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Sustainable tourism: how Scotland is changing with the times, and the environment

It is a way of travelling without leaving a carbon footprint, where the journey is just as important as the destination.

And now VisitScotland believes that sustainable tourism will be the way of the future with many of those who come to experience the country’s sights and sounds intent on ensuring they tread as lightly on our country as they possibly can.

Fresh research has found that Generation Z – today’s twentysomethings – recognise the damage mass travel can do to the environment, having seen first-hand the overcrowding which plagues tourist hotspots.

What’s more, the growing importance of green issues, and the pollution that comes with long-haul air and road journeys, has convinced them to take things slowly, either on foot, by bike, or by using public transport.

Now the challenge for tourist bosses is to ensure that visitors to the country are greeted with a joined-up network which allows them to see the sights without impacting on their surroundings, and taking nothing but time.

A recent insight paper prepared for the national tourist body states: “A developing trend among the traveller has been the desire for transformational tourism, diverging from the historically consumer based transactional tourism.

“This aspiration to attain self-fulfilment through travel is in many markets around the world having an impact on the type of destinations visited and the activities engaged in.

“Scotland is well placed with its inspiring elements of landscape, heritage and culture to capitalise on this phenomenon, but needs to be aware of maintaining a sustainable approach to tourism to preserve the essence of what visitors look for when they come here.”

Chris Greenwood, insight manager at Visit Scotland, explains: “Younger travellers understand about sustainable mobility, as it’s called, where you lower your personal impact on the environment.

“That comes naturally to them and they want to travel, but they do not want to have a high environmental footprint.

“They look for places where they can travel slowly, or visit throughout the year rather than at peak times when there is less of a problem of overcrowding.”

Having visited places such as Barcelona, Paris, Venice or Amsterdam, where the degradations of mass tourism are all too apparent, visitors are instead seeking out the unspoilt and taking pains to ensure it stays that way.

And this market will become more important in the future as today’s carefree 20-year-olds become the family holiday-seekers of tomorrow.

Mr Greenwood added: “There has been a change in attitude between the generations. Before, where people would arrive by plane and then want to drive off in their own hire car, travellers in their 20s are aware of the impact they have on the environment and don’t want it to be negative.

“To them it comes naturally, and of course as they get older and become an even larger part of the consumer economy that ethos is going to become ever more prominent.

“So tourism is going to have to adapt to service that mindset.”

To cater for this growing market, and to help the Scottish Government achieve its stated goal of becoming of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2045, changes to infrastructure will be required.

The VisitScotland report highlights some positive examples.

“Cairngorms Connected” is an EU-funded project with the aim of reorganising transport to provide a viable alternative to using a car in the Highlands. It is looking at ticketing, existing services and systems with the potential to offer a single means of travelling around the region, potentially reducing people’s reliance on cars and self-transport.

Further south, Glasgow is one of the primary points of entry for both domestic and international visitors and the scheduled bus or train journey to the “Outdoor Capital of the UK” in Fort William is just one example of encouraging visitors to travel more sustainably. And from there, tourists can get on to the water and take on the Great Glen Canoe Trail, a 96km stretch of Caledonian Canal from Fort William to Inverness which can be enjoyed as a long-distance canoeing challenge or done in sections as a relaxing day paddle.

There is also the option to experience the country at walking pace on one of the many hiking paths around Scotland, such as Fife’s newly-reopened Pilgrim’s Trail or the Annandale Way Long Distance Trail, which stretches from Moffat to the Solway Firth.

And if that’s too slow, bike-packing is the way to tour the country on two wheels, carrying the minimum of equipment and camping along the way. Scotland has some world-beating long-distance cycling routes in remote areas, as well as 2,371 miles of National Cycle Network routes.

But to make sure sustainable tourism can actually be sustained, more will need to be done. Mr Greenwood said that it is about ensuring the little things are done right, such as visitors being guided through the oft-confusing ordeal of trying to negotiate public transport in a foreign country and a language they may not be familiar with, or making sure there are charging points for electric cars along popular routes.

He said: “From VisitScotland’s perspective, we want to ensure the information gets out to tourists. For example, how to navigate the bus system can be daunting if it’s in a foreign language so we have to make sure people coming here know how to do that.

“There has to be a co-ordinated approach. If you take a ferry out to the islands you should be able to know there’s going to be a bus waiting for you and know where it’s going to take you.”

He added: “What we want to do is recognise the role that transport can have. How can we disperse tourism around Scotland so that the benefits can be spread out to different communities?

“Can we engage people to use public transport and travel in a sustainable way while making the tourist experience better?

“A dramatic train journey can enhance a trip, but people also have to know that at the end of their journey they can still access the attractions and reach their accommodation. It all has to fit together.”

Sustainable tourism initiatives

The ScotRail Highland Rover

The Highland Rover ticket provides unlimited rail travel for any four days in an eight-day period which starts with your first journey. Visitors can travel any time, hopping on and off the route, which has almost 100 stops and takes in the west and north regions.

The Highland Rover provides free coach travel from Oban and Fort William to Inverness, and from Thurso to Scrabster. The ticket also includes ferries also, so visitors can travel to Mull and Skye with CalMAc free, or get a discount on Northlink services to Orkney and Shetland.

With bike storage available on ScotRail trans, this offers flexibility to sustainable tour of Scotland for hikers, bikers, as well as eco-conscious visitors.

Fort William bus link

Glasgow is one of the primary entry points for both domestic and international visitors who arrive in Scotland by air travel or public transport from elsewhere in the UK. One of the low-cost and environmentally friendly excursions providing access to outdoor activities and unique places to stay in the three-hour scheduled bus journey to Fort William, dubbed the outdoor capital of the UK.

Cairngorms Connected

An EU -funded project sponsored by HITRANS supports an emerging strategy to reorganise transport in order to tackle mobility and sustainable challenges by offering alternatives to car use in sparsely populated areas. The project’s first phase is Cairngorms Connected. Potential solutions may emerge as, for instance, combining mobility and societal services as part of a single ticket offering made available to users via app subscriptions.

