Organisations across Scotland have come together to develop a Scotland-wide approach to visitor management.
As COVID-19 restrictions were lifted last year, 2020 witnessed a massive increase in domestic visitors to rural and coastal areas, including hotspots like the National Parks, with resultant increase in pressure placed upon our communities, facilities and infrastructure, such as waste disposal, toilets and parking.
Although only a minority of visitors were involved, anti-social behaviour was widely reported upon in the media and by community groups, with particular challenges around irresponsible camping behaviours, littering, land access, a lack of control of dogs particularly around livestock, the lighting of fires and cutting down of branches / trees, and inappropriate or unsafe parking.
Many local communities felt unprepared to deal with this increase in visitors, particularly day visitors, campers and campervans. And many of these new home-grown audiences are unaware of general guidance around responsible visitor behaviours and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. A consequence was that in many parts of the country community sentiment towards visitors hardened.
A national partnership led by VisitScotland, with support from NatureScot, Police Scotland, National Park Authorities, Forestry & Land Scotland, local authorities, Transport Scotland and other partners, has been established to address these challenges.
In response to the growing issue Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing convened a virtual summit on 14 September 2020 to discuss with over 50 representatives from public sector agencies, local authorities and NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) the scale of the problem, actions being taken and to determine what more could be done to mitigate these issues in the future.
It was identified that there did not exist an over-arching Visitor Management Strategy which could co-ordinate current activities and look to a long-term solution aligned to Scotland Outlook 2030 the new Tourism Industry Strategy launched by the First Minister at the Scottish Tourism Alliance Conference in February 2020.
A second Visitor Management Summit, convened by Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing and facilitated by VisitScotland, was held on 19 March 2021 providing an update on the activity and plans of the visitor management groups.
It was agreed that there would be a follow up summit in autumn 2021.
Visitor Management Summit | 19 March 2021
Following the first Summit, a Strategy Steering Group was created to develop a Scotland-wide strategic and coordinated approach to tackle some of these issues and educate and encourage these outdoor enthusiast audiences to enjoy our countryside responsibly.
Chaired by VisitScotland, the group includes NatureScot, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, Forestry & Land Scotland, Highland Council, Police Scotland and Transport Scotland.
A strategic framework pulls together the current and planned actions into a cohesive and aligned direction of travel towards a vision of how the visitor experience will develop over a 10-year period.
Three workstreams with subgroups were identified to cover Education and Marketing, Investment and Infrastructure, and Prevention, Regulation & Reassurance – these groups bring together regional and national partners. The workstreams are supported by an Operational Co-ordination Group chaired by NatureScot, which in turn feeds into the Strategy Steering Group.
An action log records progress in educating our current and future visitors; investing in Scotland’s current and future visitor management infrastructure and services; delivering a joined up and cohesive action plan across Scotland; and becoming and remaining a world leader in visitor management.
- Achieve visible progress with visitor management to reassure stakeholders (including local communities) that the issues that arose in 2020 are being addressed
- Ensure that the necessary foundations (including resources) are in place for the longer-term action required to support the Strategy Framework and Outlook 2030
A wide range of actions are currently underway to support these objectives for spring 2021. This includes developing co-ordinated messaging which can be used by not only partners but by businesses, destinations and communities.
We’ve launched a responsible tourism campaign to address some of the issues seen as a result of a new, home grown audience of visitors discovering and enjoying Scotland’s countryside. To maintain our stunning landscapes, we must ensure we protect, respect and enjoy our countryside, towns and cities responsibly by asking people to leave no physical trace of their visit.
We therefore want to encourage locals and visitors to get outdoors and at the same time ‘care for Scotland’. Our job is to support the industry and communities during this difficult time and, as we look to recovery, encourage visitors to enjoy our outdoors and attractions in the most responsible way possible.
VisitScotland, along with partner organisations Cairngorms Business Partnership, Cairngorms National Park Authority, Forestry & Land Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, Lochaber Chamber, National Park Authorities, NatureScot, Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA), Wild Scotland and Zero Waste Scotland are working together to deliver a coordinated approach to responsible tourism activity.
