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4 April 2018

Locally led tourism

Tourism has always been a mainstay of the Scottish economy, with £4.5bn spent annually by visitors to our communities.  It is odd, although perhaps not all that surprising, that the national body charged with responsibility for growing this sector – Visit Scotland – has only recently began to view communities as active partners. The national tourism plan – Tourism Scotland 2020 – has a target of growing visitor spend by more than a fifth by 2020. Community-led tourism is seen as being key to achieving this. The latest in a series of excellent briefing papers from Senscot shines the spotlight.

By Senscot

To see Senscot briefing on Community Tourism


In 2012, an industry-led national tourism strategy, Tourism Scotland 2020 (TS2020), was published. The strategy, headed by the Scottish Tourism Alliance, stated a vision that “Scotland will be a destination of first choice for a high quality, value for money and memorable customer experience, delivered by skilled and passionate people”.


The strategy had two main focuses: identifying markets which offered the highest growth potential, and cultivating a greater level of collaboration between Scotland’s key tourist destinations. It is hoped that the strategy will see Scotland increase its total visitor spend from £4.5bn to over £5.5bn by 2020. However, a mid-term review indicated that, while the strategy’s framework remains fit for purpose, the target of a £1bn increase in visitor spend was still some way off.


Community-led tourism initiatives have an important role to play in achieving this goal, as recognised by the Scottish Government in a strategic letter of guidance to Visit Scotland, encouraging it to “engage regularly with Scotland’s communities to help them make the most of their own local tourism resources”.


Tourism-focussed social enterprises can empower communities to grow their individual tourism markets by putting local people and community assets at the heart of a collaborative approach to growing visitor numbers. Forging a network of local initiatives will be key if Scotland is to achieve the stated aims of TS2020.


Community tourism puts local people at the centre of the decision-making process to produce a tourist offering which benefits the whole community, not just a few businesses. It looks to build a strategy which allows small, local businesses to capture the footfall of visitors who are attracted to larger, popular local assets.


Encouraging the local community to take ownership of tourism in their area can help preserve historic and cultural heritage, improve management of land and assets for community use, encourage the development of new business opportunities, and improve the quality of services.


Communities are more likely to lead on tourism in rural areas, often those which are economically marginalised. Similar to social enterprise, communities are stepping in where they see a need that is not being met by the private or public sector. Ensuring that the economic benefits of tourism are spread across a community increases the buyin from local businesses, giving a concerted focus to any local tourism initiative. Connecting with community groups, the local tourism forum, development trusts, social enterprises and other tourism-related businesses in the planning of local tourism initiatives reinforces this ethos of community benefit.


A successful plan will also look to develop meaningful partnerships between the public, private and third sectors, as well as business to business. Can schools and local businesses build links to develop a better, shared knowledge of local heritage and community assets among young people in the area? Can local businesses work together to signpost each other’s products and services to tourists? Cumulatively, these small steps in partnership building can contribute to a vastly enhanced visitor experience, increasing the community’s tourist offer.


Some of the challenges included in driving projects forward are local politics, lack of resource, lack of knowledge, and poor infrastructure. Where national and local bodies have stepped in to help tackle these challenges there is greater success.


“We devised a programme of interactions with the community, the school and local businesses. WorldHost training and visitor experience training was available to young people so that when they worked in restaurants and bars at night they could pass on that information to the tourist. We then further developed it and introduced courses that are now SQA registered: travel and tourism, early education and childcare, which is another need within the community.” Yvonne Ross, Director, Dornoch CIC

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