The UK trade body for inbound tourism yesterday hailed Fergus Ewing for his efforts to boost Scotland’s appeal as a holiday destination at a conference in Aviemore.
Mr Ewing said Scotland “gets tourism” but acknowledged the challenges facing holidaymakers who look longingly to the Highlands.
Scotland’s tourism minister was presented with the award for outstanding contribution to the sector at the UKinbound Annual Convention.
More than 200 delegates attended the opening sessions of the three-day conference at Macdonald Aviemore Resort. It is the first time in more than a decade the event has been held in Scotland.
On receiving his award, Mr Ewing said: “I’m delighted the UKinbound conference has come to the Highlands, not least because the audience includes so many tour operators who play a big part in bringing people to Scotland.
“But to be the recipient of this award was an unexpected honour I hugely appreciate. I will continue to work with UKinbound and look forward to welcoming them back soon.”
Mr Ewing also said the Highlands boasted the “highest mountains, the deepest lochs and the friendliest people”, but more needed to be done to make it “easier, more enjoyable and less expensive” to get there.
The Scottish Government’s plans to cut air passenger duty in half between 2018 and 2021 and work to upgrade the A9 Perth to Inverness road were part of that drive, he said.
Mr Ewing also said the region’s digital connectivity needed to be brought up to speed for the sector to take the next step.
People from mainland Europe, particularly Poland and the Baltic states, played a big part in making Scotland’s tourism industry successful by working in the sector and a big push would help to attract more young Scots into tourism, he added.
Charlie Smith, marketing director for VisitScotland, said the event represented a great opportunity for tour operators to see the Highlands in all their glory for the first time.
Mr Smith added: “The hospitality here is excellent. People are here seeing the product for themselves and seeing it as a potential partner. There are only a handful of places who can say they can offer what the Highlands have.
“It’s not in the Scottish psyche to talk ourselves up but maybe we should do it more, and without losing our humility.”
Mr Smith also said more could be done to make it easier for people to come to the Highlands and to keep them connected when they get there.
A lot of money had already been invested in addressing these issues but it would take a long time for people to “feel the difference”, he added.
UKinbound chief executive Deirdre Wells said: “It’s great to have Fergus here to promote the tourism industry and we thank the Scottish Government for all the works done for the sector.”
The trade body used the convention to reveal the findings of a survey, which showed 82% of its 350 members wanted the UK to remain in the EU.