Councilors will tomorrow consider detailed plans to tackle tourism in four visitor hotspots in the Highlands.
Hotspots include Durness, Glenbrittle, Assynt and the Isles Road. Council access rangers say these areas are struggling to cope with the explosion in visitor numbers since the pandemic.
The Highlands attracted 2.9 million overnight visitors in 2019 and 9.6 million day trips. These visitors added £1.6 billion to the local economy.
However, these numbers pre-date the pandemic and growth in the staycation market suggests that the actual totals will be much higher.
Take Durness in North West Sutherland, for example. The small village has only 250 inhabitants. However, this population reaches up to 1,000 inhabitants each night in summer.
Major tourist areas have the infrastructure to cope, for the most part. This is not the case for rural areas on the NC500.
With this in mind, Highland Council’s Seasonal Access Rangers have compiled a detailed 168-page report for tomorrow’s Tourism Committee meeting.
The report presents the challenges common to the four hotspots and a series of ideas for harnessing tourism.
£1.5m action plan
Although the report offers specific action points for each area, the themes are common to all four. These include traffic jams and curbside parking, informal overnight camping, wildfires, littering, restrooms, and anti-social behavior, to name a few.
The Highland Council says irresponsible tourism is damaging fragile ecosystems and threatening the livelihoods of local farmers and crofters. It’s not fun for tourists either.
Unable to cope with the increased numbers, many of these areas have few public restrooms, camping facilities, driveways, signage or hospitality.
All of this has led to tensions with locals, with many areas fearful of losing their community identity.
Highland Council has set aside £1.5m to address the issue.
The proposed budget for visitor management for 2022 includes £350,000 for seasonal gatekeepers, £240,000 for road management, £190,000 for public toilets, £160,000 for parking management and £55,000 £ for camper van facilities.
With this money, the report proposes a series of measures in the four hotspots.
Some of these actions are strategic, such as hiring permanent destination management officers and seasonal guardians, and bringing stakeholders together in destination management forums.
Other measures are concrete: improvement of the road network, in particular single-lane roads, and resurfacing of car parks. Then there is the issue of signage, which is spotty and unenforceable.
The council offers a more cohesive ‘narrative’ to explain the rules of the outdoor access code and provide information and advice on each area.
The board also reviews what other regions are doing. The Tourism Committee report highlights the National Trust for Scotland’s ‘Love the Glen’ campaign in Glencoe.
Then there’s the stricter approach taken at Loch Lomond, where regulations have been used to create restricted camping areas with a £500 fine.
The report even looks across the Channel to France, where graphic information panels provide quick and easy tour guides.
If Highland councilors approve tourism plans tomorrow, many local priority actions will happen immediately.
With these four trouble spots under control, the council then plans to turn its attention to other areas.
The ultimate goal ? Striking the delicate balance between a thriving tourism economy and a sustainable and thriving community.
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[Council to invest £1.5m in tourist hot spots]