The Tourist Influx

Dave Windle

At the beginning of the year, there were dire predictions of mayhem and disaster during the summer as more people opted to spend their summer holidays at home rather than going abroad with all the associated uncertainties. Well, the associated uncertainties bit certainly came true. Here, at home, the predictions of mayhem probably failed to fully materialise. There were some ugly stories of campervans being vandalised on the NC500. Generally, people acted more sensibly. Increased litter has annoyed me as much as anybody. Although once Covid abates, maybe we can all go back to bringing out more litter than we took in.

There was a significant expansion of tourist infrastructure such as car parking. This resulted in new eyesores on Skye such as the parking for the Old Man of Storr and the Fairy Pools. However, in time these vastly extended facilities will blend in and should do a lot to reduce thoughtless parking. Closer hotspots such as Linn o Dee and Glenmore have also been expanded, albeit less dramatically. Government money has been used to pay for more ranger services, including trainee places. Increased rangers on the ground, advising and informing, will pay dividends in the long term. There has also been a surge of private developments designed to cash in on the increased tourist numbers. Charges have increased throughout the sector, e.g., parking charges at Loch Muick have increased. Although, in this case, the increased income goes to footpath maintenance. Elsewhere, the increased income will, after paying off Covid debts, hopefully be recycled into infrastructure expansion.

These things will all help. I suspect that we will now start to see the introduction of targeted restrictions. We have seen this with the new system on the roads into Loch Muick and the Linn o Dee, where the road is closed once the car park gets full. Towns, like Oban, have announced plans to reduce the impact of campervans in the centre, necessary in my view. CalMac has announced that campervans will no longer be able to use the standby lane. My initial reaction to the CalMac announcement was negative, but on thinking about it, I realised that some campervan drivers were indeed abusing the standby lane system and that all that was being asked was to travel at the booked (or easily rebooked) time.

Ultimately, we need to ensure that there are adequate facilities and that tourists do indeed fully contribute to the local economy. When I was last away, I had a bar meal and sat next to a couple who had parked their campervan at a nearby site and were also eating a bar meal. In my view, they were contributing to the local economy. Increased tourism means that we benefit from an increased choice when travelling to the West Coast, although you do need to book far earlier than you used to!

There is a fine balance to be found between encouraging more tourism with its economic benefits and unacceptable disruption to local life. If Covid goes according to plan, next summer, people will be complaining about the lack of tourist income as confidence grows and holidaymakers revert to the sunny Mediterranean.

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