Argyll and the Isles – the perfect lockdown antidote

Beautiful Tarbert with its marina is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Argyll.

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David Adams McGilp, VisitScotland regional director for Argyll, West Dunbartonshire and East Dunbartonshire,  discusses the prospects for the visitor economy as tourism and hospitality reopen.

We hope the end of April signals the start of a brighter period for the visitor economy in Argyll and The Isles, Helensburgh, Loch Lomond and Dunbartonshire and across the country.

Colleagues and I have been looking forward to tourism and hospitality reopening since we found out the islands and mainland would emerge from ‘stay local’ at the same time, which allows visitors to return to businesses and attractions in every corner of our geography and economy. I know businesses and operators on the islands welcomed this decision because it gave them the clarity their potential customers were seeking so they could book with confidence. The visitor economy is worth £440 million on average every year to the region[i] so the more businesses, operators, jobs and communities that can benefit from tourism and hospitality reopening the better.

We are changing the way we view tourism and events, considering the welfare of communities as much as we value the needs of the visitor. We have an opportunity to reset our plans for growth based on a more responsible future where a growing number of visitors want to give back to those communities. It can be a challenge to get the balance exactly right but if businesses, communities and visitors all play their part, we believe everyone will benefit.

We won’t just push a button and tourism will recover – we’ve had a year of very little investment, job losses and business closures – it will take time and significant investment to get us back to a thriving industry. With the right support tourism and events can lead the economic recovery and boost inward investment where it’s needed most.

We are confident Argyll and The Isles, Helensburgh, Loch Lomond and Dunbartonshire can look forward to a strong performance this summer. In some places in the UK coastal and rural locations, occupancy rates in 2020 exceeded 2019. We know Scotland is a popular destination for UK residents and, as we saw last year, there was a real desire from Scots to explore their own country. Our marketing will focus on inspiring people across the UK to make Scotland their destination of choice this year and support the recovery of Scottish tourism. The rise in new domestic visitors did present challenges and pressure on local amenities last year and so our marketing campaign for Scots is #RespectProtectEnjoy to help maintain our stunning landscapes by leaving no physical trace of a visit.

The Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund, administered by VisitScotland, has given out £9m to 43 projects across the country since 2017 including eight across Argyll and the Isles and Loch Lomond area to improve toilets, car parking and access roads.

We’ve been promoting and stocking over 300 suppliers and craftmakers via our Shop Local iCentre network including at Bowmore, Craignure, Oban, Rothesay, Aberfoyle and Balloch. Please do drop in to these iCentres across the region if you are a visitor or a resident to speak to our friendly team of experts. There are lots of great examples of sustainable, inclusive businesses and operators to be found and we’d urge visitors and locals alike to support them.

Look out for holders of The Green Tourism Scheme like Argyll Estates and Inveraray Castle, East Cambusmoon Farm self-catering holiday cottages and Hebrides Cruises.

Along with many partners and tourism businesses, this commitment to responsible tourism can show that tourism is a force for good – creating economic and social value in every corner of Scotland and enhancing the well-being of everyone who experiences it.

Tourism makes Scotland richer, economically and socially, and without it Scotland would be a much poorer place.

There’s lots to look forward to and I can’t wait to travel the Kintyre 66 (K66) route; a new 66-mile loop around Kintyre and over to Gigha. The road takes in the west and east coasts of the peninsula all the way from the top at Kennacraig to the bottom at Campbeltown. And for foodies, the five new Taste of Place Trails have something for everyone.

Tourism and events will help to rebuild the Scottish population’s well-being – everyone deserves a holiday, and Argyll, the Isles, Helensburgh, Loch Lomond and Dunbartonshire, and all it offers, will be the perfect antidote after lockdown.

[i] Insight Department, Argyll & The Isles factsheet, 2019 Argyll and the Isles Factsheet 2019 (visitscotland.org).