Active travel

Another large part of sustainable tourism is active travel – when journeys are made by walking or cycling – promoting areas which emphasise physical activity as destinations for visitors. Wild camping and bothy experiences can become part of the overall experience which Scotland could excel at, with the likes of rural Dark Skies, regional food and drink delicacies and the wealth of cultural heritage making it attractive to active travellers.

The Annandale Way Long Distance Trail: A 56-mile long distance walking route starting in the hills above Moffat, following the River Annan down to the Solway Estuary at Annan. It can be walked in four of five days in either direction. A dedicated website offers information on public transport starting points, accommodation recommendations, luggage transport and heritage and natural history to look out for during the journey.

Isle of Cumbrae eBike Touring: Active travel doesn’t have to involve epic feats of physical exertion. With over 60 years of trading, Mapes of Millport hire bicycles and eBikes to visitors to explore the island of Cumbrae. A loop of the island is 10 miles but shorter routes are available.

The Great Glen Canoe Trail: This 96km stretch of the Caledonian Canal was one of the first trails of its kind in Scotland. From Fort William to Inverness, the Caledonian Canal offers options for paddlers of all abilities and can be enjoyed as a long-distance challenge or relaxing day paddle.

The West Island Bikepacking Trail: Developed in partnership with and the Scottish Youth Hostelling Association, this is a 332km loop connecting hostels in Oban, Lochranza on Arran, and Port Charlotte on Islay.


International visitors

1.8million – or 27% of domestic overnight holiday trips to Scotland were to rural areas – this contributed £442million to the rural Scottish economy.

● 44% go to the countryside

● 28% visit a national park

● 43% visit the coast

● 40% use public transport

The value of our natural assets

Scotland’s mountains and moorlands was calculated at £5.2billion and £11.3billion from Coastal Regions, Lochs and Reservoirs and Rivers and Canals. These sectors represent around 50% of the total recreational asset value of Scotland’s Natural Capital.

Rural Scotland

● 98% of Scotland is defined as rural

● About 20% of Scots live in rural areas

● Rural Scotland is defined as settlements with a population of less than 3,000

Scotland has 11 train stations and 12,599 bus stops in areas defined as mountain, moorland and heath; there are 66 train stations and 6,219 bus stops within 1km of a long-distance path. This accounts for 11,174km of path accessible by public transport.


Virgin Galactic’s IPO launches a pivotal phase for space tourism

Richard Branson rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on October 28 as Virgin Galactic became the first commercial spaceflight company to list on the stock market. It was valued at more than $1 billion following its merger with publicly-listed holding firm Social Capital Hedosophia, then experienced a 20% drop in its share price after a week of trading. It is now worth around $800m.

The route to success in the space tourism industry is bound to be a wild ride and Branson is hoping his first mover advantage will bring healthy returns in the long run. Indeed, this high-risk venture could well pay off–it’s just a question of when.

Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 to offer paying customers a trip into suborbital space. For $250,000, anyone can take a 90-minute flight into the upper reaches of the atmosphere where they will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth’s surface. According to Virgin, 600 people from some 60 countries have already made their reservations, while a further 3,700 people have registered for the opportunity to buy flights once ticket sales are back on offer. This suggests that the combination of Branson’s marketing prowess and the allure of space for humans are a plausible value proposition for investors.

Virgin is also offering a much cheaper route to experiencing space than its competitors. There have only been seven space tourists to date and none since 2009. All travelled on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) at a reported price tag of tens of millions of dollars.

NASA announced in June that it would offer trips to the ISS at a cost of $35,000 per night, not including the cost of a taxi ride there from SpaceX and Boeing. The cost of these rides is likely to be at least $60m, which is what NASA pays to take its astronauts to the ISS, and these visits are due to start in 2020. In September 2018, SpaceX unveiled its 2023 lunar passenger flight that would take Japanese billionaire businessman Yusaku Maezawa and six of his guests on a space flight around the moon using its Big Falcon Rocket for an undisclosed, but certainly a very substantial, price.

Substantial progress

Although it has yet to fly any paying passengers and is currently loss making, Virgin Galactic aims to be profitable by 2021, based on completing 115 flights that generate $210m in revenue. By 2023, it is forecasting revenues of $590m and expects to have flown more than 3,000 passengers. Since that number is a tiny portion of the target market of high net-worth individuals with assets of at least $10m, its projections could well be achievable. And, currently, Virgin Galactic appears to be ahead of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin in fulfilling the vision of space tourism.

While Virgin Galactic has failed to deliver on expectations in the past–it missed its own targets for flights commencing and experienced a catastrophic accident in 2014–it has more recently made substantial progress. In December 2018 it achieved its first suborbital space flight. Given that achievement and subsequent progress, it seems likely that commercial flights could commence within the next 18 months.

It is also diversifying its offering as it gears up for launch. In collaboration with the sportswear maker Under Armour, Virgin Galactic has developed a line of high-tech clothing that its passengers will wear on their flights. At the same time, it is moving into its new facilities at Spaceport America in the desert lands of New Mexico.

Spaceport America, where Virgin’s flights will take off from and return to, has a $220m investment by the New Mexico government. It is also here that passengers will undergo three days of training to prepare for the G-forces and weightlessness that they will experience on flights.

The business of space tourism is only just beginning. Air travel similarly started small with a limited target market, but grew to become a mass market with many commercial air carriers and millions traveling every month, served by airports that over time became large commercial hubs. The trajectory for space tourism travel in the decades to come has the potential to be similar. From a highly niche market, it can become one that has much broader appeal when costs reduce.

At the same time, spaceports can, like airports before them, become large concentrated centers of commercial activity. Should Virgin Galactic maintain its first mover advantage in space tourism in the years ahead, there is the prospect for healthy returns to investors in this high risk venture.


