Independent Scotland could emulate Scandinavian tourism success

·4-min read
A boat lies in Longyearbyen harbour during Midsummer  in Longyearbyen, Norway. Longyearbyen is the seat of Norwegian local administration in Svalbard, 620 miles south of the North Pole.
A boat lies in Longyearbyen harbour during Midsummer in Longyearbyen, Norway. Longyearbyen is the seat of Norwegian local administration in Svalbard, 620 miles south of the North Pole.

SCOTLAND could emulate the "high value low volume" eco-friendly tourism of Scandinavian countries under independence, according to a sector leader.

The model focusses on a higher quality offering, reflected in the costs, that generally attracts a wealthier but smaller number of visitors.

Chris Greenwood, of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development, said their policy of "fewer staff who are paid more" and have higher productivity was also something to aspire to.

However, he said a strong collaborative approach was one of the strengths of the Nordic countries.

The Nordic Council of Ministers Ministers has launched a tourism campaign aimed at reviving travel to the region which capitalises on outdoor activities and "responsible tourism", encouraging visitors to be mindful of the environment and the communities they visit.

Finland plans to be carbon neutral by 2035 while several areas of Sweden are eco-friendly, including Gothenburg which has been named the world’s most sustainable destination in the Global Destination Sustainability Index.

He said Scotland's tourism market already shared many similarities with Scandinavian countries with heritage, culture and landscape and the "warmth of welcome" the main drivers for tourism.

Mr Greenwood said visitors were not generally put off by expensive countries like Norway, which has high living standards, because they attracts tourist who "tend to have better salaries" from North America and Germany and who are willing to pay for good service. The UK has a similar market, he said.

"Tourism is devolved and that's the first thing to say," said Mr Greenwood, who is a Senior Research Fellow at the Glasgow Caledonian University-run centre, which is the UK's largest university based research centre for tourism and travel market research.

"Independence on the one hand could give choice for continuation of collaboration with the rest of the UK or it could give the opportunity to align with the Nordic countries and the Council of Ministers and take their approach.

"If we want to encourage people into the industry and encourage enterprise I think we do need to think of ways we can increase salaries and working conditions and make the tourism industry a more viable option as a career choice and those two thing would contribute.

"That would follow the Nordic approach with less staff being paid more and a career path.

"It's well known that there is higher taxation within Scandinavian countries to pay for things like that."

He added: "Independence would obviously give greater control over taxation and investment and things like that but the Nordic tourism policy and approach is one that is based on collaboration.

"You've got these independent countries following similar policies."

Norway's capital of Oslo now ranks as more expensive for tourists than London, with food up to 40 per cent dearer than the UK capital. Is there a risk that Scotland, under independence, could price out tourists?

He said: "Scandinavian countries are able to have that high value element because they have quite a strong domestic audience, which wouldn't necessarily notice the pricing.

"It has quite similar markets to what Scotland gets – you are looking at countries like North America and Germany and those are the two big, international markets in Scotland.

"Travellers from those countries generally have that higher income so they are not necessarily put off by that.

"You wouldn't compare it to the Costas of Spain. You can also have similar experiences at lower cost places like Slovenia which has a similar product in terms of the natural environment and activities.

"Some of these conversations were being had ten years ago," he added. "Should Scotland become a high value, high quality destination or do we want to be more generalistic in our approach?

"I think the financial crisis round about 2010 changed that and the shift to having themes for different years and things like the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup helped the recovery."

He said he was a "big advocate" for the tourism industry in Scotland but said issues in staffing, training and productivity could have a "long legacy" in being able to maintain standards.

"There was a report recently, noticing domestic tourism spend is starting to slow slightly. Is inflation now beginning to pinch slightly?

"Contrary to popular belief though, people value their leisure time and holidays and they just amend their spend accordingly.

"Instead of going to Florida, they might go to Spain and instead of going to Spain the might have a domestic holiday.

"But what we need to do is get that balance that a domestic holiday isn't a compromise to going abroad but is part of the mix."

He said consistency in policy means there was consistency in quality across the Scandinavian countries.

He said:"I'm not saying that is not the case in Scotland.

"We do have a strong domestic market - 80% of visitors - and there is a lot of collaboration with the other nations within the UK.

"But you have to ask the question, there was an improvement in productivity, training and that consistency – with maybe a view to looking towards that Nordic strategy – would that address some of those issues about providing a tourism industry within a high cost environment."