Professor Terry Stevens
“The recovery and re-growth of tourism demands that we shift the focus of the business model. The old tourism volume-based growth model is sixty years old with COVID cruelly exposing its fragilities. Highland Tourism is advocating a fresh approach to welcoming back and better managing future tourists to the Highlands. This fledging organisation is harnessing the new language of tourism: responsible, conscious, slow, considered and considerate travel. It is reflecting the call to arms of the 2018 Barcelona Declaration, “Better Places to Live, Better Places to Visit.”
The approach being taken is compelling and in tune with the sentiments of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The mantra is more of a manifesto than a strategy/ The ambition more like the new enlightenment. This paradigm shift is going in the right direction: fuelling the imagination as to what could be and capturing the imagination of all who recognise change is necessary.
As Bob Dylan predicted 57 years ago “The Times They Are a-Changin'” (released as the title track of his 1964 album of the same name). He wrote the song as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for the time, influenced by Irish and Scottish ballads. Ever since its release, the song has been influential to people’s views on society, universal lyrics still prescient: as too the book, ‘ Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered’. This 1973 book is a collection of essays by German-born British economist E. F. Schumacher. The phrase “Small Is Beautiful” came from a principle espoused by Schumacher’s teacher Leopold Kohr (1909–1994) to champion small, appropriate technologies that are believed to empower people more, in contrast with phrases such as “bigger is better”. In 1995 The Times Literary Supplement ranked Small Is Beautiful among the 100 most influential books published since 1950. It has become more relevant today.
Highland Tourism is at the start of a journey but is gathering momentum. It is challenging many aspects of the way we think about tourism and the way of natural, cultural, heritage and human resources can contribute to broader community health and wealth. It is a movement; it is about changing perceptions and behaviour and it is important. The approach echoes the shift being taken in Slovenia, Iceland, Croatia, Austria, Denmark and other destinations.
It is a journey of small steps and incremental change. It maybe seen by some as being radical but we are at an historic moment in the history of tourism in Scotland where a new model has to prevail. Subtle policies, clear communications and brave decisions to get it right (again in the words of Dylan, written in 1973 in ‘Forever Young’): ‘May you have a strong foundation, When the winds of changes shift.’
Radical change is not a call for a rebellion, as happened in Edward Abbey’s 1975 novel ‘The Monkey Wrench Gang’ reflecting the concerns about pressure on the environment and the use of sabotage (monkeywrenching) and law-breaking to preserve wilderness and wild spaces from environmentally damaging activities in the Southwestern United States. Radical change in the context of tourism in the Highlands is a call of a moderated re-think of the relationship between host and guest. And, with precious time slipping away the need for this new approach is very relevant.”.