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With the many pressures facing our industry at the minute, it may be hard to understand why climate change is a subject demanding so much attention and calls for immediate action.
We all regularly read about rising temperatures, extreme weather and melting ice caps. A few years ago, this may have felt like the problems of other countries but today you’d be hard placed not to read the same headlines in your local newspaper.
It is hard to sugar coat it anymore. Climate change is the biggest long-term threat to our industry.
While tourism has undoubtedly been a contributor to climate change, it also stands to suffer its consequences. Scotland’s scenery, which has earned accolades and global acclaim; its rich cultural heritage, which has fascinated visitors for generations, is all at risk if we don’t take action to halt the climate emergency.
But as we approach Earth Day 2023, I don’t want to dwell on what might happen, instead I want to talk about the wonderful things that are already happening in our industry. Despite the challenges businesses are facing, there are many positive stories to tell and a clear understanding and drive for tourism to lead the way.
Tourism is a force for good. It benefits communities and wellbeing. I’ve been so impressed by the efforts that businesses are making to become sustainable. From investing in sustainable practices such as joining a green certification scheme and installing electric vehicle charge points for visitors, working with local suppliers; creating voluntourism opportunities or partnering with like-minded businesses to create a more holistic sustainable experience for visitors.
In March, the Scottish Thistle Awards recognised the very best in Scottish tourism and Comrie Croft in Perthshire won the inaugural Responsible Tourism Award. It was praised by judges for leading the way in responsible tourism and ensuring that it is embedded into every aspect of its activity. The business had been monitoring emissions since 2019, had earned a Gold Green Tourism Award and has a pending B-COP certification, uses local producers to reduce food and goods miles, promotes recycling and reusing and were involved in local biodiversity projects.
The need for action against climate change is widely recognised. Our own research shows that almost three quarters of Scottish residents recognise that climate change is an immediate and urgent problem. Similarly, three quarters of Scottish tourism businesses are aware of the Scottish Government’s target to be net zero by 2045.
What is most encouraging is that two thirds of businesses have either started thinking about taking action or even better, are actually taking action. But this journey to net zero will not look the same for everyone. While some businesses have a clear understanding of their emissions and what they can do to reduce them, others are still finding their way and are unsure where to start.
To help them, as part of the Destination Net Zero work we have run with partners, we’ve developed a series of resources on our VisitScotland.org website and this includes a new step-by-step climate action planning guide.
We’ve worked with experts such as Green Tourism and The Edinburgh Climate Change Institute to create a tool we believe will help businesses to plan meaningful actions to meet the Scottish Government’s net zero targets.
It’s not simply about measuring carbon but more understanding how a transition to low carbon can affect businesses, communities and the environment.
The industry needs to, and in a lot of ways already is, considering its move to low-carbon. It’s not just because of national targets but because that’s what visitors want to see. The majority of visitors are aware of their impact on the world around them. They actively want to know that these impacts are having a positive effect on the places and people they encounter and to do that they need to travel more sustainably. It means that as well as the ethical need to embrace sustainable tourism there is a growing business case too.
Having a climate action plan helps businesses maximise the positive impact on their operations and the environment. It can also help businesses identify where they can save energy and in turn, save money.
So, with the challenges come opportunities and our aim is to help Scottish tourism on this journey. It is more important than ever to ensure that tourism is part of the solution in tackling the climate emergency. This is not something that VisitScotland, or any one individual business or destination can do alone. We must all work together if we want to inspire future generations to say that Scottish tourism led the way and made a difference to take action against climate change.