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31 March 2017

Don't leave tourism to the few; it's everyone's business!

Dingwall - Photo by David Richardson

It is heart-warming to see that the recent upsurge in Highlands & Islands visitor numbers appears to be continuing this year; a trend greatly assisted by VisitScotland’s excellent marketing campaigns, visits by film and TV companies using Highland backdrops for high-profile movies and programmes, improved air and digital connectivity, and, of course, the impact of Brexit on Sterling. 

Moreover, the benefits are being felt not just in traditional honey-pots like Skye, Lochaber and the Cairngorms National Park, but also in the Western and Northern Isles and, the Northern Highlands thanks to the North Coast 500.

Increased visitor numbers means increased business opportunities, and the market will quickly determine whether there are sufficient businesses – accommodation, restaurants, shops etc – to both meet demand in the summer season and survive year round, and react accordingly.

However, this does not mean that we should all sit back and leave it to a few entrepreneurs. If tourism is indeed “everyone’s business” then we can all play a part in a successful Highlands & Islands story. Here are three thoughts.Liathach  Beinn Eighe from Loch Clair Glen Torridon - Photo by David Richardson

First, there is social media. Improving digital connectivity is opening up all sorts of opportunities for our region to talk to the world. Speaking at the recent Shetland Business Week, FSB social media guru David Taylor said, "It's vital that all businesses, whether large or small, adapt to today's increasingly digital age and the modern tech-savvy customer. While this involves embracing social media and mobile technology, in many ways it's about doing the basics of business right. It's all about innovating, educating yourself about the market you're in, and relating to your customers."

Secondly, it is common to hear American tourists remark on the warmth of the welcomes from ordinary people they met when travelling around the region. It’s all about pride, and initiatives like the customer service training, World Host, can add extra polish, ensuring that we sparkle even more.

Finally, there is cooperation and collaboration between businesses and within and between communities. Assynt was one outstanding example of the 90’s and another today is Dornoch, a recent finalist in the Great British High Street Awards. Joan Bishop, chair of the Dornoch Area Community Interest Company, told me, “Working together to promote all Dornoch has to offer and not just focussing on our own businesses adds to the visitor experience and encourages longer stays and higher spend”.  Undoubtedly true, but it’s also down to inspirational and effective leadership.

David Richardson is the FSB's Development Manager for the Highlands and Islands

This piece first appeared in the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards supplement in the Scottish Provincial Press