Curious where social media is going? The travel industry leads the way

In the world of marketing, nothing emphasizes a faster change in popularity or trend than social media.

  • Just when a social media manager believes they’ve figured out Facebook’s algorithm, it changes.
  • Think implementing a strategy with Snapchat is the solution to hitting target audiences? Here comes Tik Tok.
  • That brand new influencer with millions of engaged followers you just signed? They just entered the news cycle with questionable posts right after pushing your brand.

In social marketing, early adopters are rewarded. Those who pass over trends or are late to the game, will miss fantastic opportunities, and, of course, risk ridicule or mockery by more social-savvy users.

It’s easy to see which trends are relevant right now and build a strategy around current viral posts and innovative tactics, but how do you predict what’s coming next?

Customer behavior is in a constant state of evolution. How can an agency, in-house team or other social specialists, build content to stick with followers and increase awareness for prospective clients and future fans?

Where can you look for inspiration? Key indicators are available, ready to guide your organization to accomplish its comprehensive social media strategy.

In fact, one industry has been at the forefront of social innovation: Travel and tourism has been leading content sharing well before the conception of today’s popular platforms; a consistent trend for years.

Inherently social

Travel has always been social. Not simply traveling with friends and family, but sharing our travel experiences with others. Before the rise of today’s social media giants, travelers were eager to provide social media-type feedback to family, friends and strangers around the globe.

What used to be organized photo albums and slideshows for friends and neighbors, have been replaced by blogs and Instagram posts. 

Whether planners were in need of information and reviews regarding potential vacation destinations and activities, or vacationers were looking to boast about their experiences, passing information has evolved from speaking to someone face-to-face, and reading detailed brochures, to leaving reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor – a prime example of social media before social media.

Of course today, social media posts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and all other platforms are the most exciting and efficient ways of spreading information to your friends and family.

The third-party endorsements of destinations and activities from the consumers’ point of view are truly impacting future plans of other travelers, who monitor social sites for recommendations. These connections with the like-minded have become vital to destinations as posts become more visual.

So, why were consumers sharing, rating and reviewing trips before the social media takeover?

To be frank, vacations are expensive – a high-stakes purchasing decision.

As marketers, we learned early that a trusted evaluation of an experience is important to those ready to spend the time and money on a high-priced activity. Unlike the ease of ordering, trying and returning products such as clothing, vacations are one of the most expensive purchases consumers make, and you’ll be hard-pressed to receive a refund for an unimpressive travel experience.

Traveling is a highly personal product – costs, safety and overall level of fun are not taken lightly.

Sharing everything

No matter where you are, or where you’ve gone, there have always been opportunities to socially share or receive information about your trip.

When social media, as we currently know it, launched in the early 2000s, it was a game-changer for the travel industry, placing a more intricate spin on sharing and researching details about potential vacation itineraries.

It can be challenging to identify the cause and effect of social media trends as they continue to ebb and flow, almost daily. Are consumers behaving differently due to platform features and algorithms, or are the consumers forcing these changes from the platforms?

From our experience in the travel industry’s social media landscape, there are four trends that a marketer must identify – all of which have a tremendous impact on the travel industry, and are fundamentally relevant to non-travel businesses looking to succeed on social media.

The rise of niche communities

With 3.5 billion people on social media, how many of these users are relevant to your brand?

Users are taking advantage of social media to stay connected to family, friends and only those brands they love.

Travel and tourism has been at the forefront of developing niche communities, with groups, or “artificial walls” put up by brands to segment and target their audiences. Brands develop opportunistic groups to pull prime targets in to discuss travel plans, recommendations and more. 

Groups such as “It’s Orlando Time,” filled with dedicated travelers in the U.K., maintain hundreds of thousands of followers, with nearly 1,000 posts every day about traveling to Orlando, Florida.

There are so many opportunities to share and learn on social media, but groups like these are followed due to their direct impact on its community. Brands monitor the deep and passionate thoughts and insights in real time, and add any relevant content to increase participation.

There are countless groups of all sizes, for road warriors, who share detailed insights on how to exploit loopholes in frequent flyer programs, and those who simply vent their frustrations when hotels and other providers do not meet expectations.

These dedicated groups have set the example for productive social sharing, especially as brands figure out a way to interact with their customers in these new environments, even without control over messaging.  

Social sales

Social media is driving purchasing decisions. The phenomenon of repeating what you see on social media began as users became inspired by travelers they aspire to be. (Looking at you, Instagram Repeat account)

Whether they be travel-, fitness-, food, or even laundry detergentrelated sales, these posts inspire consumers to mimic social media by purchasing and eventually posting. 

Platforms like Instagram are no longer simply providing inspiration, but they’re also making it increasingly easy to shop right from the app.

Like many other businesses, the travel industry struggles to completely attribute what part of their sales are driven by social media, especially as travel is less of an impulse buy.

The most forward-thinking travel marketers have come up with very sophisticated attribution models, which allow them to track consumers as they see the content and subsequently make a purchase. 

Social customer service

Customer service has boomed on social media. Yes, it’s an opportunity to engage with consumers who’ve had negative and positive experiences, but it also means responses are expected in real time.

Social media has empowered consumers, who are not afraid to use that power – just ask any person responsible for community management of an airline’s social channels. 

Any cancelled or delayed flight, changed seat assignment, service animal, unruly passenger or disruption can lead to an onslaught of angry tweets or messages.

For years, travel industry leaders have been reaching out and solving problems for customers through social media platforms (or travel review sites), whether it’s a mismanaged hotel room or flight cancellation. For the travel industry, immediate responses have been vital to ensure today’s guests don’t miss flights and are comfortable during their travels.

This type of customer service is spilling over into other industries, and they should take their cue from the tourism giants who have perfected solving customer service issues, quickly, effectively and personally.

