SCOTLAND’S tourism sector has the fundamentals to recover from COVID-19 and will benefit from resurging interest in sustainability and experiential travel, industry experts are predicting.

“Obviously COVID-19 has caused, and will continue to cause, severe disruption to hospitality businesses across the country – and the sector will need a lot of support in due course to get existing and new businesses up and running,” said Roland Smyth, head of the Scottish hotels and leisure group at law firm CMS.

“But Scotland’s fundamentals remain strong: a strong culture of excellent customer service throughout the nation’s hospitality sector; plus historic cities and buildings – and the ability to perfectly capitalise on the growing trend for experiential tourism, such as hillwalking, outdoor sports, distillery tours and castles.”

When the Coronavirus threat is behind us, focusing on sustainable tourism will be key for the industry, Mr Smyth added.

“VisitScotland’s first trends paper of the current decade, Travelling towards transformational tourism, stressed that travellers now want their trips to have meaning, challenge, connection and impact,” he said. “And that younger generations are increasingly aware of the environmental cost of their travel, and will seek out providers with sustainable credentials or offset their impact by volunteering.

“During, and after, periods with limited or no access to cheap and easy international travel, there may be even more demand by Brits for staycations than we were seeing before the COVID-19 virus struck.”

Mr Smyth suggested that, when the threat has finally passed, a relaunch of VisitScotland’s campaign message for its 2014 Year of Homecoming – a year-long programme of activity welcoming people from across the globe with Scottish connections –might be welcome.

“A refresh of VisitScotland’s heart-tugging Homecoming 2014 campaign message ‘If not now, when?’ – this time targeted at the domestic tourist market rather than the international one – might be opportune,” he said.

Travellers are beginning to get access to the tools to make truly informed choices, Mr Smyth added.

“’s 2019 Sustainable Travel report found that 71% of travellers think travel companies should offer more sustainable choices,” he said. “At the February 2020 eco-tourism summit at Edinburgh International Conference Centre, the founding companies of Prince Harry’s Travalyst sustainable travel initiative – which include some of the travel industry’s biggest players such as Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and Visa – announced the development of draft sustainability frameworks that will ‘serve as a cross-channel guide’ for scoring sustainability practices across the travel and tourism industry.

“The aim is to create a scoring system that will make choosing a sustainable holiday much more transparent.”

At VisitScotland, senior insight manager Chris Greenwood said historically consumers have adapted their behaviour to their personal circumstances and prevailing conditions following previous crises. This in turn has helped the tourism industry to recover.

“After the 2008 financial crisis, when the recession took hold and people’s incomes were squeezed, they didn’t stop taking holidays – but they just holidayed closer to home,” Mr Greenwood said. “And that’s when we saw the term ‘staycation’ enter the common lexicon. We saw more Scots taking holidays in Scotland and more English people taking holidays in England, even just an hour from home.

“After 9/11 in 2001 and foot and mouth in 2002, travel restrictions were put in place and the industry responded with significant marketing towards domestic markets.

“Then when the restrictions were lifted, people wanted outdoor activity related to wildlife watching and agri-tourism – because these had been off the cards during foot and mouth. These areas subsequently saw significant double digit growth of around 40 to 50%, which shows what a hit they had taken.”

As the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and travel starts to resume, tourism that offers memorable lifetime experiences will be more important than ever, Mr Greenwood said.

“When people start travelling again, they will want to feel an emotional connection with the place they’re going,” he said. “That’s essentially the core of tourism. It’s not about a purely commercial transaction where they are buying a hotel room and visiting an attraction. People want to feel like they’re really experiencing their destination. And that can be referenced through visitor attractions, hoteliers and other tourism businesses reflecting the area they’re in – and maybe collaborating to create new tourism offers.”