Review of the Scottish National Tourism Strategy

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1 Review of the Scottish National Tourism Strategy This paper supplements the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) response to the review of the Tourism Strategy, in order to explain in a more logical way the points we are making using the standard response template. SNH is charged by the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991 to foster understanding and facilitate enjoyment of the natural heritage of Scotland. We thus have a direct responsibility for the experience that is offered to tourists. In addition we are required to advise on the sustainable use of the natural heritage, and we wish to maximise the extent to which local people can derive economic and social benefit from sustainable use of high quality natural heritage. For these reasons tourism is a high priority issue for SNH. Use of the natural heritage by tourists The original strategy contains many references to Scotland s scenery and natural resources, and the 1999 Visitor Attitudes Survey demonstrated the importance of scenery and other natural heritage values to tourists. The single most important attraction influencing the decision to holiday in Scotland was landscape/countryside/rugged scenery (cited by 30% of interviewees). The most common description associated with Scotland was beautiful scenery, both before and after their visits. 68% of the interviewees listed Scotland as a good hiking/walking destination. However the full significance of these data has not always been understood, in our view, though the impacts of Foot and Mouth Disease have led to greater awareness recently. We believe that the natural heritage of Scotland, linked with its cultural heritage, is absolutely fundamental to most tourists appreciation of the country. It is not something limited to the niche markets of wildlife or activity tourism, though these have their role to play in the wider industry. The backdrop of scenery and wildlife, with its variety and continuity over centuries, and the various experiences of solitude, tranquillity, pastoral communities, wildness and drama, are what most tourists to Scotland appreciate and expect. It should be at the heart of the new strategy. The natural heritage resource (another term would be the natural heritage infrastructure) is not something that can be taken for granted however. The extent to which it retains its qualities, and the extent to which tourists have opportunities to experience it fully, are matters that require constant effort and investment. Public bodies such as Local Planning Authorities, SNH, the Forestry Commission (FC), and the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department (SEERAD), amongst others, have key responsibilities for facilitating good resource management. Land owners and managers in agriculture, forestry, game management, and conservation management have practical responsibilities for management of the resources. Although the tourism industry depends on good management of the natural heritage, the resource managers are not usually seen as part of the tourism industry. The new strategy must ensure that a wide view of roles and responsibilities 1

2 in tourism is taken, and that the importance of maintaining the natural heritage infrastructure is recognised. Two specific issues provide examples of the importance of this approach. Access to the countryside for recreation and enjoyment is an essential part of many tourists holidays. It may amount to a stroll from the bus, or to bagging a Munro. In either case it contributes a direct quality of experience that goes beyond, and supports, the experience of travel in Scotland. The forthcoming legislation on public access should be an important contribution to tourism, as should its implementation through local strategies and projects (by Scottish Executive spending on access will be 6.5 million p.a.). The second example is the Agri-Environment Programme ( 30m in , and rising) funded under the EU Rural Development Regulation. This provides farmers with direct funding of for land management in the interests of bio-diversity and landscape. The benefits of this to tourists (amongst others) are obvious, but the link between agricultural support and tourism is rarely highlighted. These examples illustrate that tourism is a wide-ranging industry, dependent on other sectors of the economy. We believe that the new strategy will only be effective if a more wide-ranging and integrated approach to tourism is taken. Sustainable Development has become a cross-cutting policy priority of the UK government and the Scottish Executive, and SNH has a responsibility to advise on sustainable use of the natural heritage. It goes without saying that a tourism industry that relies heavily on the natural heritage would be cutting its own throat if tourists were allowed to have an adverse impact on the scenery, wildlife, or visitor infrastructure. Fortunately there are at present few places in Scotland where this is a serious issue, in comparison with many other tourism destinations. Nevertheless sustainable tourism must be the key objective of the new strategy, if it is to allow economic growth without adverse environmental and social impacts. From the demand point of view it is worth noting the extent to which tourists are increasingly expecting high standards of sustainability. In so doing, tourists are not only making judgements about the environmental qualities of the tourism industry. They are equally likely to be aware of wider environmental effects of development planning, waste and transport, and land management. This again emphasises the need for tourism policy to influence wider policies. The Tourism and Environment Forum (TEF) is making some specific suggestions about ways in which the national strategy should ensure that action is taken to improve and monitor the sustainability of tourism in Scotland. We have contributed to the TEF comments, and concur with them. 2