Brand connectors

Social media influencers discovered travel before other verticals, and are now everywhere – even causing some hospitality organizations to ban “influencers” from their properties. So what comes next?

The influencer trend is moving towards those passionate, more targeted audiences (see niche communities above), who might not have the large number of followers, but are more authentic and relatable.

Consumers are no longer influenced by one person who visits a city for half a day. They want the real/authentic view of a local with all the connections. 

“Following” a true insider helps build that authentic audience base, that continues to realize the difference between an ad and a shared experience. In other words, don’t build an influencer program, build a partnership.

No industry has achieved such strong social media success like travel – the concepts of sharing and enjoying photos, recommendations and reviews has gracefully aged and continues to improve.

It’s more important than ever that all brands and industries take note of the important work destination marketing organizations, hotel owners, airlines and conventions bureaus have accomplished to keep up with the changing dynamics of social strategies.

Social media has dissolved the barrier between businesses and consumers – planning/purchasing is at the fingertips of consumers, and feedback is only a click away.

Questions and requests can be resolved with a tweet or Facebook message. Yes, this is the perfect marketplace to provide information to your audience, but understanding the needs and wants of your targets through social media data are key to increasing awareness and the bottom line.


University of South Australia Research focuses on sustainable tourism

Dr Freya Higgins-Desbiolles from the University of South Australia has studied the tension from over tourism for more than 10 years, and her most recent research, published in Journal of Sustainable Tourism, suggests, if we want to preserve the positives of travel, we must urgently rethink our approach to it – as a planet.

The past few years have seen a major schism emerge in attitudes to tourism. On one hand, the new wealth of a burgeoning global middle class and shrinking cost of high-quality tourist experiences have allowed an unprecedented number of people to travel, often resulting in enlightening and inspiring experiences.

On the other hand, many parts of the world have groaned under the weight of wanderlust, with popular destinations swamped by masses lured through cheap flights, package deals and clever marketing.

The fall out, from the beaches of Thailand to the slopes of Everest, has been cries of “over-tourism”, and in areas like Barcelona and Venice, the deluge of visitors has led to outright anti-tourist activism.

For Dr Higgins-Desbiolles, the growing animosity towards tourism in many parts of the world is not a sign we shouldn’t be travelling, but rather a sign we should be actively changing the way we travel.

Dr Higgins-Desbiolles advises: “We need to ensure those impacted by tourism are also those benefited, not just in a short-term financial sense, but in an ongoing social and cultural dimension as well. Then they, in turn, will have good, enduring reasons to welcome visitors into their communities.”

Likening the required shift in thinking to the emergence of the environmental movement last century – “the greenies have been talking like this for years, and the rest of us are just catching up” – Dr Higgins-Desbiolles suggests the tourism industry needs to buck its addiction to endless growth, recognising the finite limits of the planet and learning to work within them.

Dr Higgins-Desbiolles added: “We’re not suggesting everything has to grind to a halt but, just as other areas of industry have had to recognise the importance of sustainability, both socially and environmentally, tourism must stop sacrificing a long-term future for short term gains.”

Dr Higgins-Desbiolles’s study highlights mechanisms to drive this change, the key being a shift from corporate, often international operators, to local, socially-embedded custodians of tourist destinations, with strong evidence that such a transformation dramatically improves outcomes for people and planet.

Dr Higgins-Desbiolles also notes: “Obviously, we need to preserve the livelihoods tourism provides, but if that is focused on the local community, then they intrinsically limit things to what is sustainable, both for the population and the environment.”

Pointing to the success of initiatives such as that in Guna Yala, an Indigenous province of Panama with a Statute on Tourism protecting the local customs and ecosystem, and the Tourism Optimisation Management Model developed by the community of Kangaroo Island to ensure mass tourism developments did not diminish their quality of life, Dr Higgins-Desbiolles says there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about more sustainable models of tourism: “This will be a big challenge for the tourism industry in coming years, but it is a challenge the industry needs to face, and I believe it is one it can rise up to.

“I think there is a change going on around the world, when you look at things like New Zealand’s ‘Wellbeing Budget’ and the Buen Vivir (‘living well’) movement in South America, through which measures of prosperity are based on more than gross domestic product.

“If tourism can embrace that change, it will not only ensure the future of the industry, it will improve the experience for everyone involved.”


The stargazers’ trail: New ‘astro-tourism’ trail created in the Welsh mountains links six new locations awarded ‘dark sky’ status

A new astro-tourism trail of ideal star-gazing spots has opened in the Cambrian Mountains in Wales, incorporating six new sites that have been awarded official ‘Dark Sky’ status.

The trail, which covers just over 50 miles, can be visited over the course of a few nights for a glimpse of Orion, The Plough and the North Star.  

The six new Dark Sky Discovery sites are away from the worst of any local light pollution, provide good sightlines of the sky and are generally freely accessible at all times.

They have been awarded the status as the UK’s best spots to witness celestial goings on – adding to three existing sites in the region.

Dafydd Wyn Morgan, leading the project, said: ‘The Cambrian Mountains is one of best places in the world to view dark skies. 

‘The clear skies offer incredible views of the Milky Way, meteor showers and the International Space Station when it passes over.

‘By day the astro-trail allows you to discover a community woodland brimming with wildlife, the UK’s tallest reservoir, a 12th century abbey and mining heritage stretching back to Roman times.’ 

The astro-trial is scattered with pubs which planners urge people to ‘pop inside for a meal’ if cold and cloudy skies present themselves.  

Mr Morgan added: ‘I now aim to encourage local people as well as visitors to the Dark Sky Discovery Sites.

‘The land of the Cambrian Mountains is amazing by day and sky just waits to be discovered by night.

‘An SQM is taken. Sky Quality Measurement to assess light pollution. All the sites are locations that have achieved Milky Way tier status i.e. you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye.

‘Sites are 10x10m in area and accessible to all 24/7. They will be in rural locations.’

