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Wildlife key to a rural renaissance

A TOURISM marketing group riding high on the current boom in outdoors tourism is expecting to boost membership and visitor numbers by exploiting "natural" marketing themes.

Otters are among the wildlife which is boosting tourism in Highland Perthshire and Stirlingshire  Photograph: David McNew
Otters are among the wildlife which is boosting tourism in Highland Perthshire and Stirlingshire Photograph: David McNew

The Loch Earn Tourism Initiative (LETI) already includes 40 accommodation, retail and leisure businesses aiming to maximise tourism revenue in the region straddling Highland Stirlingshire and Perthshire.

The initiative is being seen as a prime example of rural SMEs uniting to exploit a boom in "staycations", using increased revenue to develop new accommodation, retail, food and leisure offerings.

The group, which trades as www.robroycountry.com, uses social media to target visitors within four hours' drive, an area that includes most of Scotland and northern England, LETI credits VisitScotland and Scottish Natural Heritage's recently launched Year of Natural Scotland marketing drive with helping to drive a rural renaissance in one of Scotland's scenic heartlands.

Recently recruited LETI members include wildlife tourism companies Natural Trossachs and Hidden Glen Safaris, which give visitors a chance to see Scotland's iconic species, including otters, pine martens and red squirrels. The Year's theme also helps firms offering locally sourced and nature-inspired produce, including Sula Soft Furnishings, and chef Tom Lewis's Monachyle Mhor restaurant at Balquhidder and its new roadside spin-off, Mhor 84 Motel.

LETI's head, Kim Proven, who runs luxury self-catering accommodation company Briar Cottages at Lochearnhead, said more businesses could benefit from membership. She added: "The Year of Natural Scotland covers food, art and nature, all of which plays to our strengths.

"VisitScotland provides that marketing backdrop and it's up to us to tell our side. It's a great theme as it's one that most tourism businesses can join in."

Alan Sneddon of Hidden Glen Safaris said: "I've been involved in wildlife tourism for seven years and the sector is starting to see a sizeable pick-up. There are lots of people coming up from the south: a big part of that is that they can see wildlife, nature and scenery.

"I'm already seeing the positive results of this promotion, enquiries are on the up, partly due to the marketing drive of VisitScotland and Scottish Natural Heritage."

Launched in 1994, and covering the area surrounding Lochearnhead, St Fillans, Balquhidder and Strathyre, LETI businesses now have a combined turnover of £6.35m in an area with just 900 inhabitants.

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