Many tourism businesses across Loch Lomond, The Trossachs, Stirling and Forth Valley have reopened since we moved to phase three of the Scottish Government’s route map on 15 July, welcoming back visitors with new measures in place.
The resilience of the industry has also been heartening to see, as in the face of challenging times they’ve updated their operations and adapted to new protocol, giving visitors a sense of reassurance.
Attractions, tour guides and hospitality businesses are busy welcoming visitors back across the region - the Falkirk Wheel and Stirling Castle are both open, with pre-booked slots proving popular. In Clackmannanshire, the Japanese Garden is reporting an increase in visitors and has seen a shift in its usual customer base to welcome more young families.
Of course, these experiences don’t just bring joy to visitors; they stimulate much-needed economic activity and are allowing businesses to recoup some of their losses, having been closed during most of the usual peak season.
To inspire Scots to support businesses in a safe and responsible way, we launched our latest marketing campaign in July, coinciding with the reopening of the industry. Our films and online advertising cover regions across the country, with Scottish Canals, Dollar Glen and Loch Achray among others featuring in the content.
As our marketing always covers a seasonal spread, activity will continue as we encourage people to explore all Scotland has to offer during the beautiful autumn and winter seasons too.
It is wonderful to see people exploring new places as we’ve moved out of lockdown, supporting businesses and rediscovering Scotland. However, the recent months have brought some challenges in the region, especially in certain rural spots. We're listening to localised concerns and working hard to address these with partners and communities.
Our response to some of the issues around camping and littering includes marketing activity with National Park Authorities, NatureScot, Scottish Tourism Alliance and Wild Scotland. Together we are targeting novice campers who may not be familiar with all the rules around camping, with the aim of educating them on how to use our outdoor spaces respectfully. The activity includes using influencers and creating relevant content to reach demographics which the mainstream media may not always get to.
We’re also amplifying some of the campaigns running nationally and have launched our own visitor charter to help inform people how to behave responsibly. Businesses can also use these assets to spread messages around responsible tourism – including advice around 'slow travel', observing the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, respecting communities and planning in advance.
Although our role is mainly advice based, the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund is also providing direct financial support to improve sites across the country. In Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, this includes an award of over £100,000 announced last year which will alleviate the tourism volume pressure on East Loch Lomond at Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay. The upgrades and modernisation of toilets, bins and the visitor centre will be invaluable, given ongoing high numbers of visitors to the area.
Likewise, at Doune, funds have been awarded to contribute to the refurbishment of the village toilets, extensions to the path network between the Castle and village, signage and interpretation. These developments are being realised in partnership with local stakeholders, including residents, which will create a real community approach.
Even during these difficult times, there have been some encouraging signs of financial investment in the region, with work around the Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal progressing. This £214million investment will fund environmental projects, innovation in the digital and tourism sectors and boost skills across the region.
A £90million Growth Deal for Falkirk, announced in June, was also welcome news and will focus on the region’s recovery from coronavirus (COVID-19) – creating skilled jobs, infrastructure projects and supporting the green economy.
The months to come will not be straightforward, and as we’ve seen, there are many ever-changing issues to contend with around COVID-19. That’s why it’s vital that we continue to listen to the tourism and events industry, offering support and feeding challenges back to the Scottish Government through regular contact and via the STERG meetings.
While much of the tourism industry has now reopened, there are undoubtedly challenges for businesses and destinations alike. We know that many are still struggling and will need support for some time to come.
However, through partnership working and a flexible approach, we are seeing how tourism can begin to recover in a responsible way that drives positive economic and social activity across the Forth Valley region.