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Multi-party election hustings highlight key issues for tourism in the Highlands

By Jean Gunn

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Hillwalker on Stac Pollaidh. Picture: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam
Hillwalker on Stac Pollaidh. Picture: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam

Candidates representing six of the political parties standing for election to the Scottish Parliament have highlighted their priorities for meeting tourism needs in the Highlands and Islands at an election hustings.

A key theme was the need for greater decentralisation, along with business and community empowerment. All candidates appeared to support connecting better with residents and businesses in hearing their views and involving them more closely in economic decisions.

Strategies for achieving this ranged from helping communities who were described as ‘voiceless’ to be more involved, to addressing the vital need to make the industry more attractive to young people.

There was also a call for the establishment of a tourism training academy dispersed over a number of Highlands and Islands locations and the politicians acknowledged a pressing requirement for housing in communities where there is little option for those working in the tourism industry to live.

Citizens Assemblies were suggested as a means to empower communities as part of a devolution of decision-making. Candidates also pointed to the need for greater attention to sustainability and transport options as part of attracting tourists and ensuring visits are managed and dispersal encouraged.

The hustings event was organised by community interest company, Highland Tourism, and was the only Highlands and Islands election hustings focused solely on key themes of visitor management, regeneration and sustainability.

Yvonne Crook, director of Highland Tourism, said: “Turnover for the tourism sector in the Highlands and Islands is £541m with £320m gross value added. Tourism employs 19,000 people yet we have a tourism strategy that was prepared in 2014 and updated in 2017.

"The tourism statistics highlight that in 2019 overseas visitors, worth 40 per cent more than domestic visitors in terms of spend, were down by 15 per cent. However, yet we have no organisation leading and driving tourism forward for the Highlands which is the second top best known globally recognised brand in Scotland after Edinburgh.

“At such a critical time following the Covid pandemic, we have to have confidence that party policies are addressing key issues economically, environmentally and socially. So we were delighted that six party representatives attended our hustings. They all provided articulate and interesting thoughts and greatly contributed to an important discussion.”

Attendee and tourism business owner, David Parker, Lochbroom, near Ullapool said: “This was a breath of fresh air in these turbulent times. It was clear to me that Highland tourism affects us all and transcends normal party politics and it must continue to be so if quantum progress is really to be made and tangible results delivered by 2025.

"Unsurprisingly, local democracy, empowerment, heard voices and practical but realistic investment are the keys to unlocking the doors and letting the light in.”

Closing remarks were made by internationally renowned destination specialist Professor Terry Stevens and political representation was provided by: Kirk Torrance (Alba), Jamie Halcro-Johnston (Scottish Conservatives), Andy Wightman (Independent), Marion Donaldson (Scottish Labour), councillor Gordon Adam (Scottish Lib Dems) and Maree Todd (SNP). The Green Party representatives were invited but unable to attend. The hustings was chaired by Highland businessman, Mark Sutherland-Fisher.

The hustings was recorded and will be available on the Highland Tourism website: www.highlandtourism.org

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