Skip to main content
Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 08/07/2021

Written by Responsible Travel contributor, Eloise Barkerwho has looked at the changing attitudes of visitors and how Scotland can adapt and develop as part of the sustainable tourism revolution.

"Sustainable tourism is poised to enter the mainstream in Scotland. Over the last 20 years we’ve seen a significant shift in public attitudes toward travel. Because of climate change, having a responsible break is no longer a niche interest. According to Ipsos Mori, 75 percent of Britons are now concerned about harming the environment and this shift is affecting how they holiday."

Much-needed opportunities

"The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused much uncertainty in the tourism industry as businesses do their best – often in creative and inspirational ways – to adapt to changing public health advice. Opportunities can seem far and few between, but sustainable tourism is one area that promises substantial future growth."

"Scotland has the potential to be a global leader in sustainability."

"Research on post-pandemic travel trends predicts a shift towards tourists keen to visit less crowded places. Around 13 percent of Scotland is designated as a National Scenic Area and there is 18,000km of coastline. There’s space for everyone."

"People come to Scotland for much more than just sightseeing. Even before the pandemic, there was an increasing appetite for open scenery, outdoor activities, wildlife and nature, stargazing and wellness. Scotland provides pollution-free night skies and, according to one European Environment Agency report, some of the quietest landscapes in Europe. It’s perfect for forest bathers, tech-free escapes, and visitors seeking peace and space."

Off season and on trend

"People are growing far more receptive to companies that break convention. Tour operators who run out of season have an edge. Many have Winter Mountain Leader qualifications, which means they can offer winter walking and wildlife watching, and they can take advantage of the long nights for stargazing or simply up the number of rainy day activities on the schedule."

"As well as bringing in income for them and the communities they visit year-round at a time when every penny counts, they can help ease seasonal overtourism by encouraging visitors to get to know Scotland in autumn and winter instead of summer."

"From rainwater recycling to harnessing hydropower, sustainable businesses save money as soon as they start becoming more energy efficient. What’s more, they can tap into Scotland’s growing network of sustainable resources: everything from organic farms to environmentally-friendly ferries are becoming more readily available. Motor Vessel Alfred, a new fuel-efficient ferry for Orkney, serves local food and has capacity for 430 passengers – far more than its predecessor. Hydrogen powered ferries are on the horizon, and Scotland could soon derive all its electricity from green sources: wind, tidal, solar and hydropower. In 2020, it was at 97% percent."

The rail revolution

"Rail holidays have been one of the biggest winners so far. Many of Scotland’s most scenic rail routes were put in place in the Victorian era and have remained popular ever since."

"On Responsible Travel’s website, which sells sustainable holidays all around the world, one of the best-rated trips is an eight-day Scotland by rail holiday. Between 2018 and 2019, bookings for Responsible Travel’s rail holidays in Scotland have increased by 72 percent. An international seminar on tourism recovery in September 2020 found that the rail industry in Europe has seen a sharp increase in short-distance holidays to uncrowded rural destinations. There’s a call to increase services on Scotland’s scenic routes, like the Kyle and North Highland lines."

"These developments present opportunities for businesses to decrease their holiday carbon footprint. Wild Rose Escapes employs the simplest tactic possible: offering pick up services from the train station, not the airport. St Hilda Sea Adventures offers a £50 voucher to customers who travel by train and has received a Green Tourism Award."

Loyal customers

"Sustainable businesses don’t just get good press, they also get good tourists and plenty of repeat visitors. Consumers seek you out because you’re sustainable, but many more seek you out because you provide a great experience. What’s more – particularly during and post-pandemic – you’ll find that you attract a lot more local visitors interested in exploring one area thoroughly. These visitors, often keen to stay locally for comfort, convenience or carbon reduction, are more likely to come back."

Tourism taxes

"The proposed Transient Visitor Levy (TVL) could help provide a budget for sustainability efforts. Taxes aren’t going to put off high-value repeat visitors, the kind who come for sustainable trips, mostly from the UK, and return year on year. The money, like the proposed £2-a-night tax in Edinburgh, goes straight into protecting the landscape. These visitors are more likely to welcome taxes – a small price to pay to conserve beautiful spaces – and these are the kind of visitors that Scotland needs."

Find out more on how to make your tourism business more sustainable through our dedicated resources on VisitScotland.org. 

Discover thought pieces from other responsible tourism experts, such as Jeremy Smith from Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency and Benjamin Carey, Managing Director of Carey Tourism.

About Eloise

Eloise Barker is a travel writer and has been a contributor to Responsible Travel  since May 2019. Activist company, Responsible Travel, was formed in 2001 and its goals include delivering a 55% reduction in CO2 per passenger and a net gain in biodiversity, all by 2030.