The nine sites are all accessible with a stunning view of the night sky visible from their car parks – for those who may not be able to trek to a remote location.

A low level of light pollution from cities or street lighting makes the area perfect for viewing a normally washed out night sky.

A study by the Campaign to Protect Rural England found that only two per cent of the UK were able to gaze at ‘truly dark skies’ while 57 per cent struggled to count more than 120 stars.

Many people in major cities – London, Newcastle, Leeds and Manchester – were unable to view a single star at all.

Emma Marrington, dark skies campaigner at CPRE, said: ‘It’s deeply disappointing that the vast majority were unable to experience the natural wonder of a truly dark sky, blanketed with stars.’

Adding: ‘Light doesn’t respect boundaries, and careless use can see it spread for miles from towns, cities, businesses and motorways, resulting in the loss of one of the countryside’s most magical sights – a dark, starry night sky.’ 

If you’re not near Wales these sites, which are all wheelchair-friendly, are free from most light pollution and boast great sightlines so you can enjoy the best panoramas possible:

South east: Near London, the South Downs National Park boasts no fewer than seven recognised stargazing spots, including Ditchling Beacon, Butser Hill, Old Winchester Hill, Iping Common and Devil’s Dyke.  

Midlands: The Peak District is blessed with truly dark skies and has three recommended spots at Surprise View, Parsley Hay and Minninglow. They’re all easily accessible and have information panels that help to guide you around the night sky. 

North: The North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland national parks all have many stargazing spots. The Kielder Observatory holds stargazing events including family astronomy nights.

North west: If you’re near Blackburn, Preston or Lancaster then head into the Forest of Bowland. There are five designated dark sky sites there, including the Beacon Fell Visitor Centre.

West Country: Exmoor National Park is also a Dark Sky Reserve, which means light pollution is at a minimum. If you’re further south, near Newquay, try Carnewas and Bedruthan Steps where the Kernow Astronomers  periodically hold events.

Scotland: Take your stargazing really seriously north of the border in the Scottish Highlands.

The Cairngorms and the Loch Lomond and Trossachs national parks are unrivalled on the mainland, or if you’re very adventurous try the Isle of Coll in the Inner Hebrides. It’s been named a Dark Sky Island by the International Dark Sky Association, as it has some of the darkest skies in Europe.

Scotland is also host to Europe’s first ‘dark sky town’ in the form of Moffat in the Annandale valley. Thanks to special street lights that minimise light pollution, the stars are visible right in the centre of town. You can see at least 17 of Orion’s 30 stars, whereas in most towns you will only see six. 

Cotswolds: It’s not just the national parks that enjoy unpolluted night skies, but also the designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty all over the country. The Cotswolds has a particularly suitable location at the Rollright Stone Circle near Chipping Norton, where you can watch the heavens with these Neolithic sentinels. 


Europe’s Tourism Overload

Is mass tourism causing irreparable damage to some of Europe’s most beautiful locations?

Since the 1960s, when Europe’s middle classes first had the money and time to travel, tourism has shown no signs of slowing down.

Last year, international tourist arrivals increased by another six percent to 1.4 billion globally and the rise now seems exponential. It speaks of increasing prosperity and leisure time for some – still largely a developed-world phenomenon – and a boost for the economies of popular destinations.

But it also carries an environmental cost, particularly for Europe’s most picturesque locations, which are buckling under the weight of ever-growing numbers.

Mass tourism is increasingly fuelled by an exodus of travellers from China, numbers that are set to grow in the years ahead – and there is a growing concern over the price being paid by those living with the influx.

In tourist hotspots, such as Venice, things have become so burdensome for locals that demonstrations against visitors have taken place.

In Dubrovnik, fans of the Game of Thrones series are an increasing problem as they flock to visit locations where scenes of the TV show were filmed but pay little attention to genuine local culture and sensitivities.

On the Mediterranean holiday island of Mallorca, masked activists have smashed the windshields of tourist rental cars in protest against clogged roads and worn-out infrastructure.

In the tiny Austrian Alp town of Hallstatt, a World Heritage Site visited by a million tourists a year, the 800 inhabitants are split.

“A rift arises between those who profit a lot and those who believe they’re not profiting at all,” says Alexander Scheutz, Hallstatt’s mayor, “and that’s dangerous for a village where community is necessary.”

In Flam, a village nestled in the Norwegian fjords, cruise ships are a problem.

“If you worry just a little about the environment, it can’t be good. This is the worst type of travelling,” says Anders Fretheim, a local farmer and activist. He has taken to putting huge placards on his land by the sea, telling the ships and tourists exactly what he thinks of them.

Can these and other communities find their balance in the tide of tourists?

What damage is being caused by the millions of people snapping selfies in front of the pyramids, Buckingham Palace or the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Can the economic benefits of tourism outweigh its negative effects?

In this episode of People & Power, Danish journalist Michael Reiter asks whether tourism is now out of control.


Collaboration Is Key: Why Tourism Boards Should Be Working With Airports

The expansion of route networks is always a key goal of any airline, but unless aircraft can be filled with passengers, that route will never be a success. We take a look at how airlines, airports and local tourism boards can and should be working together to develop healthy routes that really stimulate tourism.

Tourism and aviation are intrinsically linked

While the launch of a new route is often seen as a deal done between an airline and airport, there is a third even more important partner who needs to be involved. Tourism boards are responsible for stimulating visitor numbers and will have their own needs and strategies which airlines can look to support.

According to IATA, out of 1.4bn tourists crossing borders every year, more than half (57%) will arrive by air. Tourism stimulated by aviation is evaluated to have created approximately 37m jobs worldwide, and to contribute around $897bn a year to global GDP, a share of 10.4%. Between now and 2036, IATA expects this to rise by 3.7% annually.

IATA also point out that, if tourism is well managed with a strong support by air transport, it can reduce poverty levels through stimulated employment and associated benefits. It points to examples of Cabo Verde, Maldives and Samoa, nations which have graduated from Less Developed Countries (LDC) status, driven by the strong growth of aviation supported tourism.

