That’s right, the whole of the month of March has been designated ‘Scottish Tourism Month’ this year. It’s a step up from the 8-day-week of previous years and is based on the need for more time to cram in the multitude of events that seek to celebrate tourism in Scotland. But with the first week of tourism month essentially being snowed-off by the ‘Beast from the East’ – there is perhaps no better demonstration of the importance of building resilience into your tourism business.
Bad weather is not new to Scotland. However, it’s not likely to be a thing of the past either, so ensuring that business can adapt to disruption is fundamentally important. Extreme weather events have caused significant disruption in the past. For example, VisitScotland highlights extreme drought in 2011 causing 29 wild fires, heavy rain causing disruption to the Scottish Open in the same year, high profile events being cancelled or rescheduled in 2012 due to bad weather, lack of snow affecting winter sports tourism in recent years and of course the unseasonal snowfall at the beginning of this month which caused significant travel disruption leading to a host of cancellations and rescheduling.
It is widely acknowledged that adverse weather conditions can result in lower visitor numbers as a result of transport disruption, storm damage and higher overheads resulting from damage repair or adaptation work, disruption to supply chain etc. While some extreme weather events will mean buttoning down the hatch and waiting it out, there are circumstances where businesses can do more to mitigate the risks and improve resilience.
For example, avoiding high flood risk areas when planning events; improving water efficiency by reducing leakage from water utility infrastructure and installing new low flow toilets, showers and taps to alleviate drought; move electrical appliances, cables and controls higher up, and install door guards and air brick covers to mitigate flood risk.
Flexibility and partnership working are key elements in developing and implementing an effective risk management strategy to aid adaptation to extreme weather events and any other significant change in circumstance. With that in mind, diversification is always a key plank of delivering resilience to any rural tourism business – regardless of size of the business and regardless of the threat posed.
One particularly good example of a farm that has diversified is Errichel near Aberfeldy. At Errichel, the owners have turned a 182-hectare site into a high quality agritourism offering complete with three holiday cottages, two new houses, a converted barn, an award-winning restaurant, a biomass district heating system, with a host of farm animals still in situ. Employing ten people in a very rural part of Perthshire, this establishment is not only providing stability for the owners but is also making a significant contribution to the resilience of the wider community.
Another example, but on a different scale, is Craigengillan Estate, a 3,000 acre estate that caters for walking, fishing, kayaking, horse riding and holiday accommodation. But, perhaps most uniquely, Craigenillan have taken advantage of the fact that the area is located in the UK and Europe’s first Dark Sky Park by developing an observatory as a visitor attraction. This is a unique example of public and private sectors working together to make the most of the dark sky designation, and its delivery forms part of a wider strategy for the estate to act as a catalyst for economic and environmental regeneration of the Doon Valley.
While we might not be able to beat every ‘Beast from the East’ that comes our way, let us use the rest of this years’ tourism month to highlight best practice in diversifying rural businesses to cater for tourism. By identifying good examples that enable resilience we can demonstrate a need for future legislation to better enable diversification, particularly in a rural context where inability to change to meet new challenges can often spell the end for a fragile community. And, while this is very important when faced with prospect of increased occurrences of extreme weather, there is perhaps greater urgency for building resilience as the storm clouds of Brexit gather.
Gavin Mowat, Policy Officer (Communities & Rural Development)