Readers of Rough Guides will already know that Scotland was ranked as the second top country in the world to visit in 2017 and the most welcoming country. Such recognition isn’t just due to the sheer breath-taking beauty on our doorsteps but also the warm welcome visitors to the Highlands receive.
As we know, tourism is crucial to the Highlands representing a fifth of our economy and the growth of direct flights from Inverness airport has delivered record breaking passenger numbers and visitors.
And why wouldn’t they come to the Highlands?
Inverness is one of Europe’s fastest growing cities with cultural and natural heritage that brings people from across the world. Living here, it is easy to forget how stunning our landscape is to those seeing it for the first time.
Visitors are drawn by many of our local delights; from snow sports in the Cairngorms, golfing in Nairn or Castle Stuart, to taking a Jacobite cruise along Loch Ness we have outdoor activities and beauty in abundance.
In the City, we have exciting plans for Inverness Castle and the launch of a truly world leading Augmented reality app which will put Inverness’ history and attractions into the palms of visitor’s hands.
For the more active, there are many great bike and walking trails and a growing fame for the world renowned North Coast 500 route.
The global smash TV series, Outlander can count me as a fan as it is not only a great watch but has also created a new wave of interest in the area. The pilgrimage to Culloden visitor centre and the Highland Folk Museum brings the 18th century to life, delighting visitors from across the globe.
As our tourism sector goes from strength to strength, one thing is for sure we must secure our region reputation as a quality destination.
The new SNP Scottish Government’s £6 million Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund aims to support tourism towns and villages to do just that. It’s designed to help improve the visitor experience for the increasing number people visiting and alleviate pressure on transport, services and facilities across rural Scotland. Applications are now been sought and I hope our local communities and businesses will take advantage of this funding opportunity which closes on 27th of July 2018.
Back in Westminster, I will also be renewing our calls for the UK Government to take action to support our tourism sector through reduced VAT rates on tourism services, such as hotels and accommodation. Only the UK Government treasury can make this change and business agrees that this support for the sector is well overdue.
Indeed, the UK is one of the few countries in the EU to charge full VAT on such hospitality services. Countries such as Ireland and Germany have long seen the benefit and opportunity and have provided a tax subsidy boosting jobs and their visitor numbers.
Lastly, I cannot mention tourism without recognising the fantastic contributions of our EU citizens supporting the sector. Nothing has come through yet to give them comfort over their own futures here during Brexit and I assure you I will continue to press for these assurances in Parliament. Closer to home, there is a ‘Your rights up to and after Brexit – Q&A Event’ in Inverness on the 14th of April and I would encourage EU citizens wishing to know more about their rights to attend.
Link to Rural Tourism Infrastructure fund: http://www.visitscotland.org/business_support/advice_materials/funding_opportunities/rural_tourism_infrastructure.aspx
Link to Brexit Event: