The tourism and the renewables sectors in the Highlands may have had a rocky relationship in the past, but they have now committed to a sustainable marriage.
In what is billed as a “world first”, the two key industries have formed a new partnership to explore opportunities for collaboration in the region.
This is aimed at addressing the climate emergency and to help attract a new generation of tourists seeking more sustainable destinations.
It will also work to better promote green tourism, improve community benefit from renewables and try to retain and attract people to the area.
Collaboration can bring lasting change
MSP Kate Forbes helped launch the initiative at an event in Inverness which revealed the creation of a new group.
This was her first official engagement as an ambassador for Highland Tourism Community Interest Company (HTCIC). She said it was an “unusual, strange and unlikely” partnership.
But, she said, the two industries that have in the past transformed the Highlands, can together bring lasting change in future.
“We already know the Highlands is at the forefront of welcoming the world in terms of tourism. But we are also welcoming investment in terms of renewables.
“So this is a perfect partnership of people who care, not just about their own businesses or their own jobs, but about transforming the Highlands so it’s a great place to live and work.
“We have a long history when it comes to renewables and tourism.
“Perhaps now is the time to find some of the synergies between them for the collective benefit of communities.”
She said oil and gas created huge numbers of jobs in the Highlands.
“But as we transition away towards more sustainable forms of energy, there is an opportunity here to put tourism on the map and make it truly green tourism.”
The transition includes developments including the area’s Green Freeport and the ScotWind offshore wind project supply chains.
“We have an opportunity, we are at a crossroads. Capitalise on it now or regret it for generations to come.
“I don’t want to be a politician that sees the Highlands squander this opportunity.”
Tackling major issues
Ms Forbes said collaboration can help tackle major issues such as affordable housing, sustainable infrastructure and education and jobs.
Last year HTCIC launched a climate positive leadership group to explore opportunities for collaboration between the two sectors.
George Baxter, director of development at GreenPower and director of Highland Tourism, said working with the tourism sector is a “no-brainer”.
He called for other renewables developers and operators to join the partnership and help shape its future plans.
*Tackling fuel poverty
* More effective targeting of community benefit funds, including supporting sustainable tourism.
* Environmental restoration and habitat management schemes around developments.
*Shared ownership schemes and investment opportunities
Area should reap more rewards
He added: “The Highlands produces a vast amount of renewable energy and there is a lot more to come.
“The area and its people should reap much more of the rewards of that.”
Mr Baxter said more should be done to “show off” the ingenuity and engineering skills involved in renewables projects.
This could include more visitor centres and digital interpretation in areas like the Great Glen, which he called “Scotland’s biggest power station” and is “ripe for green energy tourism”.
He added: “We should be long past the time when claims that renewables will be the death knell of tourism are taken seriously.
“There is just no evidence of it. We know it’s nonsense and Highland Renewables will seek to maintain factual and objective dialogue when such issues are raised.”
Yvonne Crook, chairperson of HTCIC, said it important to develop relationships between the tourism and renewables sectors to realise the great potential they both offer.
“The launch of Highland Renewables is a major milestone in achieving this goal.”
MP Drew Hendry, who attended the launch event, said it makes sense for the industries to collaborate.
He said, when done properly, many communities benefit enormously from renewables developments.
A massive opportunity
“It’s a massive opportunity and combining it with tourism is good for those people who are concerned because it means we will be taking that as a front-of-mind thought in terms of how do we develop this with tourism in mind.
“I think it can help make renewables development more sensitive to the landscape and to communities.”