A CAITHNESS councillor is to call on VisitScotland to think again about its decision to close its tourist office in Thurso.
The plea will be made by Thurso and Northwest Caithness Highland councillor, Struan Mackie.
He will raise the issue when he questions council leader Margaret Davidson on the closure of tourist information centres.
Mr Mackie will ask what support the authority is giving to rural communities following VisitScotland’s announcement to cut its staffed offices by almost half. He wants the council to put pressure on VisitScotland to review its decision.
Over the next two years, tourist offices in Thurso, Durness, Drumnadrochit and Fort Augustus will close their doors to visitors. Instead, VisitScotland plans to move to regional information centres and enhanced digital technology to advise tourists across the country.
Mr Mackie supports the existing tourist offices and said: “Make no mistake, this move will hit the Highland tourist industry hard. Having spoken to business owners and staff employed in the tourism industry across Caithness and north Sutherland, this uncertainty is simply not welcome. My ward, like many across Highland, is making every effort to build our tourist product and to move away from historical reliance on industries such as nuclear industry and offshore employment.”
Mr Mackie continued: “When we are encouraging people to invest in tourism, invest in the far north, the announcement comes as a hammer blow to those aspirations.
“Even with the rollout of wifi – to a number of selected towns across the region – the number of visitors coming without a digitally connected mobile phone or laptop are still very significant. Even those who are digitally enabled can find it hard to get connected, especially in landward Caithness and Sutherland.
“My worry is that local knowledge and a physical location will be lost in the hope that digital take-up increases. I don’t buy that. No mobile application will match the lost knowledge of local accommodation, visitor attractions and our region’s hidden gems.”
Mr Mackie also hits out at VisitScotland’s website and says its attractions section does not contain any site for Caithness, Sutherland or Ross-shire. “The nearest is Inverness! And the partner information programme isn’t even shown on their interactive map. VisitScotland have a duty to promote Scotland as a whole and the Highland Council has the duty to add resilience in our economy and support those working and doing business across the region,” he said.
“I was elected to stand up for the far north and to challenge decisions that will adversely affect the people who live, work and also visit my ward. I hope the council leader will use my representation as an opportunity to voice the concerns of far north constuents and ask VisitScotland to think again.”