Tourism in the Highlands can reap great rewards in future by focusing on “conscious travel”, a leading industry expert will tell a meeting next week.
Internationally renowned destination specialist and author Professor Terry Stevens will address the online gathering on Tuesday.
Hundreds of people have already signed up for the free event, which will be one of the largest meetings of tourism businesses in the region since the pandemic began.
It is the first in the Highland Tourism Talks series and will discuss the implications of the pandemic on tourism, the requirement for new business models and greater emphasis on leadership.
Prof Stevens said: “Tourism has changed forever. The next 10-15 years will be a time of unprecedented experimentation where old formulas no longer hold true.
“The Highlands has an outstanding natural environment with a very rich cultural heritage. Putting that together with the rich tapestry of experiences the Highlands has to offer, the tourism product is well suited to tomorrow’s visitor.
“At present, the business of tourism in the Highlands is fragmented and not conducive to managing the recovery process required following the pandemic.”
He said the presentation will explore the opportunities for the Highlands by taking a conscious travel approach, a movement that ensures that, when travelling, people do so mindfully, taking into consideration the impact of trips on the environment.
He added: “The Highland tourism industry, uniting with a clear message based around conscious travel, will reap great rewards for visitors, businesses, communities, the environment and future generations.”
Prof Stevens has been a tourism consultant for more than 30 years and has worked in more than 50 countries for a number of international economic development agencies.
He has assisted organisations including the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, UNESCO and the World Bank, as well as national, regional and local tourism organisations and private sector clients including Coca Cola, Philips and Guinness.
Tourism in the region is worth £541 million and employs 19,000 people.
Event hosts Highland Tourism, a recently-formed community interest company, said “The Highlands” is the second best known brand in Scotland after Edinburgh in a global market place, but there is no industry body to manage the brand and present the region as a global destination.
Highland Tourism was founded last month by Yvonne Crook, director of Good Highland Food, and Sam Faircliff, managing director of Cairngorm Brewery, to support the sector’s recovery post-Covid.
Ms Crook said: “We appreciate the fantastic response we’ve had to this, the first of our Tourism Talks, with Professor Terry Stevens.
“Together we have been analysing Highland tourism statistics and we are looking forward to sharing the results of that and considering what the future could hold for a united tourism industry.
“These really are unprecedented times and with a real collaborative effort we can put ourselves in a position to bounce back from the pandemic by taking our destiny into our own hands.”
Many Highland communities are now promoting “slow tourism” to help protect the environment following problems last year caused by unprecedented visitor numbers, including irresponsible and anti-social behaviour, litter, road congestion and wild camping.
A report this month by the John Muir Trust said rural communities are increasingly seeing tourism as a double-edged sword, with rising visitor numbers bringing opportunities but also major pressures.