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Covid-19 & Cairngorms Tourism

6th May 2020

by Janet Hunter, CNPA Board Member & Chair of the Cairngorms Tourism Partnership

It is almost impossible to overestimate the impact of Covid-19 on the tourism industry in the Cairngorms National Park. On average there are about 18,500 visitors a day in the summer months and they eat, drink, stay and share adventures and experiences with many of the 18,500 who live here. The visitors are a vital part of the economy and the prosperity of our communities, and yet, in just a few weeks, we have got used to thanking them for staying away. How will the “new normal” that people are speaking about work and what will it mean for us all?

I chair the Cairngorms Tourism Partnership which brings together partner organisations to manage tourism across the National Park, meeting the international expectations which enable the Park to be the only place in Scotland that holds the Charter for Sustainable Tourism. When the crisis first hit us we set up a Cairngorms Tourism Emergency Response Group and we have met weekly since then.

First we focussed on some hitherto unimaginable actions – how to close the Park to visitors, cancelling events, closing car parks and telling people not to visit. Then we talked about how the myriad of business support schemes are being distributed, identifying gaps and improvements to the system so that support could be accessed as quickly and fairly as possible. I’d like to mention the amazing job the Cairngorms Business Partnership, along with others, has done in disseminating all the information with daily updates rapidly becoming the norm, even on a Sunday. Working together, we have lobbied for changes and increased understanding of rural tourism and the issues faced specifically by the National Park.

We are also working on keeping our destination in peoples’ minds, using the landscape and nature to inspire on social media and launching the Cairngorms Nature Big Weekend as an online, virtual experience this year.

Increasingly, we are looking to the future and planning how to open the Park again when it is safe to do so. We recently put out an open letter thanking people in the communities of the Park for all these efforts so far and encouraging people to work together. I’m pleased to say the response to the letter has been overwhelmingly positive. At a meeting of businesses involved in tourism this week there was universal agreement of the need to collaborate and to be innovative in how we adapt to the new requirements and expectations to keep everyone safe.

Not so long ago our conversations were about climate change and I hope that we will begin to talk again about issues that have been momentarily superseded but certainly haven’t gone away. There may even be new solutions to be found, post Covid-19, based on our experiences in recent weeks.

To end on a positive note, nature is certainly showing its ability to adapt to the new quiet; I have found curlews walking down the road together and a blackcock displaying to anyone passing by on foot, as well as the red squirrels crossing the road safely… their behaviour shows how much we unwittingly disturbed them in the past.

I’m looking forward and I’ll post blogs as the future unfolds. Stay safe.