Collaboration is the key to success

Airlines shouldn’t simply launch new services to random destinations. While noting gaps in service provision can be a good starting point, only through close collaboration can that route be assured of success.

By working in collaboration with local tourism boards and authorities, airlines and airports can develop strategies that not only meet the goals of the airline and its passengers but also stimulates tourism to the county in a measured, sustainable way.

Boosting tourist numbers won’t necessarily happen just by laying on a new route. By working alongside tourism boards, airlines can increase public engagement and awareness via well thought out campaigns. On the other side, tourism boards can ensure aviation is in line with economic development planning to drive growth.

Increased numbers of tourists require facilities and infrastructure equipped to handle additional footfall. This ranges from a plentiful supply of hotel rooms to decent airport road and rail networks, again something that will only come about through joined-up working and planning between stakeholders.

How tourism boards can connect with airlines

While tourism boards and airports have become increasingly sophisticated in terms of marketing and promotion, there is often still a gap in communication between them and the airlines which serve their countries. Airlines are more frequently looking to connect beyond the airports alone when considering new routes and are actively seeking to engage with tourism boards to inform and support their development.

One forthcoming event is aiming to take the hard work out of making and maintaining such connections. This months’ AviaDev Europe conference offers a chance for airlines to meet with both airports and their tourism boards to discuss future strategies and kick off route development for the future.

As part of the event, AviaDev will host a special Air Service Development Workshop for Tourism Boards on the first day of the event, 23rd October. Here, tourism boards can develop a better understanding of the process involved in route planning, helping them to work more effectively with airports and to secure connectivity of their destinations.

Hosted by TURISMO VALENCIA, the workshop promises to provide a comprehensive starting point for tourism boards looking to develop their aviation know-how. TURISMO VALENCIA themselves are a prime, working example of how this strategy can pay off. AviaDev is hosting the workshop free of charge for tourism authorities. More information is available at the event website.


Can Saudi Arabia rebrand itself as a tourism hotspot?

It’s got year-round sunshine. It’s got incredible beaches. It’s got ancient historical sites. It’s got theme parks. It’s got luxury hotels. It’s got adventure. It’s got relaxation. So why isn’t this destination a hotspot for tourists?

Because it’s Saudi Arabia, and until now, unless they were making a religious pilgrimage to Mecca or were in town for business, tourists weren’t exactly lining up to visit. The country’s international reputation as a human rights black spot, its conservative laws that restrict the freedoms of women and the regional tensions that recently resulted in attacks on its oil industry, are not exactly travel brochure selling points. But Saudi Arabia wants all that to change. The Arabic kingdom is throwing its doors wide to international tourism in an attempt to rebrand itself as a travel destination to rival Gulf neighbors like Dubai, Oman and Abu Dhabi.

As of September 27th, travelers from 49 different countries will be able to enter Saudi through an e-visa and visa-on-arrival. Behind the move is a long-term plan to steer the country’s economy away from its reliance on the petrodollars that have flowed since the 1930s. If tourism matches Saudi dreams, millions will come, bringing new jobs, new wealth and, potentially, a whole new way of life.

The Saudis call this plan Vision 2030. In just over a decade, they expect annual visitors to reach 100 million – twice the number of people who currently travel to Italy each year, boosting the local economy to the tune of billions of dollars. “This is a game-changer for the Saudi tourism industry, which previously only catered for international tourists either for religious or corporate purposes,” says Imad Damrah, managing director of real estate agents Colliers International in Saudi Arabia. Will the tourists come though? Much stands between the kingdom and its dream of becoming a popular destination, not least its spotty human rights reputation, heightened after the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul.

Human rights groups like Amnesty International have, as recently as 2018, reported that “authorities severely restricted the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.” Recent drone and cruise missile strikes on Saudi oil facilities have raised new concerns about the security situation in the country, underscoring government travel advisories, like the US State Department’s, which warn visitors to be wary of terrorism and attacks on civilian targets. Saudi authorities won’t respond to direct questions about such issues, preferring to focus on the change ahead. “Saudi Arabia is at the beginning of its journey as a tourism destination,” a spokesperson for the Saudi Commission for Tourism told CNN.

To help pave the way, the country’s leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been enacting a series of cultural reforms, restricting the powers of its religious police, allowing mixed gender pop concerts and issuing driver’s licenses to women. The country is also throwing huge sums of money at “giga” developments like the Red Sea Project, a plan to transform a huge area of Saudi’s western coast into an uber luxurious desert, island and mountain resort with its own airport. “The Kingdom is investing heavily in tourism infrastructure,” says John Pagano, CEO of the Red Sea Development Company, which is overseeing the development. The 28,000 square kilometer Red Sea Project alone is projected to create 35,000 direct jobs and 35,000 indirect jobs, and contribute an estimated $5.8 billion per year to the kingdom’s economy, says Pagano.

Two other mega-developments are also in the works to draw leisure travelers. The vast $500 billion metropolis of Neom will span three countries and is intended as an automated tech paradise where people move around using self-driving cars and passenger drones. Qiddiya, under construction near Riyadh, is billed as the world’s biggest entertainment city. It has already lined up a Six Flags theme park that will feature what’s claimed to be the planet’s fastest roller coaster. The country can also capitalize on its extensive historic and geological attractions. Saudi Arabia is home to five UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the 10,000-year-old Rock Art in Hail; Al-Ahsa, the largest oasis in the world; Al-Hijr Archeological Site; the citadel of At-Turaif District; and Jeddah Old Town. It also has experience in installing modern transport links, with recent upgrades to the network built to handle the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that attracts over two million people.

