THERE’S nothing good about Covid. It’s brought tragedy to families across the country. And for those not beset by tragedy, it’s taken a toll on their mental wellbeing. Jobs in jeopardy. Anxiety about treatments postponed. Normal freedoms curtailed. Ordinary pleasures foregone.

Yet still the nation exhibits a remarkable sense of collective responsibility to do the right thing, whilst yearning for the day restrictions come to an end.

This is not to say that nothing good has come from Covid. One senses that faced with a global pandemic, people have re-evaluated what matters in life. And as our worlds have shrunk, we’ve all discovered pleasure in little things that previously went unnoticed. Valuing a slower pace of life.

The importance of staying in touch with friends and family. Finding a new appreciation for what is on our doorsteps, rather than the sensations we would previously travel half-way around the globe to experience.

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As Portugal moves back from green to amber on the international travel traffic light list, nowhere is the re-assessment likely to be bigger than in our attitudes to travel. Health risks and the climate emergency will make many people think twice before leaping on a plane. Domestic tourism could be in line for a fillip. We just need to ensure there’s still an industry fit enough to capitalise on the opportunity.

I have to confess that I’ve always been an inveterate traveller with itchy feet. Curious to learn more about the far away places about which we know little and the people who live there. In recent years my exploring has taken me to the high plateau of Tibet and the impressive alpine vistas of the Tien Shian mountains in the former Soviet Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan.

Last summer was different. A week in August on the west coast in Argyll with family, supplemented by two days and a night on Skye. We picked the right week – 7 days of unbroken, wall-to-wall sunshine. Normal Scottish weather, don’t you know.

It was a reminder that for all the wonders of the world, there are none more stunningly beautiful and varied than those to be found in our own country. For example, there are only two dozen sites around the world awarded double UNESCO World Heritage site status in recognition of both their cultural and natural significance and that one – St Kilda – lies off the Scottish coast.

HeraldScotland:

Other sites on this exclusive list are Macchu Picchu in Peru and Mount Athos in Greece. St Kilda is one of Scotland’s world class tourism assets. Full marks to Western Isles communities for seeking to enhance their own tourism offering by developing an innovative remote access concept and centre to enable more people to experience this unique, but hard-to-reach, Atlantic archipelago.

Last summer’s August break provided my family with a full repertoire of unforgettable, life-enhancing experiences. Surprisingly temperate bay swims. An excitingly vertical ascent of Bla Bheinn, rewarded at the top by incomparable views over the Cuillin ridge. Gazing across the glinting Minch from Neist Point to watch as the sun set over the Uists.

It brought back memories of childhood summers spent on the west coast. There must have been plenty of days when rain stopped play, but I don’t remember them. In my recollection they were days filled always with light and warmth.

How different last year’s trip to Skye was from my first visit there as a teenager with my brother. Then we climbed through the fantastical rock columns of the Quiraing unaccompanied by any other soul. Last year – despite Covid – its car parks were over-flowing with multinational trekkers.

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In the past, the standards of accommodation and service might have been described euphemistically as “authentic” and “characterful”. Today the commonly branded signage and tourist information guides advertise an island collectively getting its act together. Striving to compete by meeting the expectations of well-travelled visitors accustomed to certain standards – including, importantly, fast and reliable broadband.

Sustainable tourism is one of six Scottish Government priority sectors. As such, it will have a key role to play in Scotland’s economic recovery. One in 12 people in Scotland – around 220,000 – are employed in tourism. It’s also a fragmented industry of over 18,000 businesses. The plus is tourism provides jobs and income for some of Scotland’s most economically fragile communities. The minus is – despite the Scottish Tourism Alliance’s best efforts – the struggle to ensure the diverse needs of a range of often small businesses are fully recognised and addressed by government. 2019 was a record year for Scottish overnight tourism. Since Covid struck the industry has fallen off a cliff. Tourism is over 50 per cent down on pre-pandemic levels according to the latest quarterly Scottish growth figures; in comparison output across the economy as a whole has fallen by significantly less at over 6 per cent.

Scottish tourism is at risk of missing out for the second year running on its lucrative prime summer season without a clear signal that Scotland is open for business. For example, the UK Government has given the green light for cruise ships to start operating from English ports again. Scottish based cruise operators are cancelling their summer programmes in the absence of clarity from the Scottish Government enabling them to plan ahead.

More generally, the Scottish Tourism Alliance has reported a slump in forward bookings because of confusion over Covid-19 rules and – despite the successful vaccine roll-out – delays in moving 13 council areas into Level 1. Edinburgh is Scotland’s most popular tourist destination and is the magnet on which more peripheral locations rely to generate onward visits to their attractions. If there’s a perception the Central Belt is not fully open for business, then this affects tourism throughout Scotland.

So let’s cherish Scottish tourism. Provide businesses with the clarity they need. And back to the hilt a home-grown industry of world-class potential.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald