Tourism has to be managed sustainably, Highland conference is told
ENCOURAGING visitors to travel off the well-trodden path and to visit outwith the standard tourism season was the theme of this year’s Highland Tourism Conference.
Organised by VisitScotland in partnership with Highland Council, the event focused on how the industry can collectively manage the success of tourism in the region which has been boosted in recent years by the North Coast 500.
Those attending the conference at the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness heard that the area continues to prove a popular choice for international visitors, building a strong local tourism economy. The event looked at how this impacts on the sustainability of tourism across the Highlands and what delegates can be doing to future-proof and preserve the beauty and draw of this part of Scotland.
Keynote speaker Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, explained to more than 150 delegates how his organisation is trying to encourage visitors to travel beyond the Golden Circle – a popular tourist route in southern Iceland – to create more regional spread and alleviate the associated infrastructure issues which can be created.
This has involved encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation within tourism businesses to seize opportunities and create quality, sustainable, authentic experiences for visitors.
He said: “The similarities between tourism in the Scottish Highlands and in Iceland are striking, with nature being the main attraction and the bulk of the industry built on small enterprises in rural areas. The explosive growth of Icelandic tourism since 2010 has brought on both challenges and opportunities and I wanted to give some insight into how government and businesses have dealt with the situation.
“I am honoured to be invited to share the Icelandic experience at the Highland Tourism Conference this year. Icelandic tourism has borrowed both practices and ideas from Scotland over the last few years and I am happy to be able to give a little back.
"The sharing of knowledge between our two countries is important and I hope my input can be of some value to for the tourism businesses in the Highlands.”
Laura Hamlet, of the Wester Ross Biosphere, talked about Sustainable Heritage Areas: Partnerships for Ecotourism, while Clea Warner and Kevin Frediani, from the National Trust for Scotland, spoke about Growing People and Places at Inverewe. Vicki Miller, director of marketing at VisitScotland, spoke on Marketing the Highlands and Marc Crothall, CEO of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, took Our Vision and Mission for the Future Beyond 2020 as his subject.
The conference included workshops for delegates on themes including sustainability and managing your online reputation, as well as an open panel discussion about managing success in the Highlands.
Chris Taylor, VisitScotland regional leadership director, said: “This year’s Highland Tourism Conference built on the success of those held in previous years.
“We recognise that tourism has grown rapidly in the Highlands and has to be managed carefully and sustainably to maintain its position as a must-see, must-return destination. We are optimistic about the future and are ambitious for tourism in the Highlands."
Stuart Black, director of development and infrastructure at Highland Council, said: “Highland Council is once again proud to be a partner in hosting the annual Highland Tourism Conference, providing a great end-of-season opportunity to consider how we can make things even better for 2020, the Year of Coasts and Waters. It looks to have been another successful year but we need to build on this momentum."