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Councillors told tourism is vital to the economic recovery of the Highlands

By Gordon Calder

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Tourism is vital to the economic recovery of the Highlands and it is important the local authority helps improve infrastructure in the area and manages the growth in visitor numbers.

That was the message delivered at a meeting of the council's economy and infrastructure committee meeting when members heard the Visitor Management Plan (VMP) for 2022 supported tourism related services across Highland.

It was pointed out that plans are being made for next year.

Councillor Ken Gowans, the committee chairman, said: "During challenging times for all services, council staff alongside partners delivered the uplift in services in the height of a busy season that helped inform tourists, enhance provisions, assist communities with visitor management and improve visitor experiences. The work continues throughout autumn and winter with a focus on forecasting and planning for 2023."

He added: "Tourism is vital to the economic recovery of the Highlands. Tourism-related jobs can represent up to 43 per cent of the workforce in some areas across Highland and it is important that we continue to strive to improve infrastructure and how we manage the growth in visitor numbers in Highland communities.

"Significant data gathering has been collated throughout the busy 2022 season, the useful information will be carefully considered by members and officers to learn from the 2022 insights and trends and will help assist in prioritising key improvements for 2023.”

Tourism is vital to the economic recovery of the Highlands
Tourism is vital to the economic recovery of the Highlands

The range of projects delivered included:

  • Improved visitor signage, passing place signs, road signs, variable message signs and road markings/linings in key locations.
  • Invitation to pay in 20 council car parks.
  • Eighteen seasonal access rangers and four visitor site wardens delivered.
  • Public facility improvements and upgrades and15 new comfort schemes.
  • Online and in person delivery of motor home, waste and toilet guidance.
  • Consistent social messaging on tourism related safety including road safety, Scottish Outdoor Access Code, litter and waste and keep the Highlands beautiful campaign

The councillors were told that interim analysis of data collected by the access rangers indicates a continuing increase in visitor pressures on popular sites around Highland.

"Camping out with designated camp sites remains high, however figures indicate a small decrease from 2021 figures, whereas motor home numbers continue to increase," it was stated.

Almost 36,000 motor homes – an increase of 50 per cent compared to 2021 – visited various parts of the Highlands with the highest numbers in north-west Sutherland, Skye and east Lochaber. A total of 7300 off-site tents (not in a designated camp site) were recorded throughout Highland.

There were 7400 outdoor toileting incidents – a 33 per cent increase on the previous year while there was a 25 per cent increase in the large bin bags of litter collected, taking the total to 2050.

The council’s Strategic Tourism Development Plan, in tandem with the VMP, identifies key priorities for tourism infrastructure in Highland over the next two to five years.

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