Strategic partnership brings new era of tourism to Argyll and the Isles

From left: David Adams-McGilp of VisitScotland, Fergus Murray of Argyll and Bute Council and Cathy Craig of AITC. Photograph: Kevin McGarry.
From left: David Adams-McGilp of VisitScotland, Fergus Murray of Argyll and Bute Council and Cathy Craig of AITC. Photograph: Kevin McGarry.

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The Argyll and Isles Strategic Tourism Partnership (AISTP) has published the first of three annual development action plans, designed to drive the region’s long-term economic recovery, post-Covid.

As visitors once again flock to ‘Scotland’s Adventure Coast’ this summer, the ‘Visitor Economy Recovery and Growth Strategy 2022 – 2025’ sets out a marketing and product development plan for the region that aims to strengthen Argyll’s appeal to new and returning visitors and grow the region’s tourism economy in a sustainable way – with the needs of local communities and respect for the environment at its heart.

The strategy reveals an optimistic future for Scotland’s tourism industry after the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Data for the first half of 2021 suggests significant build-back with economic impact more than doubling from £41.95 million in 2020 to £94.83 million in 2021 – revealing a remarkable recovery rate of 126.1 per cent.

AISTP has pledged to work closely and collaboratively to build on this momentum and continually strengthen Argyll’s strong repeat visitor loyalty.

The partnership is also committed to implementing sustainable tourism initiatives that support local visitor infrastructure and ease pressure on the most popular beauty spots across the region.

Westport beach looking towards Machrihanish Bay.
Westport beach is one of Kintyre’s tourist hotspots.

Four strategic priorities have been established to promote the Argyll and Isles as a safe, sustainable and enjoyable destination, emphasising the region as an accessible destination rich in outdoor adventure, natural beauty, historical significance and culture and culinary experiences that represent the best Scotland has to offer:

  • Firstly, promoting Argyll as a year-round destination and encouraging dispersal of visitors across the region will reduce pressure on hotspots and enable visitors to create lasting memories without leaving a trace.
  • Secondly, reaching out to new audiences with a focus on people-powered activities and all the different ways in which to enjoy ‘Scotland’s Adventure Coast’, one of the most varied and vibrant marine tourism destinations in Europe.
  • Thirdly, the promotion of Argyll and Isles as an event and festival destination celebrating its rich sporting and cultural offerings; many of Argyll’s events provide visitors the opportunity to sample award winning produce from local food and drink to foraged delicacies to high-quality arts and crafts.
  • And finally, improving the overall tourism offering by continuing to invest in visitor infrastructure at sites, best-in-class digital content and services, and the famous ‘Scottish welcome’, with first-class service and skills development.

The action plan has been developed in partnership with key members Argyll and Isles Tourism Cooperative (AITC), Argyll and Bute Council, VisitScotland, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and other local delivery partners, who represent around 1,200 business interests across the region.

Drawing on Scotland’s National Tourism Strategy Outlook 2030, Scottish Tourism Emergency Response Group Action Plan, and the Outdoors Scotland Tourism Strategy led by project partners Wild Scotland and Sail Scotland, the action plan aligns its activities with national priorities to build back better, celebrating everything the region has to offer and promoting thriving places, passionate people, memorable experiences, and diverse businesses.

‘Argyll and the Isles is an incredible destination with so much to offer for our visitors,’ said Cathy Craig, chief executive officer at AITC.

‘This partnership approach will ensure that we align resources, information and energy in the execution of our marketing and business support activities over the next three years.’

Cathy Craig is taking on the newly created role of chief executive at AITC.
AITC chief executive Cathy Craig.

Ms Craig added: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact however, the tourism industry is resilient and there is an appetite to build back better in terms of both economics and quality of visitor offering.

‘Together with our tourism businesses, we will secure Argyll and the Isles as Scotland’s Adventure Coast.’

Morag Goodfellow, HIE area manager, Argyll and the Islands, said: ‘Tourism is a vital part of the Argyll and the Islands economy and provides valuable rural employment.

‘The region has so much to offer visitors, during and beyond peak seasons, and there is so much potential to grow the sector here.

‘This new strategy is about tapping into those opportunities for the benefit of the area’s businesses and communities.

‘It’s all about co-ordination and collaboration on shared visions and goals, and I’m delighted that HIE is part of that.’

David Adams McGilp, regional director, VisitScotland, said: ‘This strategy heralds a new era for tourism development in Argyll and the Islands, and represents a genuinely collaborative effort to recover, grow and sustain the visitor economy.’

David Adams McGilp.
VisitScotland regional director David Adams McGilp.

Councillor Robin Currie, leader of Argyll and Bute Council, added: ‘A successful tourism economy in Argyll and Bute depends on many different people and organisations.

‘Working together is vital in turning the opportunities our amazing geography offers into visitors, local jobs, and economic growth.

‘This strategy will support a team approach to building Argyll and Bute’s tourism economy.’