HM Insights

HIE's additional £3m funding for Highlands and Islands tourism sector a welcome boost for local needs

Fiona Neilson is an Inverness-based Partner in the Corporate team at Harper Macleod and advises a wide range of businesses, including many involved in the tourism sector. Here, she looks at one of the welcome measures Highlands and Islands Enterprise has taken to support the sector's recovery.

Highlands & Islands Enterprise recently announced £3 million of additional support for the tourism sector over the next three years to assist in its recovery from the adverse impact of the COVID 19 pandemic.

The support acknowledges the sector’s importance to the Highlands & Islands economy and that many businesses are struggling to make up for lost revenue after lockdown whilst incurring additional costs due to ongoing restrictions.

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What is a Destination Management Organisation?

HIE’s funding is to be directed to strategically important Destination Management Organisations or DMOs, which are formal membership organisations representing local tourism providers, working in partnership to promote a local area or region with a focus on local needs.

There are numerous DMOs across HIE’s area of operation, from Visit Arran to Creative Orkney and Shetland Food and Drink. Visit Inverness Loch Ness Ltd and Visit Moray & Speyside Ltd promote both city and rural destinations whereas others, including Skye Connect, and North Coast 500, focus on rural areas and smaller communities or specific activities or products (whether outdoor adventure, creative industries or food and drink) such as Highland Golf.

Significant DMOs which have established relationships with HIE’s area teams are the target recipients of this funding. They have recently assisted with clarifying government guidelines, co-ordination and communication among local tourism businesses and local communities as the sector reopens. HIE regards their role as vital for the continuing recovery of the sector.

Funding is to be applied to strategically important activities, such as collaborative projects, member representation and networking, as well as community engagement and support and responsible management of destinations.

Spreading the benefit of increased visitor numbers

The tourism industry in Highlands & Islands has had considerable success in attracting increasing numbers of visitors in recent years, rising to the challenge of visitor demand for novel experiences by promoting our food and drink and areas of natural beauty. That has not always been wholeheartedly welcomed by local communities however, some arguing that benefits were reaped elsewhere while they were suffering from the pressures of increased visitor numbers, not least on roads and other infrastructure, leading to debate over the proposed introduction of a tourist tax.

Post-lockdown, with international visitors being replaced to some extent by increasing numbers of “staycationers” often opting for self-catering, whether in holiday homes, campervans or tents, lack of infrastructure and facilities has again become a contentious issue.

The new tourism strategy for Scotland announced in early March 2020, entitled “Scotland Outlook 2030, Responsible tourism for a sustainable future”, aims to “grow the value and positively enhance the benefits of tourism across Scotland by delivering the very best for our visitors, our businesses, our people, our communities and our environment.” It recognised the changing role of tourism as a result of climate crisis, advances in technology, Brexit and changes in consumer behaviour.

Priorities include focussing on people (in the community as well as workers) and place or natural environment as well as business, providing memorable and “authentic” experiences involving local residents, improving accessibility and using data and technology to provide a better visitor experience and improve management.

Add to that the COVID -19 pandemic - the full impact of which remains uncertain, but which post-lockdown has already led to changes in attitudes and behaviours - and the need to manage tourism effectively and responsibly becomes even more pronounced. Collaboration, not just among local businesses but also with the wider local community to ensure that local impact and needs are addressed, seems essential to ensure recovery and long-term sustainability of the tourism sector.

HIE’s additional investment in DMOs with their local remit should provide much needed assistance towards rebuilding the tourism sector.

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If your business requires any assistance during this difficult time, please get in touch with a member of our team.