Since lockdown restrictions started to be lifted it is of no surprise that many have chosen to visit the Highlands on their staycations. However, the influx of visitors and the poor behaviour of some are causing concerns.
The scenic routes and beautiful landscapes across the Highlands and along the North Coast 500 are a huge draw and in recent years have generated millions in revenue for our local tourism industry and the wider Highland economy.
In 2018, domestic visitors spent around £425 million on overnight stays in our B&Bs and hotels in the region, a welcome boost to our fragile economy. It is unlikely that we will reach such high figures this year, due to the pandemic and the resultant shorter holiday season. However, the importance of tourism to the long-term recovery of the Highland economy is clear.
But there are growing frustrations with the impact irresponsible and insensitive visitors are having in the Highlands. There appear to be an inconsiderate few who are potentially ruining it for the many.
Let’s be clear: the North Coast 500 is not a racetrack, it is a vital local road artery and a tourist route. Dangerous driving on crowded single-track roads puts lives at risk and places unnecessary demands on the police and NHS. All road users, whether residents or visitors, should drive safely and carefully.
It is also disappointing to see a minority are behaving disrespectfully by emptying their toilets in laybys and leaving piles of rubbish being at natural beauty spots. This is unacceptable and has to stop.
This situation has been compounded by a lack of toilet and wastewater facilities across the Highlands, with many visitors being left in the lurch unexpectedly. A lack of investment in tourist infrastructure in the Highlands from both the Scottish Government and Highland Council has not helped.
We need more support locally and I will continue to campaign for additional funding to improve road maintenance and increase toilet facilities in the Highlands.
But we cannot afford to put tourists off from returning to the Highlands by not providing the basic necessities. Tourists spend a lot of money in the Highlands and our local economy needs that more than ever. Tourism is key to our region’s economic recovery.
This is why I campaigned hard for the Scottish Government to give financial support to tourism businesses during the pandemic, and especially small B&Bs which are the foundation of our local tourism industry. Following my campaign, small B&Bs that had originally been excluded were able to access a £3 million hardship fund. I am pleased that 144 B&Bs in the Highlands have made successful applications to this fund and have shared £432,000 between them.
I am passionate about supporting the return of safe tourism in the Highlands. We want to extend our warm and well-known “Highland welcome” to the many visitors who want to come north, and we will if they leave only their footprints behind when they leave.
**Monthly column originally published on The Northern Times, 16 August 2020