Tourism bosses and tourists alike have their eyes firmly set on the easing of lockdown restrictions - and while holidays abroad are still largely discouraged, a Scottish staycation is still on the cards for many.

The Caravan and Motorhome Club, with 30 campsites and 2,465 pitches in Scotland, says it expects to be inundated with bookings in the months to come.

Director general Nick Lomas said that despite the difficulties brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 season was looking far more promising.

He told The Herald: “2020 was a very difficult year for the tourism and hospitality sector as a whole, but I’m delighted to say that when our campsites were allowed to be open last year, our staff worked incredibly hard to get them ready and ensure they were Covid-secure and we actually saw record levels of bookings. 

HeraldScotland:

“Despite this year starting with more lockdowns, we have every reason to believe that it could finish as one of the best and busiest yet, as the appetite for outdoor holidays across Scotland and the whole of the UK is certainly there.”

In the months during which time domestic tourism was possible in Scotland, the Caravan and Motorhome Club saw record membership and web traffic up by 18% as Scots searched online for holidays within Scotland.

And as a large number of the Club’s members are already booking for spring and beyond, Mr Lomas is confident that it will be another strong staycation year.

He added: “We think that 2021 is going to be like a cork popping from a bottle.

“When the campsites reopen we know our members, new and long standing alike, will be back out there enjoying holidays in the comfort of their own leisure vehicle in the great outdoors.

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He added: “Lockdown living has certainly renewed the appetite for outdoor holidays, as we have all realised more than ever before how wonderful it is to spend time in nature and we’re all craving that right now.

"Plus camping, touring and glamping holidays provide a great opportunity to stay in a naturally Covid-secure environment

"There’s so many historic and beautiful places to visit in Scotland, we’re sure it’s going to be very popular.”

However, while many are reassured by the optimistic projections for the coming season, others are concerned that an influx of tourists similar to that experienced in the period of travel restriction respite last year could have devastating consequences for the rural communities - especially those who live on the North Coast 500 route.

HeraldScotland:

One Highland resident who lives on the popular tourist route said she deliberately avoided going out because she “couldn’t stand what was going on” last summer.

Irene Bews, who lives near Dornoch, said: “People with motorhomes, camper vans, cars, tents parked up everywhere and anywhere. The small villages on the west coast were just overrun.

“I live in a tiny wee village and it’s majority elderly people, and I know how scared they are about people arriving here. There is a lot of anxiety and a lot of concerns.

However, as the owner of AdventuraScotland - a company offering specialist tours and Duke of Edinburgh training for school pupils - Ms Bews, 58, understands the need for footfall.

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“We haven’t worked since March, so from the economy point of view it’s very sad.

“We need footfall, because there aren’t enough locals to support businesses. They can’t remain open without people.

“But it’s a very delicate balance.”

She added: “In my head there’s a real dilemma there, because we do have the best access rules in the world, but if that comes with destroying what people come to see, then where do you draw the line.”

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has expressed concerns about how communities will be able to handle this predicted second wave of tourists to the Highlands and Islands.

HeraldScotland: Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda GrantHighlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant

Mrs Grant said:  “I can see that many people and families will be looking at staying in the UK this year, much like last year, especially if everyone has managed to be vaccinated by July and August.

“It’s predicted that accommodation will be in short supply, especially in areas such as those around the NC500.

"What I would hate to see is dirty camping, litter left by the roadside and irresponsible parking and I am sure that Government ministers do not want that as much as anyone else.

“But what proposals are in the offing with Easter not far off and people looking hopefully to the summer? Whatever restrictions are in place by then, the country needs to be prepared and we can’t let it drift on as it did last year."

Mrs Grant has stressed that she welcomes tourism, as it represents up to 43% of employment in areas such as the Cairngorms National Park, compared with 8% in Scotland overall.

Meawhile, tourism also boosts communities in remote, rural areas, expanding the economy and allowing smaller businesses to thrive.

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However, the MSP has pushed the Scottish Government on its plans to develop tourism infrastructure and to promote education to cope with problems on the ground.

Responding to a Parliamentary Question put to him by Mrs Grant on January 21, Fergus Ewing responded that “positive progress” was being made.

Mr Ewing confirmed that a Visitor Management Strategy for the 2021 season had been agreed and focuses on three areas, including Education and Marketing, Investment and Infrastructure, and Prevention, Regulation & Reassurance.

An announcement will be made ahead of the 2021 season, outlining steps taken.

However, Mr Ewing also stressed that although some progress has been made by the Scottish Government and its partners, it will not resolve all the issues, and littering, roadside dumping and antisocial behaviour should continue to be tackled through enforcement.

He added that the ultimate responsibility for adequate service provision also remains the responsibility of local and national park authorities.

Ms Bews said that while a busy tourism season is certainly something to look forward to, visitors to remote parts of Scotland must be respectful.

And for the time being, as lockdown restrictions inevitably ease and tourists begin venturing to the north of Scotland, they may need to brace themselves for a chilly reception - as locals “still have the memory of what happened in Summer 2020, and it really wasn’t good.”