Let's talk about responsible tourism

All over the world, businesses are slowly reopening. Sensible, thoughtful, cautious governments are recognising that they have to strike a balance between the risk to lives from a dangerous virus and the risk to lives from economic collapse.

It is not a simple binary choice of lockdown good, reopening bad. Hesitate for too long and there may no way back for vulnerable sectors of economies as a tipping point is reached where the long term effects of lockdown are worse than the risks of reopening.

For Scotland, it is a fine balance. There are understandable concerns in some communities which have avoided the worst effects of the virus and which have limited resources with which to deal with any outbreak. They need reassurance that travel can be safe again. But tourists need reassurance too that they will be welcome.

Tourism matters to the whole economy. At its core are thousands of small businesses - accommodation, restaurants, gift shops, tour guides, coach firms, to name a few - that provide incomes for families and which support each other. 

Hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland rely on the tourism industry for their livelihoods. It’s part of what our country is: we are known the world over as a friendly and welcoming nation, with a story to tell, a history to share and a landscape to take the breath away.

People are, in general, risk averse. They will book their holiday where they think it is most likely that they can travel - and also where they feel they will be welcome.

It is important that Scotland strikes the right balance and joins the other European nations which are recognising the importance of their tourism industries to the lives of hundreds of thousands of their people and which are taking the first cautious steps towards reopening.

There will always be some who regard tourism as an unnecessary imposition on local populations: that is an argument that has gone on for years and will continue. This moment presents an opportunity to consider some of those concerns and to address those that require attention.

Host communities would benefit from a much wider distribution of existing tourist numbers across the country: the fixation on the Highlands and Edinburgh means visitors are missing out on wonderful parts of the country such as the Southern Uplands. The Scottish Borders offers Scotland in microcosm: there is much untapped capacity and an opportunity to welcome more visitors without overwhelming local communities.

It’s going to take time: some sectors will recover more slowly and need more support. But so many people have worked so hard to make Scotland the world class destination it is today that it is important that the right messages go out to potential visitors. Our friends around the world need to know that they are always welcome here.

This is why tourism matters to the economy: this is why we need to tread a careful path as we start to reopen responsibly and to welcome once again the people who love Scotland.*

  • This post was edited on July 7 after Scotland took its first steps towards full reopening of the tourism sector.