3 Tourism demand The extent to which tourists value the natural heritage, and their increasing interest in a sustainable product, have been mentioned above. All the indications are that these demands will increase. As a result there is an opportunity for Scotland to capitalise on its environmental image and natural heritage resources. The demand for activity and wildlife opportunities on holiday is also increasing. This may be in the form of specialist holidays, or as components in a more general visit. In both cases Scotland is well placed to provide them. It would be wrong to assume that the required products and standards are already in place however. Until recently they were largely taken for granted. There is considerable scope for improving the range of products, as well as their competitiveness. In this respect, the increasing demand is widely recognised in the world tourism industry, and Scotland will have to move forward to stand still. If it is to improve its competitive position, considerable attention will have to be given to environmental issues and products. It would be a mistake to put the cart before the horse by pursuing marketing initiatives without regard to the quality and availability of the products. Areas of action Information VisitScotland.com is in our view an extremely important initiative. It provides an accessible and cost effective way for tourists to plan their holiday, wherever they are. We believe that providing tourists with good information about the natural heritage, and how they can enjoy it, is essential if the natural heritage is to make the best contribution to tourism. We are currently leading a pilot project, in association with VisitScotland and other public and NGO partners, to provide added value to VisitScotland.com by integrating natural heritage information. Other forms of marketing are also important, and the natural heritage has always played a role in tourism marketing. There is scope in the future to provide a better-informed approach that goes beyond the classic images. This would be consistent with a more targeted approach to tourism markets, and with increasingly discerning customers. Information aimed at them must be as accurate and reliable as possible if it is to meet their requirements. Recent initiatives such as the Scottish Attitudes Surveys are increasing our understanding of demand. There is still some way to go in identifying product specific demand (for niche markets), and regional tourism demand. Efforts must continue to understand what people want, and how their demands are evolving. Despite activity at UK level, little has been done in Scotland on evaluating the sustainability of tourism. More information, including appropriate indicators, is needed. Only then can the quality of the tourism product be improved, and marketed effectively. Tied in with this there is a need for better approaches to accreditation, which provides evidence of quality and can be used in 3

4 marketing. The Green Tourism Business Scheme (GTBS) has led the way, and has been internationally praised. The resources for delivering it remain fragile, and it does not attract the priority it should in tourism policy. Other forms of accreditation are also needed, with wildlife tourism and national parks being possible contenders. SNH will play its part in assisting accreditation schemes, and using them wherever feasible for its own properties. Action by other public bodies, including VisitScotland, is also required. Training Most of the tourism industry treats the natural heritage as a free service, always available and organised by someone else. It does little to promote it directly. Tourism operators at all levels, and tourist information providers, could all enhance the holiday experience if they could advise tourists better. They could tell them where to go, what they can expect to see, and how they might get there. Training across the industry is required to achieve this. SNH is collaborating with partners to deliver pilot courses on the local natural heritage to TIC staff in 4 ATB areas before the next season, and we believe this type of approach should be widely promoted and resourced by public bodies. Niche strategies As a general point, we believe that Scotland s tourism strength is as a niche tourism destination towards the top end of the global tourism market. If Scottish tourism attempts to appeal to too wide a spectrum of tourists then internal tensions are likely to result, and these may for instance compromise the standard of the high quality products. The focus on quality and special character would mirror other national strategies, including the Forward Strategy for Agriculture. The consistency of this approach would allow initiatives such as local food quality to be taken forward by both agricultural and tourism industries. Other common themes would also benefit. Nature based tourism is the term we are increasingly using to describe the niche sometimes referred to as wildlife or (imprecisely) eco-tourism. It has great potential to build on visitors expectations and demands, and to offer a high quality experience. At present what we mostly have is a high quality natural resource, and little to help or attract the tourists. This niche is not just for the specialist: red kite or dolphin watching is regularly enjoyed as part of a multi-faceted Scottish holiday, along with arts, golf, activities, and food (etc.). Many sites where nature can be enjoyed are in public and charitable ownership, including National Nature Reserves. These facilities provide a great opportunity to anchor a wider network of places to enjoy nature. Investment is needed throughout the range of sites to ensure quality infrastructure, information and orientation, guiding, public transport provision, and links with accommodation. Activity holidays are similarly broad in range. Some activity holidays include a strong element of nature based tourism, though their primary attraction is the activity itself. They range from Ice-climbing to Walking for Softees, with customers from 5 to 85. They may be 7 days sailing to St Kilda, or an afternoon s walk at the Birks of Aberfeldy. Their reliance on the natural 4

5 heritage and visitor facilities needs to be understood, and the linkage made with other parts of the economy such as accommodation and transport. We strongly support the development of a Tourism Walking Strategy, which should include market analysis, and should set out and monitor the relationship between countryside access infrastructure and tourism income. Intra-sector co-ordination The last point is relevant to various aspects of the tourism industry. The tourist sees a holiday as a single package of activities, travel, accommodation, and other services. The industry often deals with them all separately. There is considerable scope to enhance the natural heritage s contribution to tourism by better co-ordination. Cross-sectoral integration Investment in the natural heritage, as part of the infrastructure for rural tourism, through Forestry and Agricultural support schemes should be reviewed and the tourism implications highlighted. In the same way, the contribution of the Development Planning process to maintaining the quality of the landscape on which tourism depends should be highlighted. From the natural heritage point of view, National Scenic Areas and National Parks are particularly important because they contain some of the finest Scottish landscapes. They have particular potential to contribute to tourism because of their status and management arrangements, which include a cross-sectoral strategic approach. The strategy should highlight this point. The close relationship, often a causal one, between cultural and natural heritage needs to be emphasised. Not surprisingly, tourists often see natural and cultural resources as aspects of the single identity of the area they visit. More integrated approaches to the management and marketing of the heritage assets is desirable. SNH is assisting the development of this type of approach through its Natural Heritage Zones programme. Public Sector roles VisitScotland should have a key role in bringing together the wide array of public bodies that influence tourism in Scotland. In this respect, marketing and demand analysis are not sufficient. Pro-active work is required to achieve the results described above, and VisitScotland is best placed to bring the interests together and facilitate their work. In addition to the main tourism bodies of VisitScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and Scottish Enterprise, a number of other bodies should be brought more into the tourism arena. SNH is one, and we refer above to various initiatives we are undertaking at present. SEERAD is another, through its responsibilities for agricultural support measures and the Rural Development Regulation. Area Tourism Boards have an important part to play, but SNH s experience of them is very variable. In some cases they take a pro-active and partnership orientated approach to promoting and marketing tourism, in others they work 5