Comparisons to the dramatic transformation of Saudi’s UAE neighbours – now seen as well-established tourism destinations catering to a variety of budgets and interests – are inevitable, but experts say that while there will be some overlap, they’re not necessarily catering to the same markets. “Saudi Arabia will never outshine Dubai, but I don’t think it wants to,” says Kevin Newton, executive director of Newton Analytical, a company that provides analysis on the Islamic world. “It wants to focus on family-friendly activities. This helps build Saudi Arabia’s reputation with the Muslim world, but also shows that the country is so much more than oil and the Hajj.” Newton says Saudi officials know that their initial market will be other Muslim countries. “That does not mean that Westerners – or anyone else, for that matter – are being ignored,” he adds. “Because of the Hajj, many Saudis in the hospitality industry already have a number of skills that can quickly apply to more general tourism, principal among them proficiency in English.

“Given that the promotional material for Neom features women wearing Western workout and leisure attire, it is clear that Saudi Arabia is seeking to attract a professional class of tourist who would otherwise frequent Dubai.” Yet will all of Saudi Arabia’s recent controversies harm the country’s goal of becoming a tourist hub? “Yes and no,” says Newton. On the one hand, he adds, a controversial reputation is never good for tourism. “On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is aware that the world has a short memory.

“Right now, Saudi Arabia’s decision to list [Saudi national oil company] Aramco publicly is gaining much more traction than any lingering stories about the Khashoggi assassination.” Several major challenges stand in the way, Newton continues. This includes Saudi Arabia’s ban on alcohol, which other Gulf Cooperation Council states allow. “Also, while considerable progress has been made in the past two years, women’s rights are still not on par with international standards,” he adds. Tourism will be driven by more adventurous types, continues Newton. “Luckily they have the potential to be more likely to spend more, and Saudi Arabia still has a lot to offer them beyond another stamp in their passport.”

Laura Alho, a Finnish expat and travel influencer based in Saudi Arabia, is one of these adventurous travelers. Alho moved to Saudi Arabia in 2008, despite everyone telling her not to go, she says. “The image of KSA was not very positive back then, but I decided to go and find out for myself what it’s really like, instead of listening to the opinions of people who had never even been there,” she adds. “Saudi Arabia is one of the last unexplored regions on Earth. Full of history, unique culture, and diverse landscapes,” she says. “The fact it felt mysterious and unexplored appealed to me as well. From the very first day I arrived in Saudi, I began exploring, and haven’t stopped to this day.”Alho shares her Saudi-focused travels on social media to nearly 63,000 followers, and says that curiosity around KSA has been growing.”I get contacted almost daily by people interested in traveling to Saudi Arabia.”

Marc Nouss, a Paris-based travel photographer and social media influencer, has traveled to Saudi Arabia twice on sponsored press trips. “I was a bit full of stereotypes regarding the country, so I had only good surprises,” says Nouss, who shared his travels to 100k followers. Nouss visited the historic desert of Al-Ula and the mountains of Al-Soudah. “The kindness of the people living there was the most beautiful. I travel a lot but this country is on my top two for the kindness of its inhabitants,” he says. “Saudi Arabia is preparing to open tourism to visitors,” adds Nouss. “This is pretty obvious. And honestly they will do well, as this country is rich in culture and history.” 


Thomas Cook: tourism experts explain the travel company’s collapse

The shock of Thomas Cook’s collapse may create reverberations that travel much further than the 150,000 holidaymakers who are reportedly stranded overseas or the many people who have already paid for travel with the company. The impact of Thomas Cook’s failure is even more stark because the company’s 19th-century founder was the father of package holidays, taking the first group of travellers abroad in 1855.

On the bright side there is a scheme in place to help them. When tourists buy their holiday as a package the law requires that it is protected. ATOL is a UK scheme, which was first introduced in 1973, that covers most air package holidays and some forward booked flights sold by UK operators. 

The ATOL scheme currently provides protection for more than 20m travellers each year. The benefits of ATOL are far reaching and include bringing stranded tourists back to the UK if the company they bought their package from goes into liquidation while they are overseas or will compensate or find alternative packages if the company fails before the traveller goes overseas. 

The term package is important because if a traveller purchases, say a flight only, from a travel agent or directly from an airline and is issued with a valid ticket, this is outside the scope of ATOL. So independent travellers (people who book the different components of their holidays would not be covered by ATOL unless the flight or hotel element explicitly states that it is ATOL protected). ATOL is funded through a levy on travel businesses of £2.50 per traveller and it is operated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulator and the funds are held by an organisation called the Air Travel Trust.

The ATOL protection was introduced in response to several major travel business failures, which left British travellers stranded overseas, but to date has not had to cope with a failure on the scale of this Thomas Cook one. The major task of organising the repatriation of so many people, code name “Operation Matterhorn”, has meant that the government (through the CAA) has had to hire planes from as far away as Malaysia to help transport not just the holidaymakers but also the thousands of staff who are also stranded overseas. This is the largest peacetime repatriation the UK has ever undertaken, and it is inevitable that there will be delays and problems during the operation that is being hastily put together.

Although the company’s products are ATOL protected there are limits to the cover and to many people who had planned their vacations, the financial costs are only a part of the problem. For instance, there are people who were travelling to get married, attend funerals or other significant functions who may not be able to easily make alternative arrangements and if events are cancelled there will be costs not covered by ATOL.

As with most things, there is rarely a single cause for such a big failure. This can be seen as a perfect storm for Thomas Cook. It was already stretched from earlier operational changes, some of which can be taken back to its merger with MyTravel Group in 2007 and others that demonstrate the changing nature of travel throughout the 21st century. 

This changing nature also includes the growing intensity of competition in the travel-related sector. Tourism businesses operate on high volume sales with small profit margins – that is to say they need to fill seats on planes and rooms in hotels to make a profit. One empty seat is dead weight and eats into whatever slim profits are derived from all the other seats and rooms sold. 

While the ultimate responsibility for the business failure of Thomas Cook must rest with the hands of its management, they faced a number of factors outside their control. The effects of the Brexit discussions, together with a poor economic growth rate, have resulted in a much weaker pound. This has meant higher costs for the overseas travel industry, putting even greater pressure on their already slender profit margins. 

