If the past two years have had any positive impact on the tourism industry, it’s that the pandemic proved the importance of meaningful travel experiences. After being home for so long, people now crave slower, more mindful trips—ones where they visit less obvious destinations, get to know them on a deeper level, and feel great about the impact of their visit. With a focus on making travel a force for good, Scotland is the perfect place to do just that.
In Scotland, sustainable travel practices like visiting in the off season, exploring lesser-known places, staying longer, and using public transportation are all possible. But the country also has several ways to get closer to nature as well as incredible culture and history for experiences like ancestry tourism that make traveling responsibly even more appealing. Sending clients here guarantees only the most rewarding of adventures.
On April 8 in Manhattan, AFAR Digital Content Director Laura Dannen Redman led a panel that discussed Scotland’s approach to sustainable travel in more detail with a group of industry experts. Panelists included Vicki Miller, Director of Marketing for Visit Scotland; Imogen Russon-Taylor, the founder of Scotland’s first fragrance house, KINGDOM Scotland; and James Shillinglaw, Insider Travel Report’s Editor-in-Chief, who all made the case for why Scotland is among the most worthwhile destinations in the world.
Read on for their compelling reasons.
An abundance of undiscovered destinations
Beyond the major tourist sites like Edinburgh Castle, Loch Ness, and St. Andrews, Scotland has several places that provide a chance for more experiential travel—where travelers can achieve a deeper sense of place and directly support the people who live there. And, said Miller, “people are looking for those transformative travel experiences, that more immersive travel, which involves slowing down, taking time to really enjoy and get to know local culture, and spending time in local communities.”
Send clients to the Sutherland and Caithness area in the far north, where they can explore dramatic landscapes in one of the least populated but most beautiful parts of the country. Or suggest the quaint coastal town of North Berwick in East Lothian, which features outdoor adventure, impressive birdlife, and stunning beaches sheltered by high cliffs. Another lesser-known option is the Cowal Peninsula, which dazzles with lochs, mountains, and abundant wildlife and gives a taste of the Highlands just an hour from Glasgow.
And if your clients still insist on seeing Edinburgh Castle, help them plan for a more intimate experience. The tourist attraction recently cut capacity for its daily visitors to make for more pleasant visits, so book tickets online in advance to ensure entry and the best possible price.
Endless opportunities to commune with nature
Scotland is the first and only country in the world to have brought 13 UNESCO Sites together in what is the world’s first UNESCO trail. Along with creative cities and historic landmarks, the path through the country includes natural attractions like biospheres and geoparks where travelers can get in touch with the environment, which is what they really want according to Russon-Taylor. “During lockdown, people had time. Nature became really important. Now people crave it,” she said.
Full of beauty and diversity, Wester Ross in the northwest Highlands offers two national scenic areas and three nature reserves, complete with some of the oldest geology in the world plus pristine beaches, sparkling lochs, and centuries-old pinewoods. In southwest Scotland, Dumfries & Galloway and South Ayrshire boast outdoor adventure, geologic wonders, and varied wildlife as well as untouched coastlines and dense woodlands. And in the Shetland Islands—an archipelago that once moved from the South Pole across the Equator to its current location at the crossroads of the North Atlantic and North Sea—travelers can witness for themselves how the world has formed and changed over millions of years.
For those concerned about their travel footprint, there’s Trees for Life, a project to rewild the Scottish Highlands. During Conservation Weeks (currently on pause due to Covid but hopefully returning in the fall), guests can volunteer with the organization to help plant trees and monitor wildlife, directly enabling the restoration of the Caledonian Forest.
If your clients are seeking a more elevated experience, they can opt for an adventure with Highland Safaris & Red Deer Centre. Suggest a private charter, for which a kilted ranger will create a personalized day for their group using local knowledge. Riding through forests, mountains, and moors on private hill tracks, they might spot majestic red deer, famous grouse, elusive mountain hares, and even golden eagles, all while enjoying tea, coffee, Kenmore shortbread, and a dram of Dewar’s Whisky.
Profound connections through ancestry tourism
With robust ancestry tourism offerings, Scotland makes it easy for travelers to discover their family history, meet distant relatives and see their family tartan. Here, guests can trace their family tree at vast genealogy research facilities and archives, then explore the country like their ancestors might have done, uncovering fascinating stories in the process. Resources make it possible for travelers to learn about where in Scotland clans have ancestral routes and which castles are connected to which clans.
Said Shillinglaw, “Ancestry tourism is so engrained both in Scottish tourism and sustainable tourism because you’re there to see where your family came from. You want to meet people, you want to interact. You’re not just there to tick boxes for castles or attractions; you want to get with the people.” Dannen-Redman added, “The more personal your trip, and hearing individual stories across the country—that’s what will get people to be sustainable naturally.”
Direct clients to the towns, villages, and streets where their Scottish ancestors once traveled, or suggest they explore historic battlefields across the country. They could even attend events or festivals with ancestral connections, like clan gatherings and Highland games. For the most memorable trip, put them in touch with one of Scotland’s many tour operators or professional guides, who can figure out exactly what they want to learn and make it happen.