John O’Groat Journal

Holyrood Notebook by Ariane Burgess

Attraction of Highlands is clear to see – but communities must be heard.


When the Highlands are touched by the kind of sunshine we’ve experienced this summer, it’s obvious why this part of Scotland remains an enduringly popular tourist destination.

With many people still understandably hesitant to travel internationally, the Highlands are an attractive proposition for those looking for a holiday without leaving the UK.

Countless articles in lifestyle magazines and broadsheet supplements extol the virtues of the beautiful Highlands, but too often the region is treated like an empty wilderness rather than somewhere that’s home to many people and working communities.

There can be no doubt that tourism is an important part of the Highland economy and that visitors to the region bring with them many benefits. However, it’s equally clear that a burgeoning tourism industry brings serious challenges for Highland communities that we’ve not yet fully got to grips with. The need to strike an appropriate balance is pressing.

Website-based firms like Airbnb have facilitated a boom in short-term lets over the last few years, which allowed home owners to temporarily rent out their home, or part of it, to visitors with unprecedented ease. The vision there isn’t the problem, it gave lots of people in the Highlands welcome access to additional income. Sadly though, without proper regulation, Airbnb has morphed into something quite distinct from its original core idea.

In tourism hotspots the boom in short-term lets threatens to hollow out communities and turn them into resorts. As investors snap up properties to turn them into short-term lets rather than homes, prices inevitably rise, and it becomes impossible for a young person to buy a home. In turn this drives rural depopulation, an issue that has plagued the Highlands for a long time.