Tourism research on the west coast of Scotland: developing business solutions for a sector in crisis
Starting a series of blog spots that highlighted the work of our partners, we begin with the our Scottish lead partner, the Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research, part of the University of the Highlands.
The Centre (https://www.whc.uhi.ac.uk/research/), established in 2012, is one of Scotland’s leading tourism research centres, with a huge network of overseas colleagues, clients and collaborators and an impressive portfolio of activity. Working predominantly in an industry-facing capacity, the Centre is currently involved in eight EU-funded initiatives, co-financed through the ERASMUS+, Horizon 2020, ERDF, JPI and INTERREG programmes. We work closely with the School of Adventure Studies (https://www.whc.uhi.ac.uk/study-at-whc/school-of-adventure-studies/) on a number of these initiatives, and place great value on the research-teaching linkages.
The current COVID-19 crisis is having a profound effect on the tourism sector, and the Centre’s core operations are working with operators to help them develop new or diversified business opportunities in a range of tourism and recreation sectors. In the shorter term the Centre has responded to a nationwide call to ‘Adopt-a-Business’, and has worked with organisations such as Uig Community Trust, Beinn Eighe Visitor Centre and Orkney Creative Hub on a range of ideas to help the businesses to understand consumer demand, improve their marketing, and generate ideas for developing new tourism products.
While most of the Centre’s initiatives are not focused on developing short-term solutions, they seek to enable the diversification of business activity over the medium term through the expansion of product lines or facilitating business clustering, for example. Other initiatives are centred on extending businesses’ marketing reach to new global markets or new consumers, usually taking advantages of the greater scale that can be achieved through collaborative promotional campaigns. Finally, the Centre is involved in a number of initiatives (such as www.detourproject.eu) which have been or are developing new open-access training modules that can help businesses, their employees and students to increase their skills in specific areas, from digital marketing to storytelling.
A relatively untapped segment in Scotland is being explored in a new project (https://thewonderseekers.com/). Co-financed by the Northern Periphery and Arctic programme it seeks to develop and promote scientific tourism products through a new web platform and promoted under a new trans-national brand. Over the last decades Arctic and peri-Arctic regions have seen an increasing number of visitors, and the project partners in Finland, Iceland and Greenland believe that this demand for new scientific tourism experiences will grow and contribute to the recovery of the tourism sector.
Another initiative seeks to enable businesses to capitalise on the great wealth of engaging stories that characterise Highland and Islands heritage. The Coast that Shaped the World (https://coast.scot/) is a large-scale community-led project that will gather maritime stories from 20 destinations across the west coast of Scotland – stories that convey how our maritime cultural and natural heritage helped to shape the world. Co-financed by Scottish Natural Heritage’s Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund and CalMac, an interactive website and app and a programme of innovative digital exhibitions will attract people to the less-visited areas of the west coast.
These projects have shared goals, of working with local SMEs, communities and other stakeholders to enable them to diversify their business or enter new market segments. This could be through the acquisition of new skills, the development of new products, identifying new routes to market, facilitating collaborative working, or the creation of new digital tourism streams. Through the use of these platforms, the Centre is able to harness its collective strengths and develop new pathways to have meaningful impact for businesses across the Highlands and Islands.