Trowels and all, tourist influx to Highlands is hugely welcome

by Colin Campbell

MUCH criticism has been made over the fog of confusion caused by “mixed messages” emerging from the UK and Scottish Governments and their array of advisers over the past five months.THURSDAY CAMPINGUSENEW

And it’s true, there’s been plenty of that swirling about.

But when it comes to the Highland tourist industry, the messages being sent out to potential visitors are more confusing and contradictory than anything we’ve seen so far.

What’s better, or worse?

Having tourists arriving here? Or not having tourists arriving here?

There are more mixed messages flying around about that than there are midges assailing the average west coast campsite on a warm summer evening.

As with many things, the position seemed much clearer and more straightforward when we were back in full-scale lockdown.

At that point, it was widely accepted that the north tourist industry was on the brink of total disaster with hotels closed and thousands of jobs liable to be lost. Anything that could be done to prevent that happening would be hugely beneficial to the Highlands as a whole.

Hotels, guest houses, B&Bs and every other element of the tourist industry reopened on July 15 and the resulting arrival of “staycation” visitors in very large numbers has surpassed anything VisitScotland could have hoped for.

In Inverness almost every hotel is fully booked or achieving very high occupancy levels on every day of the week these days. The reasonable assumption is that hotels, guest house and B&Bs elsewhere in the Highlands are benefitting accordingly. Because of the prolonged shutdown, no-one could say the industry is thriving, but it is still very much alive, with staff back at work and earning a living again.

So far so good. But at the same time the influx of visitors who choose not to stay in paid for accommodation has resulted in a torrent of protest over illicit parking, “wild camping” and a mighty all-round mess.

Heaven help us, a report even appeared on the BBC yesterday morning about trowels being left at laybys. This was not to enable visitors to dig up a chunk of turf to take home as a holiday memento. The delicate word “poo” was mentioned. And the purpose of the trowels? Let’s just say it was to enable people to do what cats do with their paws. I’ve no idea whether this report was credible or was a wild exaggeration. Probably best to conclude it’s somewhere in between.

The mass arrival of visitors post-lockdown was never going to be easy to manage. And if people are being seriously inconvenienced by it that’s unfortunate.

But if there had been no mass arrival of visitors there would have been a massive loss of jobs, and that would have been an awful lot worse.

The good folk of Golspie have now given a lead by creating an overnight caravan/campervan site, it emerged yesterday.

It will provide facilities for visitors after an influx to Sutherland of campers, campervans and motorhomes.

Two chemical toilets with hand-washing facilities have been temporarily installed and cleaning agents provided, say the community council.

If this can be done using the minimal funds available to a local community council, it can be done elsewhere as well.

This has been a tough time for many but it would have been much worse but for the northward surge of visitors helping save the tourist industry and the thousands of jobs it provides.

And if a few people have now been warned by the BBC that they should bring a trowel with them as part of their holiday gear, in this year-like-no-other that’s something we can surely live with.

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