20th July 2017
By Peter Argyle, CNPA Convener
There can be no doubt about the importance of tourism to the economy of the Cairngorms National Park and equally no doubt as to the attractiveness of our landscapes, nature and culture to visitors. And whilst, as with almost everything in the modern world, Tourism is in a state of almost constant change – driven in no small measure by new technologies – there are nonetheless fundamentals that do not change.
The evidence clearly demonstrates that many visitors, particularly those from overseas, come to the Park because it is a National Park. This vital status is recognised world-wide as an indicator of somewhere special; not a marketing ploy but a recognition of the genuinely world-class environment in the widest sense. That we are a National Park is a hugely important part of our visitors’ decision-making.
And we know too that they are not disappointed. The Visitor Survey of a couple of years back amply demonstrated that visitors coming here for the first time come with very high expectations but leave with those expectations exceeded; the Cairngorms National Park was even better than they thought and dreamed it would be.
This for me was the stand-out statistic from the survey but it is also one that puts a burden on all of us who are in some way or another involved in Tourism within the Park. I would suggest that that includes everyone who lives and works here, not just those operating Tourism businesses or services. We all have a part to play. It includes the person who takes time to give a visitor directions. It includes the approach of the folk behind the counters in petrol stations or shops every bit as much as folk working in Tourist Information Centres.
Looking back to my first period of the CNPA, back in 2003 and the visits the new Board made around the Park, I have no hesitation in saying that the whole approach to visitors, the entire tourism offering within the park has improved massively and this can only be to the benefit of all.
Which is not to say there are not challenges ahead. The subject of Tourism cannot be discussed without the matter of broadband being raised within seconds. There are still gaps in the infrastructure needing to be filled. Travel, by means other than a private car, leaves much to be desired. And looming behind all of this, the whole question of Brexit and the impact it will, may or could have on the whole sector. The only certainty on that score as I write is that nothing is certain and that uncertainty is extraordinarily unhelpful for businesses within the Park as they plan ahead.
But the rocks and the mountains remain. Tourists and visitors have been coming here since the days when it was realised that mountains and wild lands are beautiful. The details may change. The technologies change all the time, along with our approach, the way we travel, dress, talk and think. But the Cairngorms remain, giving us all an incomparable asset and of course an unparalleled duty – I won’t say burden.