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Wildlife, Adventure and Activity Tourism in Scotland – looking ahead & adapting to a new future

Scotland is renowned for not only its incredible landscape and warm welcome, but it is also well known for its world class wildlife. As Sir David Attenborough puts it very well, “Scotland is a wonderfully fascinating place for wildlife and nature. It has, in my opinion, some of the most marvellous landscapes and wildlife spectacles you will find anywhere.”

There is not one segment of tourism that has been untouched by COVID-19, from the airline industry to the self-employed mountain guide. Every one of us has had to learn to adapt and live with tremendous uncertainty through a very difficult period which is not over yet.

Evidently, we are seeing more people than ever now enjoying the great outdoors, whether that be a newfound love of bird watching, a walk in the hills or a spot of paddle boarding or cliff jumping to waken the senses. We have seen people holidaying in their own country for the very first time and loving it like never before – posting endless pictures on Instagram and Facebook of amazing wildlife or their adventures. The domestic visitor is key to our future, they are Scotland’s future ambassadors for tourism (the increasing power of social media).

It has been a very short season for the majority of businesses in the outdoor tourism sector with 64% trading for 4 months or less. But what we have seen is a tremendous effort to quickly adapt, to welcome new audiences, adopt stringent safety procedures and a fantastic energy to make sure our visitors have a wonderful time during a very difficult period. I am incredibly proud to work in such a selfless and passionate sector that takes so much pride in providing quality and safe experiences – the majority of which will see no profit this year and will be living off lifetime savings or loans.

We must also remember those businesses in our sector that have not been able to open this year due to the restrictions. There are many in this position who will have to bear two winters before they see any hope of operating again.

The outdoor tourism sector in Scotland is made up of a diverse range of businesses and operators which run anything from wildlife watching holidays to wilderness retreats, dolphin watching boat trips to walking holidays. It is made up of an incredible bunch of very passionate, skilled and hard-working people.

The sector is leading the way in responsible and sustainable tourism which is not only crucial in the fight against climate change and in protecting Scotland’s natural environment but we’re also seeing a much higher awareness amongst travellers of environmental impacts which will influence booking decisions and affect how people travel. These visitors will be the new normal and we need to make sure we are ready for them. Our future visitors both international and domestic will be making decisions based on quality and sustainability.

Wild Scotland is a membership organisation representing wildlife, adventure & activity tourism operators. The current membership of 126 businesses (October 2020) is rapidly increasing, driven by demand for an industry leadership to lobby for the sector and develop a sustainable approach to outdoor and nature-based tourism.

The sector supports businesses and employment throughout Scotland, many of whom are located in rural and economically fragile areas. Nature based tourism is estimated to be worth 1.4 billion to the Scottish economy (NatureScot) with tourism spend on nature-based activities equating to nearly 40 % of all tourism spend.

Pre Covid-19 there was real confidence in the sector: 70% of businesses indicated they were anticipating growth over the next 3 years (Wild Scotland Industry Survey, January 2019). The sector also delivers tangible benefits to the people of Scotland, reconnecting people with nature, promoting responsible access, health and wellbeing, and sustainable economic growth. Although we are acutely aware that there are rocky times ahead, we firmly believe that there are significant opportunities ahead for the sector post Covid-19 which align directly with Scotland’s 2030 tourism strategy.

It has been a challenging year but I feel incredibly privileged to work for such an incredible organisation and board, and will do my best to continue to support our members beyond 2020. I also look forward to continued collaboration with partners such as VisitScotland, STA, Sail Scotland, ASVA, ASSC and Go Rural.

As we approach the end of the year we have been working with friends and colleagues at Sail Scotland and VisitScotland to bring you the inaugural adventure tourism week. We hope this will be the first of many. The week will aim to inspire you through talks, discussion and possibly some debate as we head towards 2021. I hope you will join us in what we hope will be a positive week to end a very difficult year so that we can look ahead with optimism and adapt to a new future together.

Find out more information and join Wild Scotland, Sail Scotland and VisitScotland for a series of webinars for Adventure Tourism Week here: https://www.visitscotland.org/news/2020/adventure-tourism-week

#ScotATW

Victoria Brooks

4th November 2020

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