Action plan agreed to tackle Highlands tourism issues

An explosion in visitor numbers has created challenges for communities unable to keep pace with demand.

Action plan agreed to tackle Highlands tourism issues iStock

A revised action plan has been agreed to tackle a raft of problems that have tarnished the Highlands’ reputation as a tourist haven.

An explosion in visitor numbers before and since the coronavirus outbreak has created immense challenges for fragile communities unable to keep pace with demand.

The tide of tourists has meant unprecedented demands on country roads and other basic infrastructure including parking and toilet facilities.

Despite enormous budget challenges in the wake of the pandemic, Highland Council has approved a major investment package to aid the region’s lifeline businesses.

It is confident that its evolving “visitor management plan” can be adapted when necessary to provide the best from limited resources.

The focus ranges from roads, parking and public transport to the countryside, waste and public conveniences.

Council officials have had regular discussions on the issues with a host of organisations and public sector partners.

The authority has agreed roads maintenance and improvements spending of £280,000 and new parking management costing £250,000.

The plan has increased the number of seasonal countryside rangers with an investment of £300,000.

Councillors have sanctioned £60,000 of spending on public toilets, £180,000 on waste management and £125,000 on a Cairngorms initiative.

Many projects are already underway, with others due to be delivered during the summer.

In order to keep councillors and the public informed, a “traffic light” reporting system has been established to allow each council department to give updates on progress.

The local authority’s tourism chairman Gordon Adam said: “The council and community partnerships have worked diligently throughout the pandemic to make significant improvements as set out in the visitor management plan.

“Increased staffing levels, frequency of waste collections, seasonal access rangers, motorhome guidance for landowners, public toilets and comfort schemes and improved signage and parking facilities will all contribute to allowing the Highlands to be enjoyed in a responsible and sustainable way.”

He added: “People must remember to play their part in keeping the area beautiful and safe for all to enjoy.

“This year will be particularly busy, and the public must keep in mind the upturn in visitor numbers will have an impact on services.”

Councillors are also considering a fresh policy governing overnight parking of motorhomes.

The tourism committee will consult community councils as part of the process.

Councillor Adam said: “To help alleviate roadside motorhome overnight parking, it’s proposed that we identify key sites of existing off-street parking infrastructure and, where suitable, allow short stays – a maximum of 24 hours – by motorhomes and campervans for a low-cost charge of £5 to £10.”

The authority also aims to improve the availability of fresh water, grey waste and black waste disposal facilities across the region.

Identified key “hub” sites would be advertised through the industry-recognised Campervan and Motorhome Professional Association and other outlets such as Visit Scotland and local destination marketing organisations.

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