New study reveals Highlands could benefit by £400m annually through tourism investment.

A new study into the potential economic, social and environmental benefits of investment in the Highland tourism sector has been revealed by international tourism consultancy Stevens & Associates. The study conducted with tourism body Highland Tourism CIC and Highland Renewables shows that investing around £10m annually in regional tourism could return £400m per annum.

Highland Tourism CIC and Highland Renewables form a private sector led community interest company with a shared vision for the Highlands to become a world-leading sustainable destination. The CIC is a social enterprise that reinvests profits and surpluses for wider economic benefit and social and environmental purposes. To date, the CIC has invested circa £500,000 of private sector resources in a mission to establish a strategic and aspirational brand strategy for the Highlands as a premium environmental destination.

Yvonne Crook, Chair of Highland Tourism CIC and Highland Renewables, said: “Within the next year, an investment of circa £1m of private sector funds will be made through this innovative partnership, aiming to address a series of issues and opportunities that will significantly benefit the Highland economy, communities and environment.

“By 2026 we aim to ensure circa £10m per annum of public and private sector investment as well as new monies from tourism tax are all aligned to invest in premium brand Highlands.”

The new study reaffirms the scale and importance of this initiative to the Highland economy with benefits across all sectors and communities, as well as supporting a collective ambition to achieve net zero and address the nature and climate crisis.

Professor Stevens’ study used findings from the influential Walpole Report to underline the importance and strength of creating a high-value tourism ecosystem which generates a ‘halo effect’ for other industries.

Professor Terry Stevens of Stevens & Associates said: “A £10m total investment empowering Highland Tourism CIC to create an organisation that positions and markets the Highlands to grow the high spend market will generate an additional annual £400m net positive income for the region annually. This is based on a 5% growth rate, which is just a third of the compound annual growth rate forecast for this market segment over the next five years.”

The study also highlights the increasing commitment across the high-value tourism sector for travellers to reduce their environmental footprint and support meaningful local community projects. The report clarifies how important a role such initiatives play in attracting increasingly eco-conscious, high-value travellers. Getting these aspects of the destination right will create a global halo effect, which will boost the Highland’s reputation and image abroad as visitors become brand ambassadors in their networked circles.

Stuart McColm, Cabot Highlands General Manager and Highland Tourism CIC Director, said: “The study from Professor Terry Stevens reinforces why Cabot Highlands identified the multi-million-pound investment it has made here in the Highlands, which will ultimately create more than 175 jobs among other local economic and social benefits. The findings also underpin why Highland Tourism CIC has seized this opportunity, and I am proud to be part of the development of Highland Tourism CIC for the greater good of the Highlands.”

Fundamental to the brand strategy for the Highlands is the CIC‘s commitment to a regenerative tourism model that seeks to make travel a force for good. It aims to replace the consumptive, extractive and exploitative nature of traditional tourism with a model designed and carefully managed to bring net benefits to destinations and communities. That includes a commitment to net zero, restoring our natural environment, dispersing visitors and therefore employment, higher value jobs, keeping young people in the area and developing a circular economy.

Yvonne Crook, Chair of Highland Tourism CIC & Highland Renewables, said: “There has never been a greater need and opportunity for a private sector led collaboration and investment. Highlands Tourism CIC’s innovative approach to sharing a vision and mission and investing together, with significant support from Tomatin Distillery, in a Highland brand strategy aims to address issues and capitalise on the opportunity to realise £400m net additional economic benefit annually or the Highlands with significant community and environmental benefits.”

Kate Forbes, MSP and Highland Tourism CIC Ambassador, said: “This is an important initiative for the Highlands from the private sector that will bring significant social, environmental and economic benefit to the wider community. If you are a business or community leader in the Highlands, I would urge you to get involved with the CIC and see what you can do to support this initiative to ensure we don’t lose this opportunity.”