach, Lochaber kindly supplied by Girls on Hills.


Highland tourism industry stakeholders met online on Tuesday 23 March, on the first anniversary of the first Covid-19 lockdown, for the inaugural Highland Tourism Talks event, hosted by Highland Tourism. With no Highland tourism strategy, vision or plan for a £541m industry employing 19,000 people, Highland Tourism was formed as an industry-led Community Interest Company (CIC) to develop a blueprint for Highland tourism recovery. 

Generating interest from hundreds of tourism businesses and organisation across the Highlands, the inaugural Highland Tourism Talks event was delivered by destination specialist, Professor Terry Stevens, who urged the Highland tourism industry to get behind the initiative with a conscious travel approach. 

Professor Stevens, who has a long-standing connection with destination development in communities throughout Scotland, gave examples of how other international destinations are planning for recovery and urged the Highlands to seize this opportunity, explaining: “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.”

Yvonne Crook Co-founder of Highland Tourism and with a background in destination development said: “this year the Highlands with its natural and safe environment is in prime position to attract domestic visitors, however overcrowding is an issue and it is our duty as an industry to do our best to manage this, dispersing visitors from honey pot 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. 

“We also have a climate change Imperative and know that 81% of our visitors are concerned about the Climate. 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.”

Yvonne went on to say: “we have a shortfall in spend from our overseas visitors of £202m and international visitor numbers were already in decline by 15% 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.”

Professor Stevens further encouraged the industry to consider how it could evolve as a partnership organisation together with the wider ecosystem in the Highlands: “With the University of the Highlands and Islands, a strategic medical / wellness agenda and the Highlands fast becoming the renewable 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.”

Commenting on the Highland Tourism Talks presentation, attendee and tourism business owner, David Parker of Lochbroom 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.”