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CHRIS TAYLOR: Tourism industry in Highlands looks ahead to opportunities in 2023

By John Davidson

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VisitScotland’s destination development director, Chris Taylor, reflects on tourism over the last 12 months and how the sector can thrive in 2023

Chris Taylor VisitScotland.
Chris Taylor VisitScotland.

We know that Scotland’s tourism industry is facing fresh challenges, and this comes having already experienced considerable difficulty during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The rise in the cost of doing business is having a significant impact on the industry, as well as ongoing issues with staff recruitment and retention.

At VisitScotland, we continue to work with partners in our tourism and events industry on promoting activity that extends the season and ensuring Scotland – and the Highlands – remains front of mind for potential visitors.

It has been fantastic to see the return of domestic and international visitors to our region over the summer and we want to see this continue. We’re prioritising activities that will stimulate demand and new bookings for the industry to support its long-term recovery.

In addition to the next phase of our Scotland is Calling campaign, which includes several Highland locations and a partnership with Expedia to promote Inverness, we worked with destination management organisations across the region on a dedicated winter marketing campaign. Running in October and November, the campaign achieved more than three million digital impressions, with the aim of encouraging visitors to explore all parts of the region, driving businesses during the winter months.

Scotland’s Unesco Trail has been promoted with the launch of a dedicated VisitScotland marketing campaign. Aimed at potential visitors from the UK and Ireland, Germany and France, the campaign encourages them to discover more about the country’s 13 place-based designations included in the trail. Unesco Biosphere Wester Ross is one of the designations included in the trail.

Attracting visitors to the Highlands through the traditional 'off-season' is a feature of the tourism sector today. Picture: Venture North
Attracting visitors to the Highlands through the traditional 'off-season' is a feature of the tourism sector today. Picture: Venture North

In addition to these marketing campaigns, there has been significant investment in tourism infrastructure projects across the region. Working with local authorities and other partners, more than £5 million has been invested in making improvements at 29 sites in the Highlands, including Ardnamurchan, Glenfinnan, the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Eigg. The overarching aim of all of this activity is to enhance the resilience of our tourism infrastructure and to improve the visitor experience.

Despite the ongoing challenges, we have much to celebrate. In recent months, the team at VisitScotland has been fortunate to get on site and see first-hand just a few of the great examples of investment in tourism happening across the region. For example, excellent work on new experiences and the transition to net zero at Nevis Range, the fantastic new visitor centre that the National Trust for Scotland has created at Corrieshalloch Gorge, and at Inverness Castle. These will be transformational for the Highlands and provide much hope for the years to come.

National Geographic recently named the Scottish Highlands in their Best of the World list for 2023. This places the Highlands as one of only two UK destinations featured, across five key categories. The Highlands features within the Nature category to celebrate Scotland’s rewilding efforts, which aim to restore the original landscape of the Highlands by replanting and restoring native species.

We have also celebrated the people in the industry who have worked tirelessly over the past two years. The return of the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards last month offered us the chance to do this and I congratulate those businesses who made it through to the national Scottish Thistle Awards final next year.

In partnership with Highland Council, we successful delivered the Highland Tourism Conference – the first since 2019. Held at the end of November, it provided inspiration and practical advice for around 200 tourism businesses across the Highlands, as the sector continues to recover from the significant impacts of the pandemic and further challenges ahead with the cost of doing business.

Activities such as surfing with North Coast Watersports at Thurso can help attract people to the region. Picture: Venture North
Activities such as surfing with North Coast Watersports at Thurso can help attract people to the region. Picture: Venture North

To mark our Year of Stories 2022, we recently launched a brand-new trail and map exploring Scotland's tales of witchcraft, featuring Strathspey Storywalks in the Highlands. We also recently launched our new-look film guide, Set in Scotland, which includes over 40 films which feature locations in the Highlands and Skye, including Edie, Detective Pikachu, No Time To Die and Our Ladies.

The new-look guide will offer further inspiration for visitors to explore the Highlands, while providing a resource for the industry to create new experiences as part of Scotland's national strategy to rebuild the visitor economy and ensure sustainable tourism thrives.

Our Highland iCentres continue to do an amazing job of inspiring and informing our visitors about the best things to see and do during their visit and our staff are already promoting not only snowsports but also fantastic winter activities and walks and sharing their recommendations for places to warm up afterwards!

This year also saw the launch of a new, major marketing campaign – Spirit of the Highlands and Islands – a partnership between VisitScotland and High Life Highland. Running into 2023, VisitScotland will deliver a £500,000 multi-channel marketing campaign as part of this project, encouraging visitors to discover lesser-known parts of the region and raising awareness of our unique natural and cultural heritage.

VisitScotland is here to help support our tourism industry to make the most of the opportunities ahead of us. Our industry website is a vital source of up-to-date advice and information on a range of topics from marketing, sustainability and digital skills to research and insights.

By working together, we can ensure the sustainable and long-term growth of one of Scotland’s most valuable industries.

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