They come from far and wide to soak up Scotland’s heritage and culture, see the sights and relax amid stunning scenery.

Now national tourism organisation VisitScotland wants visitors to consider how they can lighten the environmental footprint of their holiday as well. 

To help, hospitality and tourism businesses are being urged to come up with inventive ways to guide tourists towards walking more and travelling by local buses rather than car, offering electric vehicle charging points and installing energy efficiency measures in their properties. 

However, the organisation accepts that certain styles of holidays – such as the boom in motorhome and campervan breaks – are difficult to make ‘greener’. 

The tourism body’s new campaign film encourages tourists to “tread lightly” as they explore Scotland’s outdoors, and highlights walking, cycling, electric vehicles and boats as modes of travel. 

While it doesn’t hint at any of the anti-social behaviour that has dogged some tourist hotspots – such as litter, campfires, vandalism and even thefts from ancient monument sites - it does suggest visitors ‘respect, protect, enjoy’ as they explore Scotland’s treasures. 

The campaign is part of a push to stimulate a battered tourism sector worth around £12 billion to the Scottish economy in 2019, but which crashed as the pandemic hit.

It also echoes new research from the tourism body which shows while most visitors are conscious of the climate emergency and want to reduce their carbon footprint, there is uncertainty over how to make their holiday more sustainable. 

Chris Greenwood, VisitScotland’s Senior Insight Manager, said Scotland’s tourism businesses should take the lead and direct visitors towards better choices. 

“There is awareness amongst travelling customers about their role and impact of their behaviour. But when it comes to booking, the focus is on things like price, value for money and the availability of attractions and activities.

“It’s up to the industry to demonstrate their values and what they are doing to support responsible tourism.”

He suggested holiday accommodation providers could guide guests towards better choices by advising on local scheduled buses which travel through particularly scenic areas, providing bicycles and walking itineraries. 

“Self-catering providers have a certain distance with customers; they meet them on arrival and then don’t see them for a week. But they can provide them with inspiration and ideas. It’s about engaging with visitors,” he added. 

“People want to do the right thing and are looking for support to make these choices.”

The challenge, particularly in rural areas, will be in offering visitors joined-up bus services and cycle routes which allow them to see the sights without having to resort to driving.

Distances between popular destinations is also likely to pose problems.

While some in the hard-hit tourism sector, which prior to the pandemic employed 229,000 people - equating to around one in 12 jobs in Scotland - may initially prefer to focus on rebuilding their business to pre-pandemic levels without additional investment in add-ons such as bikes and EV charging points.

Despite best efforts Mr Greenwood added: “In reality, some places in Scotland will still visitors to take a car to reach them.”

He also conceded that motorhome and campervan holidays, which have spiked in recent years, come with an environmental cost. 

“Campervans do generate carbon emissions and hopefully over time technology will improve on that. 

“Meantime, it’s about trying to get the balance between the impact that emissions have and the economic and social benefits from jobs supported by tourism.”

The short film has been launched as part of VisitScotland’s global campaign, ‘Scotland is Calling’. The £6.5 million marketing campaign targets overseas visitors who take more time planning and researching their trips and spend more during their holiday than domestic tourists.

Before the pandemic, overseas visitors were responsible for more than 3.5 million overnight visits. But while they make up around 20% of overnight trips, they account for 40% of expenditure.

However, to reach potential autumn and winter domestic visitors, the film, which features mainly rural locations, is also being rolled out across the UK.

The new campaign echoes a recent survey of Scottish residents carried out by VisitScotland which suggests the pandemic has heightened concerns over the climate crisis: almost half said they feel more concerned now than they were before Covid-19 emerged. 

It’s thought that could be linked to the drop in car use during lockdown which brought less pollution, near empty roads and greater awareness of the benefits of nature, cycling and walking.

The survey also showed a willingness to reduce energy consumption while on holiday and in supporting independent shops and cafes, but nearly half said they were unsure of how to make their Scottish holiday more sustainable. 

The film is part of VisitScotland’s new Responsible Tourism campaign which encourages a slower form of tourism to less explored destinations.

Vicki Miller, Director of Marketing & Digital, VisitScotland, said: “As destinations across the world start to reopen, visitors are looking for new ways to engage with destinations through new lenses. 

“Research for many years has told us that sustainable tourism is a key driver for visitors choosing a destination, and the pandemic is only accelerating this desire.

“Visitors from around the world are looking for responsible travel solutions and we need to ensure that these options in Scotland enhance the visitor’s trip, through creating enriching and memorable experiences in a sustainable way.”