The size of Thomas Cook brings the obvious advantages of economies of large-scale production. But while it may prosper in growing business environments, with a declining market and increased competition from the rapid growth of AirBnB and numerous specialist travel agencies and tour operators, size can become a burden. The vagaries of the UK’s weather also played a part, with record temperatures fuelling a rise in staycations and curtailing demand in a market with ever-increasing sources of supply.


Too Many People Want to Travel

Late in May, the Louvre closed. The museum’s workers walked out, arguing that overcrowding at the home of the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo had made the place dangerous and unmanageable. “The Louvre suffocates,” the workers’ union said in a statement written in French, citing the “total inadequacy” of the museum’s facilities to manage the high volume of visitors.

Half a world away, a conga line of mountaineers waited to approach the summit of Mount Everest, queued up on a knife’s-edge ridge, looking as if they had chosen to hit the DMV at lunchtime. A photograph of the pileup went viral; nearly a dozen climbers died, with guides and survivors arguing that overcrowding at the world’s highest peak was a primary cause, if not the only one.

Such incidents are not isolated. Crowds of Instagrammers caused a public-safety debacle during a California poppy super bloom. An “extreme environmental crisis” fomented a “summer of action” against visitors to the Spanish island of Mallorca. Barcelona and Venice and Reykjavik and Dubrovnik, inundated. Beaches in Thailand and Mexico and the Philippines, destroyed. Natural wonders from the Sierra Nevadas to the Andes, jeopardized. Religious sites from Cambodia to India to Rome, damaged.

This phenomenon is known as overtourism, and like breakfast margaritas on an all-inclusive cruise, it is suddenly everywhere. A confluence of macroeconomic factors and changing business trends have led more tourists crowding to popular destinations. That has led to environmental degradation, dangerous conditions, and the immiseration and pricing-out of locals in many places. And it has cities around the world asking one question: Is there anything to be done about being too popular?

Locals have, of course, complained about tourists since time immemorial, and the masses have disrespected, thronged, and vandalized wonders natural and fabricated for as long as they have been visiting them. But tourism as we know it was a much more limited affair until recent decades. Through the early 19th century, travel for personal fulfillment was the provenance of “wealthy nobles and educated professionals” only, people for whom it was a “demonstrative expression of their social class, which communicated power, status, money and leisure,” as one history of tourism notes. It was only in the 1840s that commercialized mass tourism developed, growing as the middle class grew.

If tourism is a capitalist phenomenon, overtourism is its demented late-capitalist cousin: selfie-stick deaths, all-you-can-eat ships docking at historic ports, stag nights that end in property crimes, the live-streaming of the ruination of fragile natural habitats, et cetera. There are just too many people thronging popular destinations—30 million visitors a year to Barcelona, population 1.6 million; 20 million visitors to Venice, population 50,000. La Rambla and the Piazza San Marco fit only so many people, and the summertime now seems like a test to find out just how many that is.

The root cause of this surge in tourism is macroeconomic. The middle class is global now, and tens of millions of people have acquired the means to travel over the past few decades. China is responsible for much of this growth, with the number of overseas trips made by its citizens rising from 10.5 million in 2000 to an estimated 156 million last year. But it is not solely responsible. International-tourist arrivals around the world have gone from a little less than 70 million as of 1960 to 1.4 billion today: Mass tourism, again, is a very new thing and a very big thing.

Business trends have also contributed to turning paradise to paradise lost. Cruise vacations are vastly more popular than they once were, with the diesel-belching vessels disgorging thousands of passengers at a time onto port towns. Supercheap airlines using satellite airports have dramatically cut the cost of hopscotching around Europe, the Americas, and Asia, encouraging travelers to take 1 billion flights on budget airlines every year. And platforms such as Airbnb have increased the supply of rentable rooms in cities from Rio to Delhi, reducing search friction for travelers, boosting cities’ carrying capacity, and bumping up rents for existing residents—an estimated 4 percent in Barcelona, for instance.Social media are at work, too, with apps such as Instagram leading tourists to pitch over cliffs and clog vital roadways in search of the perfect pic, and sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor making restaurants, museums, and beaches discoverable and thus ruinable. Overtourism itself is a media phenomenon as much as it is anything else. The word catapulted into common use in 2017, with wall-to-wall coverage of the problems in Venice, Bali, and elsewhere helping to drive the global backlash against tourists as well as the backlash to the backlash.

As for the backlash to the backlash: Some concerns about overtourism seem enormously overblown, and many local complaints about visitors are shot through with classism and racism. The majority of tourist destinations have no problem with the number of visitors they receive—would it even be possible for Orlando or Vegas to be over-touristed, logistically or spiritually? Travelers and their foreign direct investment remain a vital lifeblood for tiny Italian towns and big American parks and thousands of places in between. And while many sites are inarguably overcrowded, very few cities and towns are; the problem is mostly one of beaches and blocks and buildings, not of neighborhoods or regions.

There’s too much of a good thing in some of these spots, and mayors and city councils are doing their part to take it away. A number of places have implemented or expanded or proposed tourist taxes, among them Amsterdam, Bali, Edinburgh, Ireland, Rome, and Venice. These levies on hotels and day trips both reduce the number of visitors to a given place and provide it with revenue to improve infrastructure and defray the damage that tourists inevitably cause. Governments are also rolling out regulations, such as bans on tour buses in Rome and gating-and-ticketing in Barcelona. Those kinds of measures stand to become more important in the coming years, as the global middle class gets bigger, social media more ubiquitous, and travel cheaper.

These phenomena inevitably mean more complaints from locals, and more damage and lines and selfies and bad behavior. But they also mean more cross-cultural exposure, more investment, more global connection, more democratization of travel, and perhaps more awe and wonder. Even overtourism has its upsides.