By Ross McAuley

THE tourism industry is one of Scotland’s greatest success stories, with visitors spending more than £11 billion in our communities every year. Clearly though, this has been a hugely emotionally and financially draining year for those who work in the sector.

As the summer draws to a close we have a chance to recoup the losses incurred over the last 18 months. This means making every effort to extend the season and working together to create an autumn of opportunities.

Autumn is a stunning time of year in Scotland. The landscapes are ablaze with autumnal colours. The air is crisp with amazing sunsets and clear night skies. The wildlife is abundant. It’s less busy, there’s less traffic and fewer midges.

The latest Visit Britain UK consumer tracker (August 20) reveals that, for autumn trips, Scotland sits in fifth place behind the likes of South-west England and Wales. We have work to do in improving the perception of Scotland as a place to visit in autumn.

The major concern stopping people booking for autumn has been the fear that Covid travel restrictions might be re-imposed. More reassurance is needed from government to boost visitor confidence. After nearly two years of dealing with the pandemic, we must move on from the "wait and see" approach. We need clarity as the bedrock on which to rebuild our visitor economy.

Encouragingly, most potential visitors want to book directly with an accommodation provider. This means more profit direct to our hard-pressed accommodation sector. But it requires a quality website and marketing strategy – without which these businesses will be forever beholden to the larger online travel booking sites and the commission costs that these sites impose. We really need to innovate on service and digital experience to meet and surpass the expectations of the modern visitor.

Most of all, we need to give local businesses the confidence to stay open. Based on a recent survey the vast majority of travellers would continue to take their planned UK trip even if all overseas travel restrictions were lifted. However, they need to be able to plan activities on their break; things to do, places to eat, ways to amuse the kids.

The South of Scotland Destination Alliance is working with tourism businesses and investing heavily in a marketing campaign that will give people tangible reasons to visit.  Along with great new cultural initiatives such as Great Tapestry of Scotland in Galashiels; we are promoting the South as a great destination for outdoor adventures, especially cycling, with the region soon hosting a Tour of Britain stage and the Enduro World Series.

On a wider level, we need a "Team Scotland" approach. It means Government providing clarity; destination organisations working with local businesses on effective promotion; and operators working in partnership with others to extend the season and offer a great visitor experience. This means a new mindset from Government and the sector to deliver the autumn of opportunities.

Ross McAuley is CEO South of Scotland Destination Alliance