SCOTLAND is facing its toughest tourism challenges ahead as immigration laws look set to change, tourist taxes introduced and some communities struggle with the effects of over-tourism.

Industry leaders are preparing for the country’s flagship tourism conference next week, the two-day Scottish Tourism Alliance event in Glasgow, when key figures will outline the ways to tackle some of the strongest headwinds to date.

In a special series starting today, Marc Crothall, STA chief executive, is warning on the impact of restricting immigration but he will also reveal the industry is working towards ways of channelling tourist dispersal and matching demand with opportunity.

READ MORE: Why tourism industry anger over Johnson's immigration plan is justified

The STA has been involved in setting a food tourism strategy target of raising visitor spend in Scotland by £1 billion by 2030, with the average spend per head going from 21p in the pound to 25p.

The plans to be outlined to 500 delegates at the SEC over next Wednesday and Thursday involve sustainable tourism and making the most of the country’s natural larder in a way that will dovetail with the requirements of the modern traveller.


Mr Crothall, above, was earlier scathing on the Westminster immigration plans, describing it as the “biggest threat” to the industry and now saying the rhetoric used was disgraceful and backing plans for a Scottish visa.

He said: “For me, there is just a total disregard by the UK Government on Scotland’s demographic challenge. Aside from hospitality workers being referred to as unskilled, which is absolutely disgraceful, it’s disrespectful for a community and workforce that contributes significant sums of money to the economy as a result of their skilled work.”

The industry is further facing a transient visitor levy in places like Edinburgh, where the castle is now ticketed, and the proliferation of short-term holiday offers like Airbnb – with the historic Old Town reportedly now the place with the highest UK incidence of such lets – and the bottlenecking at some sites along the North Coast 500 route said to be creating tensions among communities.

READ MORE: Hotel chain owner says immigration plan will cripple firm

However, Mr Crothall said: “If we talk about the transient visitor levy that potentially some local authorities may choose to implement, albeit for us and many others not necessarily the right thing to do, but if it is going to be legislated, let’s make sure we are the very best destination in the world that uses a transient visitor levy for good, as a force for good, for tourism, and it’s not just squandered, and wasted.”


He said the strategy will examine “the mega trends of tourism choice and behaviour through how a traveller wants to absorb and consume tourism experiences as well as how technology affects that, but very importantly being responsible, so what are we doing to make sure that we are contributing to the challenges of the climate agenda as a sector".

He added: “If we suddenly find we’re having to close attractions, and restaurants at certain times because we just don’t have a workforce then the desirability of Scotland becomes less and less appealing.”

Mr Crothall’s concerns were echoed across the industry which generates five per cent of Scotland’s GDP, comprises 14,000 businesses and employs 206,000 people.

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, pointed to 40,000 projected vacancies.

Mr Withers, also voicing support for a Scottish visa, said: “It is not about a hunt for cheap labour and a fear that you are losing a pipeline of cheap labour, it is access to people.” Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, is due to endorse the strategy in Glasgow.

Tomorrow: Sustainable tourism