Rebuilding Scotland's visitor economy responsibly will help us to ensure that our communities and visitors develop strong and harmonious relationships, allowing our local communities to benefit from tourism.
During 2021, visits from the rest of the UK and overseas markets to Scotland were limited due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. However, during this period there was an opportunity to carry out research with Scotland's residents, with a focus on responsible tourism.
We studied how residents feel about climate change, and explored the sustainable behaviours that they may adopt when on holiday in the future, with insights across the following topics:
- Travel and accommodation choices
- Reducing energy consumption
- Car free days
- Choosing local independent shops, restaurants, and cafes
You can also read the important actions that residents feel tourism businesses should take.
The research, an online survey based on a representative sample of Scotland residents, was commissioned by VisitScotland and carried out by 56 Degrees Insight. The August 2021 fieldwork examined attitudes towards climate change and responsible tourism amongst Scotland residents. It took place between 3 and 11 August 2021 and 1,015 respondents completed the questionnaire.
Although there is a great deal of agreement amongst the resident population about the importance of tackling climate change and sustainability through a more responsible form of tourism, for many there appears to be a "value-action gap" when it comes to behavioural change and personal responsibility around holidays.
In terms of domestic holidays, there may be deep-rooted beliefs around accommodation choice and travel options. However, there is some willingness to change in relation to some areas of responsible tourism, notably around food and drink choices, energy consumption and car-free days. There is a greater degree of willingness amongst families and young independents than empty nesters.
73% see climate change as an immediate and urgent problem. The importance of tackling climate change has increased for many following the pandemic and 45% are more concerned now than pre-pandemic.
73% agree strongly that they try to have a positive impact on the environment through their everyday actions. This compares to 63% who similarly try to have a positive impact on their local community.
However, whilst the importance of climate change is recognised, there is more limited willingness among many to change future travel behaviours.
As many as 49% of Scotland's residents are unlikely to think about sustainability when on holiday and 46% will still find reasons to travel internationally despite concerns. This is especially the case among young independents despite this group being most aware and sympathetic towards tackling climate change.
55% are concerned with the impact of tourism on Scotland’s natural environment - litter (64%), threats to local wildlife (60%) and overcrowding at popular tourist sites (54%) are the main concerns.
68% will try to reduce their energy consumption whilst on holiday. However, there is a clear need for more advice and education on how to make holidays greener or more sustainable with 42% unsure.
69% are willing to go off the beaten track.
68% are willing to take holidays in the off-season.
75% would prefer independent local shops and cafes.
The top five areas where Scotland residents believe that tourism businesses could do more are:
- Sourcing local products (72%)
- Providing information to tourists on local natural and cultural attractions (71%)
- Employing staff local to the area (70%)
- Committing to reduce carbon energy consumption (62%)
- Committing to reduce carbon emissions (61%)
Reflecting the real challenge to change consumer behaviour, a desirability for green credentials is quite far down the list of factors when choosing accommodation.
90% rates price and value for money is of greatest importance of high importance, followed by proximity to attractions (69%) and user generated reviews (68%).
29% felt eco/green accommodation was an important factor to them and 27% felt an official green accreditation scheme was important.
When prompted more specifically on green issues there is undoubtedly some underlying interest in green accommodation, though what is apparent is the need for additional guidance to consumers as to how to identify eco-friendly establishments.
Once again, young independents and families are much more open to choosing accommodation with green credentials than empty nesters.
Travel and transport is another key element of a Scottish holiday, and, again, the difficulty to deliver a more sustainable product is illustrated by the challenge to change consumer behaviours.
73% of Scotland residents use their own petrol/diesel car when taking breaks and holidays in Scotland. Electric/hybrid cars remain very niche for now (4%).
60% of car users would consider reducing the amount of car travel on a Scottish holiday although only 15% would we willing to reduce car travel "a lot".
59% of car drivers claim that they are open to more car-free days or using public transport on holiday, but less so to plan the whole holiday around public transport routes. There is some interest in changing their petrol/diesel cars to electric/hybrid in the next few years however there remain several barriers to purchase – especially price but also fears around sufficient charging points and the range that could be travelled on a charge.
In common with other elements of sustainability again young independents and, to a lesser extent, families are more willing to consider greener options such as public transport and car-free days than empty nesters.
For the purposes of this research, these three definitions apply:
- Young independents: aged 18-35 with no children in the household
- Older independents: aged 35-54 with no children in the household
- Empty nesters: aged 55 and over with no children in the household