- Primary audience is domestic: those who live in Scotland - older teens / young adults, families, all those thinking of daytrip / overnight.
Budgets and restrictions permitting we will then seek to expand our targeting, with:
- Secondary audience is UK: inspire future visits and look to restrictions beginning to ease
- Tertiary audience is international: EU short haul in the first instance
Our campaign activity includes a responsible tourism film, radio, PR, e-communication, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok and Instagram alongside billboard and screen advertising across Scotland’s main cities.
This work is supported by a responsible tourism page on VisitScotland.com, itineraries created for travel trade and a visitor promise. In addition, a dedicated page on VisitScotland.org with films, images, content and more is available for the tourism industry (businesses and stakeholders) to communicate widely across their own social media activity and marketing.
We want to work with destinations and communities to ensure that visitors and locals can have a fantastic experience as / when tourism starts to rebuild itself. See how you can get involved.
The next phase of activity will build on this spring campaign and focus on key topic areas such as camping, litter, campervans and motorhomes.
Coinciding with the second summit, the Scottish Government announced an investment of £2.75 million to be allocated through NatureScot’s Better Places Green Recovery Fund, to provide temporary infrastructure and additional ranger services this year.
A first round of this fund, launched in December 2020, is supporting visitor management planning and 35 projects funded across the country in key areas including East Lothian, Arisaig and around the NC500.
The Scottish Government also increased the National Parks budget by £3.6 million in 2021, which will support, among other things, seasonal rangers and improved infrastructure to better manage visitors this summer.
This will augment the investment already made through the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF), where £9 million has already supported 45 projects around the country. Those completed projects are already making a difference, easing visitor pressures on communities and improving the visitor experience at key locations across the country.
Funding for RTIF in 2021-22 has been doubled by the Scottish Government to £6.2 million, ensuring the flow of new projects will continue and will be an important part of visitor management work for the future.
A number of local authorities have announced their visitor management plans and investments. The Highland Council has committed £1.5 million for investment in infrastructure and services including 10 seasonal rangers; Perth & Kinross, £240,000 to establish seasonal ranger service; Fife Council, £2.1 million to improve toilets, parking and access.
High quality infrastructure cannot be provided to the extent required for spring 2021, so the current focus is largely on facilitating shorter term measures - such as new temporary toilets and campsites in key locations and further overnight parking for motorhomes. The group is working with Scottish Government to urgently clarify relevant regulatory requirements for this type of light touch provision.
Prior to the creation of the coordinated Visitor Management approach, Scottish Government and VisitScotland have been working to improve visitor management and the resultant visitor experience. Since 2017 £9 million has been invested in the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF) to address some of the pressures on infrastructure and negative impacts on local communities as a result of the rise of visitors to these areas.
There are 13 new projects that have been recommended for approval under round three, which was completed in 2020. These will provide improved visitor facilities in key hotspots in various areas including Skye, Torridon, Glencoe & Glen Etive, Ardnamurchan, the Trossachs, Aberdeenshire, Perth & Kinross, Fife and East Lothian.
The visitor management infrastructure group has been building on this work, working with local authorities to improve many of the issues across key locations, investing in visitor planning and management and both permanent and temporary infrastructure.
This has been supported with the provision of additional rangers to assist visitors in enjoying Scotland’s outdoors in the most responsible way.
A co-ordinated approach to management, involving key bodies such as access authorities, roads authorities and the police, in five priority areas – NC500, Highland Perthshire, Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park Authority, Cairngorms National Park Authority and East Lothian is underway.
Early action includes the establishment of a Partnership Against Rural Crime (PARC) in the LLTNPA area. Local planning for improved visitor management is also underway in other areas, including Argyll & Bute and the Highland Council area. The two National Parks are planning to test the use of IT to provide better visitor information and traffic management, and this may be possible elsewhere too.