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Visit Scotland | Alba
Article published 15/07/2021

Professor of Environment and Society, Marc Metzger, from the University of Edinburgh, discusses how Scottish tourism can adapt to the challenges of climate change. 

"It's often claimed that tourists don’t come to Scotland for the weather, but this may change in the future. A recent analysis of UK climate projections by the University of Edinburgh and the Met Office suggest that dry, hot summers, similar to the one Scotland experienced in 2018, are set to become the norm. Conditions in summer 2018 were unusually hot, with a high of 31.9C recorded at Bishopton in Renfrewshire. Temperatures in the low 30s were observed at several sites in the central belt on the same day."  

"The same study also analysed media coverage of the heatwave, which showed that many people made the most of the warm weather – benefitting outdoor recreation businesses and ice cream sales. It certainly appears that there will be new opportunities for the tourist industry in Scotland in the future."

"However, the study also revealed challenges that will directly affect tourism in Scotland. There were drops in visitor numbers reported at indoor attractions, higher electricity bills due to the greater need for air-conditioning/refrigeration and water shortages affecting rural businesses reliant on private water supplies. As these direct impacts become more frequent, awareness will grow and individual businesses will adapt to alleviate negative impacts and exploit new opportunities. This is sometimes referred to as autonomous adaptation, and although some of the actions will require substantial investment and changes to business models, there will be opportunities to innovate, differentiate and increase competitive advantage". 

"More challenging and uncertain are the indirect and cross-sectoral climate change impacts, especially on Scotland’s natural capital. Many tourists come to Scotland for its dramatic landscape and the great outdoors, and changes to Scotland’s landscapes and nature could affect the industry. The 2018 heatwave study found impacts on river flow and angling opportunities, grouse numbers and an increase in forest fires. Declines in iconic species, including puffins, wild salmon and capercaillie are partly attributed to climate change."


"Climate change adaptation and mitigation are core drivers of the Scottish Government’s ambitious long-term strategies for Scotland’s land use but discussions about the implementation are only beginning. It will be important to understand the potential indirect impacts of these changes on the tourist industry."  

"The Forestry Strategy for example, sets out the long-term framework for the expansion and sustainable management of Scotland’s forests and woodlands. It has a specific objective to increase woodland cover to 21% of the total area of Scotland by 2032, which requires up to 15,000 hectares of new woodland to be planted annually. There's a solid climate change and sustainability rationale behind the plan, but it does not explain where these new woodlands will be planted or what landscape change will look like. Benefits from new woodland depend on its configuration and location, and it's therefore not surprising that there are contested views about implementation of the strategy, as highlighted in a recent study that identified contracting visions for woodland expansion."

"There are tourism benefits in both landscapes depicted in the illustration, they are very different indeed. Although individual tourism businesses may not be able to participate in national or regional land use planning, the industry needs to engage and contribute to debates about future land management."  

Professor Marc Metzger blog - Scotland woodland expansion graphic

Two contrasting visions for woodland expansion in Scotland


"The pandemic has illustrated how the wider UK and global context affect tourism in Scotland, diminishing international tourist numbers while boosting UK visitors unable to travel abroad. Tourists’ ability or willingness to travel to Scotland may follow similar patterns due to the climate emergency, for example due to rising cost or increasing resistance to air travel. At the same time, visitors could be put-off by perceived or actual climate change impacts on infrastructure, such as flooding, landslides, melting tarmac and buckling rails. But fortunately, tourism in Scotland is in a good position to build back better by increasing its offer to domestic visitors and strengthening its position as a safe and sustainable tourism destination." 

"Adaptation will be essential to benefit from the opportunities, overcome the challenges and manage the uncertainties of climate change impacts. Greater awareness of the likely climate change impacts will benefit the industry at large, while strategic planning could provide individual businesses with a comparative advantage over competitors. Furthermore, the industry should understand its reliance on Scotland’s natural capital and provide leadership by working across sectors to ensure Scotland is a sustainable tourism destination." 

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

Discover thought pieces from other responsible tourism experts, such as Eloise Barker, writer for Responsible TourismJeremy Smith from Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency and Benjamin Carey, Managing Director of Carey Tourism.

About Professor Metzger

Marc Metzger is Professor of Environment and Society at the School of Geosciences, the University of Edinburgh. He leads on international and local research to understand how society influences the environment and how changes in the environment affect society. He has published more than 80 research papers with over 300 co-authors on a wide range of topics. 

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