As restrictions on travelling are slowly being eased in Scotland, Destination Management Organisations (DMOs) are looking at ways to support not just their members, but also the local communities in which these tourism businesses exist.
DMOs are ideally positioned to both engage with and support their local communities. They can offer leadership and continuity in these difficult times and can use their influence and authority - through their many communication channels and networks – as the ‘custodians’ of the destination’s identity and branding.
One such DMO, which is also the Chamber of Commerce for the Cairngorms National Park, is VisitCairngorms, which has been undertaking widespread community consultation, working with a range of stakeholders, including the Cairngorms National Park Authority.
As well as lots of sector and cross-sector focus business engagement, they have (working alongside the Park Authority), organised community meetings - attended by chairs of community councils and local councillors - to listen to community concerns, questions, hopes and fears around reopening. These have also included a series of Zoom meetings with residents to talk about their plans and listen to feedback.
Visitors are such an integral part of our economy and our communities. We have missed them and the economic impact of not having them here has been massive.
We can't wait to welcome them back and we want to do so in a way that gives confidence to our communities, our employees and our visitors. We have therefore - working with our partners at the National Park Authority - engaged very widely to create a framework that communities, businesses and visitors can support under the hashtag #CairngormsTogether.
It's important for VisitCairngorms to be able to communicate the value of the local tourism industry in the Cairngorms to the people in its communities, whilst at the same time reminding visitors to be mindful of local residents and the communities who live and work in these areas - and for both visitors and locals to be kind to one another.
Providing a warm welcome and exceptional experiences to people from near and far is part of the culture in the Cairngorms National Park. To highlight the care for the Cairngorms and each others message, VisitCairngorms has built a framework which covers the following four points: know the guidelines, plan ahead, be flexible and be kind, with the aim of making it as easy as possible for everyone to do the right thing.
They have also created a pledge based on reopening in a way that gives confidence to communities, employees and visitors - deliberately in that order.
They're using their network of COVID-19 community response groups to distribute leaflets to households and, in particular, to target households with vulnerable residents to explain their approach and to reassure them.
VisitCairngorms is planning to create a traffic light system on its website for green/open; amber/open with restrictions and red/closed, so visitors’ expectations are managed and locals are also kept informed. The National Park Authority is planning to host information on the status of public spaces such as car parks and toilets.
They're anticipating that the majority of businesses will open in phase three (not including the food and drink sector), so they're working closely with local take-aways and food and drink suppliers to provide an up-to-date list of what is available to visitors in self-catering.
Communities are the heart and soul of the tourism offering in the Highlands. Visitors can come here, travel around and take part in activities and trips or visit attractions but it's the locals that they encounter, chat to in the local pub and become friends with that enriches that experience.
It's vital that communities feel comfortable with tourism again – they need to love it and to own it – because the benefits which tourism brings is immense and really is crucial to the sustainability of many communities.