Aberdeenshire's VisitScotland director sees a sustainable future for tourism

The ‘closure’ of tourism over much of the last year has been devastating for the industry across Scotland, but it has also given us time to consider how we can do things differently when it reopens; hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

Friday, 12th March 2021, 8:58 am
Jo Robinson, VisitScotland Regional Director for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, believes the tourism industry can emergr from the pandemic and create a sustainable and responsible future.

With restrictions still in place for both UK and international travel, it remains unclear what the upcoming tourism season will look like, but this enforced downtime is an opportunity to think about ‘resetting’ tourism to take a more responsible and sustainable approach when things do restart.

Sustainable tourism aims to boost the benefits and lessen the negative impacts caused by tourism on destinations. It means continuing to improve upon the provision of authentic visitor experiences that celebrate and conserve heritage and culture, whilst also creating socio-economic benefits for communities through employment and income-earning opportunities. But any economic growth has to be achieved in a managed and sustainable way.

We know Scotland remains a popular destination for UK residents and, as we witnessed last year, there was also a real desire from Scots to explore their own country. We were, however, aware of challenges at some popular locations. Together with local authorities, National Parks and our industry partners, VisitScotland worked to deliver a responsible camping message; encouraged visitors to explore more areas across the region; and provided up-to-date information on our website of the availability of facilities at visitor destinations. This work will continue into this year, focusing on encouraging responsible tourism.

With sustainable tourism a core part of our recovery plan, VisitScotland is leading a national group to help develop a strategic and coordinated approach to visitor management, aligned to Scotland Outlook 2030, the national tourism strategy.

I am delighted to see that many tourism businesses in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire have already acknowledged the importance of sustainability and have embraced a new way of doing things.

For example, the philosophy of Cairngorm Lodges in Aboyne is to keep nature at the heart of everything they do – and they encourage their guests to do the same. They preserve the local forest and are aiming to be carbon neutral, using only eco-friendly, recycled or ethical products and materials; they encourage wildlife into the surrounding forest and actively feed wild birds and red squirrels; they are replanting areas of woodland felled in 2014 and have minimised the travel carbon footprint by employing only local staff.

Another great example is Bonobo Café in Aberdeen, a 100 per cent vegan café and food shop. They formed a workers’ co-operative, so employees have the option of becoming joint owners of the business. Workers also decide whether and when profits go back to the business, to the employees or to support the community, so profits can remain local. The food served at the café is all vegan, with the aim of reducing environmental impacts and the café usually runs an events programme, including vegan outreach and social events for the community.

Aberdeen’s flagship events and conference venue, the P&J Live is also a shining example of a tourism business considering the local environment. As part of its design, the facility has its own energy centre which digests food and garden waste from around Aberdeen in an anaerobic plant. This innovative solution then supplies heating, cooling and power to the P&J Live and its onsite hotels.

The site itself complements this environmental approach, with over 7km of new footpaths connecting nearby areas and over 29,000 trees and shrubs cultivating a living environment to attract wildlife.

From March 12-21 this year, Climate Week North East will showcase what is going on across Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to tackle climate change and provide inspiration for how we can all live sustainably.

Most events will take place online. However, there is still a great programme of activities and events, including outdoor treasure hunts, a climate week trail, family bookbug sessions, a beach clean, yoga, a climate art competition, daily challenges and mindful walks on a number of themes, including seaside, energy, biodiversity, rivers, air quality and farming. A downloadable CWNE21 brochure can be accessed at www.climateweeknortheast.org with details of inspiring events, their locations and timings and I would urge everyone to get involved.

Tourism itself is not the end goal. Tourism is simply a brilliant way to help people and places to thrive, and when we look through that lens, a new way of working becomes possible. As we move through recovery, we will encourage visitors to explore our wonderful country but do so in a responsible manner. This will not only help the local communities that invite them in but ensure that their own experience of Scotland, and fellow travellers, is the best that it can be.

In November, we joined Wild Scotland and Sail Scotland to step up the country’s commitment to responsible tourism and tackling climate change, by becoming the first national tourism organisation in the world to sign up to the Tourism Declares initiative. Through our activity at VisitScotland, we aim to play a leading role in the development of Scotland as a globally-recognised responsible destination.

We've pledged to take action to reduce carbon emissions and support businesses to do the same. With the tourism industry facing huge challenges due to the pandemic, our plans recognise the importance of balancing necessary business survival with a sustainable and responsible recovery; so that together, we can all thrive once again.