6 more independently on a narrower range of marketing initiatives. No doubt this reflects the views of their membership. It would be preferable if local bodies such as ATBs had a consistent approach, which recognised the wider role they can play. It should include facilitating the development of tourism businesses and the resources they rely on, including the natural heritage. Comparison with current strategy Our commentary here is based on the summary provided by VisitScotland of progress on the major action points. What has and hasn t worked A strategic approach to Tourism at the national level is essential because of the scale of the industry, and its dependency on a range of other sectors and activities. The existence of the strategy is thus a success in itself. However the absence of a basis for the strategy in sustainable development is a failing. In many ways the strategy highlights the natural heritage and environment, but fails to draw conclusions about how to draw on it or what responsibilities the industry has towards it. In other respects the Strategy focuses strongly on VisitScotland and the Enterprise Networks, and has relatively little to say about otherstakeholders. Which actions are still relevant VisitScotland.com has not progressed as rapidly as intended. We support continuing emphasis on this project. It is the most effective way of delivering an integrated and quality assured approach to all the information needs of tourists. We do not believe that the correct priority was attached to niche markets at the start of the strategy: the overall priority attached to the niches was insufficient, and the relative priorities between them were not justified. For example scotexchange.net figures quote an annual spend of 100m for golf and 438m for walking, and there is greater capacity to expand walking, but golf was identified as the first niche to be developed under the strategy. Nevertheless some progress has been made with wildlife tourism, and access to the countryside is gaining more attention. We still do not believe that sufficient priority has been given to niche markets closely linked with the natural heritage. In addition, more work is needed to develop strategic approaches to them, in collaboration with partners such as SNH. We are not clear about progress with the National Transport Timetable, but we believe that it remains an important target. In relation to quality and service, the GTBS has not been supported adequately so far. On training, we recognise that advances have been made. We also believe that more needs to be done to bring basic knowledge of the natural heritage to staff throughout the tourism industry. 6

7 Although many of the Area Tourism Strategies have now been reviewed, we do not feel that all of them demonstrate sufficiently good practice. Although some have been produced with full partnership consultation, and are sound on the natural heritage as a result, some lack awareness and ideas in this respect. The work on targets and indicators has entirely missed the importance of sustainable tourism, in our view. What new actions are required Understanding and characterising the market 1. Define the scope of the tourism market that Scotland should target, and set out clearly the objective of establishing Scotland as a high quality niche destination within the global market. 2. Recognise the competitive force for higher environmental standards and marketing, arising from changing demands. 3. Improve understanding of the demand for niche products in nature based and activity tourism, and agree common definitions for these and related fields 4. Promote the sense of place as a key value sought by tourists, one that incorporates both cultural and natural heritage, and one that offers a range of experiential possibilities. Product Development 5. Base the new strategy on sustainable development principles, and develop relevant indicators and targets. 6. Include the management and maintenance of the natural heritage infrastructure (scenery, bio-diversity, public access) within the strategy 7. Develop co-ordinated approaches to nature based and activity tourism, leading to the adoption of both national walking and nature-tourism strategies, and resulting development plans. 8. Develop accreditation schemes and operator codes of practice to ensure that high environmental standards can be set and verified. 9. Encourage better linkages between tourism providers, through pilot and demonstration initiatives. Human Resource Development 10. Support natural heritage and environmental training throughout the industry Market Development 11. Support the SNH led initiative linked to visitscotland.com, and include better natural heritage understanding and information in other marketing material. Structures 12. Ensure the complete range of public bodies, including SNH, SEERAD, and FC are recognised as important contributors to the strategy 7

8 13. Adopt a more integrated approach to tourism resources, services, and marketing so that the roles of relevant sectors and bodies are explicit. 14. Identify more clearly the pro-active and facilitative roles needed in the public sector to bring together action in support of tourism, and allocate responsibilities for them to VisitScotland and other agencies and bodies. 15. Identify the dependency of tourism on other sectors (land management, planning, transport, etc.) and promote the interests of tourism to decision makers. Scottish Natural Heritage September

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