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New research identifies growth opportunities for Scotland’s adventure tourism sector

09 October 2015

Digital technology could be the key to unlocking the potential of adventure tourism in the region.

This is according to a new report published today (September 9) by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) which assesses the scale and potential opportunities for the sector in Scotland.

Adventure tourism includes a range of activities such as walking and climbing, cycling, snowsports, river and marine activities and wildlife watching.

The research entitled Adventure Tourism in Scotland was undertaken by ekosgen, in partnership with Reference Economics and the University of the Highlands and Islands Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research. It builds on the national strategy Tourism Scotland 2020 and is the first crucial step in helping shape a range of interventions over the next 10 years designed to make Scotland a world leader in adventure tourism.

The study assesses the scale and scope of adventure tourism across Scotland and explores how competitive and innovative the offering is against worldwide destinations, and identifies the most significant growth opportunities for the sector.

It also identified that there are significant opportunities to develop the use of digital technologies to overcome some of the challenges encountered. These could help open up new markets, improve ease of access for customers and bring Scotland’s facilities in line with those from other countries around the world. With more than 350 adventure tourism businesses in Scotland employing around 3,000 people, the sector generates an annual turnover of £140m not including supply chain.

The research found that soft adventure tourism which incorporates little risk and includes walking on gradually changing terrain and short route cycling, is a crucial part of the Scottish adventure tourism market and one that is expected to grow.

The importance of the marine environment is also highlighted, with 44% of adventure tourism businesses offering some form of marine-related activities, while 43% offer walking and climbing and almost four in 10 (39%) offer cycling or biking.

Audrey Maclennan, HIE’s senior development manager for tourism, said: “This research gives us an insight to the adventure tourism sector in Scotland and highlights the opportunities and challenges. The next step is to meet with key partners to find ways to make the most of our incredible adventure tourism offering and look at ways to overcome the barriers in order to bring further economic benefits to Scotland. These findings will help us understand the best way forward to support adventure tourism businesses in Scotland.”

HIE has been proactively working with an outdoor tourism group consisting of senior members from trade bodies and public sector partners and is co-ordinated by the Scottish Tourism Alliance, and chaired by Paul Easto of Wilderness Scotland.

Paul said: “It’s great to see this report being published. The research backs up what we have believed for many years; namely, adventure tourism is a hugely important part of the Highlands and Islands economy. Moreover, there is significant opportunity for growth and the industry looks forward to working with HIE to develop the sector and make Scotland an even more attractive proposition for the active visitor.”

More than one third of adventure tourism businesses in Scotland (35%) are located in the Highland Council area.

Overseas markets are a key growth opportunity, especially for tour operators who target international visitors. At the same time, the report recommends the sector as a whole could benefit from more international customers, with activity and experience providers, centres and attractions requiring improved internet based ways to access these markets.

Young people, families, education-related markets and staycations are also recognised as markets with further growth potential by businesses and stakeholders in the sector.

The research highlighted the need to broaden the appeal of the sector using all the seasons, local culture, food and drink, music, arts, history and services to produce a total, rich and authentic product.
Download the report >

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