Now is your time to slow down and experience Scotland

VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead

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The reopening of tourism is a delicate balance between the needs and aspirations of visitors and the health and wellbeing of the providers. VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead gives a personal view of the way forward for everyone.

The school summer holidays are upon us and Scotland’s tourism businesses are desperate to welcome back visitors and are doing everything possible to ensure that they have a welcoming, clean and safe environment to experience our country at its best.

It’s difficult when you haven’t had any business for a long time to restrain from opening the flood gates and welcoming one and all.

But if we’re to reopen tourism in a responsible way, we need to look at ways to focus on value rather than volume.

For years we have gauged our success in visitor numbers and have been critical if the numbers go down – now is the time to take a look at how we can encourage people to stay longer, take life at a slower pace and enjoy what the whole of Scotland has to offer.

At VisitScotland we have been trying to bring communities together to talk about the reopening of tourism.

Many destination organisations are already on the case with this, with the national parks leading the way, trying to find the right balance between restarting tourism and keeping communities comfortable with the return of visitors.

When communities and tourism businesses work together to restart tourism in a responsible way everyone wins.

We’ve also launched a new campaign urging people across Scotland to support their local tourism industry by enjoying a day out across their region.

The initiative, which is targeted primarily at Scots, aims to highlight new places to explore as well as showcasing the many acclaimed attractions and locations that bring visitors from all over the world to Scotland’s shores.

So how do we achieve value over volume?

There are obvious wins around slow tourism and regional and seasonal spread.

Slow travel is about connection – with local people, cultures, food and music.

It’s about education and engagement with communities and has sustainability at its heart.

For tourism businesses, it may be tapping into emerging trends like wellbeing, experiential tourism and luxury travel.

Those lucky enough to continue earning during the pandemic may have extra funds to upscale to a longer holiday or for a more personalised, luxurious experience.

When international travel is allowed, I think we will see big changes from markets that traditionally stay longer and spend more and we’re working with international buyers who can deliver and align with our responsible agenda.

Alongside this we’ve been running our visitor management activity – trying to encourage everyone to #RespectProtectEnjoy our urban and rural environments by doing some simple things like picking up litter or keeping dogs on leads.

Visitors must respect the communities they visit – it is going to be a careful balance between the economics of restarting businesses, creating jobs and ensuring that communities don’t feel their vital resources are being threatened.

So, as we restart tourism, the reality of responsible tourism is visitors spread throughout the country and during the whole year.

It’s a big step change and will need us to measure success in a different way.

But it will also mean an enhanced experience for those visitors, a better time for communities, better seasonal and regional spread and just an all-round happier place for everyone.