Catherine has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism, Fiona Hyslop, about the need to improve Scotland’s tourism strategy. She called for government intervention to prevent the closure of public toilets in the Highlands, and called for a discussion about designating Skye as a national park. She also said the option of a tourism tax should be made available to local councils.
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The full letter to Fiona Hyslop is below.
I am writing to you regarding your responsibility for promoting tourism in Scotland. I am a proud supporter of our tourism industry and this year I have enjoyed a number of ‘staycations’, enjoying the natural beauty of our country. There are few places in the world as majestic as the Highlands and islands.
I was delighted to see the latest Office for National Statistics figures, which showed that overall visitor numbers to Scotland jumped by 16.9 per cent last year, to 3.2 million people. This brings obvious benefits for Scotland’s economy and I would like to thank you for the work of the Scottish Government in promoting Scotland as a holiday destination. However, the increase in tourism also presents considerable challenges which I do not feel are being met.
Over Easter I enjoyed a wonderful family holiday in Achmelvich, but I was concerned to learn about plan to close the public toilets there, along with eight other rural public toilets in the Sutherland area and a total of nearly 30 toilets across the Highlands.
While I accept that councils are being forced to make savings as a result of budget cuts from the Scottish Government, I wrote to Highland Council to plead with the authority to scrap this short-sighted proposal.
With the growing popularity of the North Coast 500 there is an increasing number of tourists to the North West Highlands who require access to toilets along the route. A lack of public toilets in this area will cause anxiety to anyone needing a comfort break during their travels and will also discriminate against the elderly, infirm, disabled and toddlers during the toilet training stage, who cannot do without a regular rest break during long journeys. There are also obvious public health concerns.
While I am pleased that Highland Council has delayed a final decision until the autumn, I remain concerned that these facilities could still close or charging could be introduced. I therefore urge you as Cabinet Secretary for Tourism to consider what financial assistance the Scottish Government can offer to the local authority to prevent the closure of these public toilets and to keep them free-to-use.
Allowing these toilets to close will not just reflect badly on Highland Council, but on tourists’ overall impression of Scotland, and that is why I believe it requires intervention at national government level.
More widely, the increase in tourism to Scotland brings huge challenges regarding traffic and footfall in remote areas. This summer I spent my holiday in Skye, where there is significant overcrowding at the island’s beauty spots. I visited the Fairy Pools at the foot of the Black Cuillin mountains to find the car park was full and there were up to 100 vehicles parked on the verge of a single-track road, including camper vans and mini-buses. This was an accident waiting to happen.
I am also concerned that these special pools will be ruined because of the wear and tear inflicted on the paths close by.
Similar problems with overcrowding could be seen at the car park of the Old Man of Storr, while in Portree the queues of people desperately trying to find somewhere to eat were incredible.
As I return from Skye and prepare to re-engage with the calamitous Brexit process in my role as a Member of the European Parliament, I am left wondering how we could improve our tourism strategy for the Highlands and islands. I share the government’s desire to increase tourism levels, but we cannot afford to ruin the region’s natural beauty as a result. As you will be aware, tourist taxes are commonplace in most major European destinations. While many local authorities across Scotland are opposed to such a tax, and others such as the SNP-led administration in Edinburgh are in favour, I believe this to be worthy of consideration by Highlands and Islands Council. This should ultimately be a decision for local councillors, but I am perplexed at the Scottish Government’s refusal to grant this power and therefore urge you to do so urgently. Secondly, I would like to enquire what consideration the Scottish Government has given to designating Skye as a national park. The designation awarded to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and the Cairngorms, helps preserve the landscape and natural environment, and could potentially be replicated on Skye – safeguarding its beauty for generations to come.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I look forward to hearing from you.
MEP for Scotland