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.


Filed Under: Tourism

About the Author:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.

Read previous post:
Hoteliers and Technology: Why Hospitality Expertise Doesn’t Stop at Hospitality

In any industry, standards of education help to ensure brands have access to the talent they need to continue moving...