By Ross McAuley

STUNNING beaches and coastline, delicious local food and drink, adventurous activities and a wealth of nature and wildlife. You might wonder what far-flung destination I’m describing here, or think that I’m referring to a UK tourist hotspot, such as Cornwall. But I’m actually talking about somewhere much closer to the home – the south of Scotland.

While all these attractions and more can be found across the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, research we commissioned at the South of Scotland Destination Alliance (SSDA) from consultancy Yonder found that too many holidaymakers, from staycationers to international tourists, are missing out on an amazing holiday experience on their doorstep.

I believe the south of Scotland could be the best sustainable tourism destination in the UK, with the added advantage of the peace and quiet to take it all in and escape the crowds. We’re therefore focusing on encouraging sustainable and manageable growth in tourism. Our aim is to support the local economy and communities across the region, for example by creating employment opportunities for such positions as chefs and front-of house professionals in hospitality venues.

Based on our survey of more than 3,400 people, we identified a group called "metropolitan adventurers", a target market worth £2.1 billion, that we believe can enjoy the holidays of their dreams in our largely untapped region that runs across the southern base of Scotland from coast to coast.

Metropolitan adventurers are described in our research as an affluent group who are looking for breaks to switch off from day-to-day life. The paradox is that even though they want to escape the crowds they still tend to go to the traditional holiday hotspots. They like outdoor activities, walking, culture and heritage, and generally spending time in nature – all within their reach in the south of Scotland. They would love what our area has to offer, including being able to switch off from the day-to-day, with a focus on sustainability - if they knew about it.

To provide a snapshot of what visitors to the south of Scotland can enjoy: thrill seekers can explore the 7 Stanes mountain bike trails; history lovers can absorb themselves in Drumlanrig Castle; Moat Brae in Dumfries, which was home for a time to Peter Pan writer JM Barrie, will appeal to those of all ages who love literature and whisky aficionadas shouldn’t miss the likes of Annandale, Bladnoch or Borders distilleries. Visitors can also take in the likes of the Borders Abbeys and Abbotsford to name just a few attractions.

Our survey also found that three-quarters of respondents said they were likely to book a non-city UK holiday in the next two to five years. This means that popular rural destinations will continue to be popular, and the search will be on to find a peaceful area to holiday.

We’re on a drive to debunk myths that leave some people with the misconception that to enjoy Scotland you need to head straight to Edinburgh or the Highlands. In the south, visitors can enjoy the country in microcosm, while avoiding the growing problem of over-tourism that faces some of the UK’s best known beauty spots. Our message is that "Scotland Starts Here" – in the south – and I’m on a mission to tell as many people as possible.

Ross Macauley is chief executive of the South of Scotland Destination Alliance