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Highlands should be at vanguard of 'completely green tourism'

By Gavin Musgrove

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'Completely green tourism' could be a great economic opportunity for the Highlands to tap into, a leading tourism chief has said.

Late last year Lord Thurso began work on a document – publication of which has been delayed by the coronavirus outbreak – on sustainability as part of responsible tourism, and “having the tourism levels which a community is comfortable with”.

The chairman of VisitScotland explained: “The Scottish Government should look at providing a fund which would enable people in B&Bs and self-catering and hotels to ‘green up’ by, for example, having charging points for electric cars, by being able to do improvements to their properties so that they need less and less energy.

“One of the key brand values of tourism in Scotland is the quality of our environment. Equally we know from our research that what are loosely called the millennials like to holiday in a responsible way.

"They love it if the place they’re staying is completely green. If you’ve got, for example, a pod for glamping and the energy is all produced by solar panels this is really attractive.

"So you arrive up from the south of England or wherever and you come by train, you rent an electric car, you go and stay in a place which is green and you go away and you’ve had the wonderful experience of Scotland and you also, if you like, have a free conscience that you’ve not contributed to emissions.

"That, to my mind, is a huge economic opportunity for the whole of Scotland and indeed the Highlands.

"We encourage more and more responsible product, which means we get more and more responsible consumers coming, and that in turn is part of the solution to the kind of people who come and dump rubbish and make a mess and leave it all behind.

“We had a big staff conference in Edinburgh last October and in my speech I just said, ‘I want to be part of the solution. Tourism is not bad. Tourism is good.’”

Lord Thurso also has a vision of an environmentally friendly aviation and rail network linking Caithness and Orkney, pointing out that there are moves to develop a hybrid-electric propulsion system for the Britten-Norman planes used in the islands.

“It is likely to go into service within the next year or two,” he said. “At that point the most environmentally friendly way to get round Orkney will be by plane.

"Curiously, it might just be that the most environmentally friendly way to get to Orkney would be by an electric plane hop from Wick to Kirkwall.

“You might think if we upgraded to a green railway, the best way to get to the Orkney islands would be a green railway to Wick followed by a little hop across. That’s not science fiction.

“They’re looking at developing the next size of aeroplane up, which is the 20 to 25-seater. That would mean you could fly from Glasgow to Skye in an electric plane and that would mean that the most environmentally friendly way of visiting Skye would be to fly there from Glasgow in an aeroplane.

“At the staff conference I came up with this and I can’t tell you the emails I had from young staff, the millennials, saying: ‘Thank God the board is thinking this way, it’s fantastic, I want to be part of it.’

"Sustainability is not just about ‘green’, it’s about sustainability in the relationship with the communities that are host to tourism, because there is absolutely no doubt about the good that it does.

"Equally there is no doubt about the harm it can do, and it’s about managing it so you get it right, which is about investing in the right infrastructure in the right places and managing it so you get the economic value and minimise the social and environmental disruption.”

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