Update (11 March 2017) on Report on Tourism and a National Park in the Scottish Borders
Our initial report on tourism and the proposed Scottish Borders National Park discussed some of the tourism statistics prepared by VisitScotland and by STEAM. The VisitScotland figures for 2014 comparing the tourism performance of the different regions of Scotland put Scottish Borders at the bottom of the league of Mainland Scotland regions. Sadly, in 2015 VisitScotland's comparative statistics for Scottish Regions still show it having the lowest number of tourist trips (overnight stays) of all the Mainland Scotland regions and the lowest tourist spend in any Mainland Scotland region.
The Good News
The really exciting news, however, is that STEAM's tourist numbers (Scottish Borders) for January-June 2016 were significantly up compared with January-June 2015. Visitor days were up 11%, visitor spend up 16%, employment related to tourism up 8%, visitor days in Hotels/B&Bs up a tremendous 27% - every category shows positive growth. This is in spite of a very wet summer.
We await the figures for the second half of 2016 with bated breath. They will cover the main tourist season. Will the figures continue on this upward trend? And why this sudden improvement?
This, of course, is the period following the opening of the Borders Railway. Press coverage has attributed much of the increase to this phenomenon. The opening of the Borders Railway has had huge publicity nationwide, with massive photocoverage of the many outstanding visitor attractions of the Borders. The image of Scottish Borders as a place which anyone and everyone would enjoy visiting has been raised very effectively. There is a significant number of people who enjoy rail travel as a tourist experience in its own right. However most visitors come to an area because it is an attractive destination, and that is what the publicity has highlighted.
Plenty of spare capacity
There is no reason to suppose that a ceiling to tourist interest has been reached. The sudden increase implies that there is plenty of demand for the type of visitor attractions in which Borders excels, provided people in the rest of the world are made aware of them. It is early to draw too many conclusions from the encouraging figures for the first half of 2016. As noted above they do not include the main tourist season of July and August. We are looking forward to the figures for the second half of 2016. Hopefully they will show a similar trend.
For the present, the challenge is to keep the lines on the tourism graphs moving upwards. The publicity which would attend designation of a National Park would certainly be a big help.
End of update
Question: Might designation of a National Park within Scottish Borders bring an additional £100-200m into the region's economy, and up to 4000 additional jobs?
Tourism and National Parks
The 'halo' effect
Tourism in the Scottish Borders
The comparison with the rest of Scotland is also unfavourable. VisitScotland's analysis of tourism in 16 regions of Scotland in 2014 (VisitScotland 2015, see Appendix 1) compared a number of parameters of tourism statistics. Scottish Borders performed poorly across the board- for example behind Ayrshire and Arran, Fife Angus and Dundee. Only Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, much further from international connections and the central belt of population, did worse on average. The position of Scottish Borders in the league of 16 regions was as follows :
Briefly, Scottish Borders was at the bottom of the league for the Scottish Mainland.
What is the problem?
However, for international and UK visitors the Scottish Borders as a whole has a very low profile as a visitor destination. It conjures up no image at all. This is borne out by the accounts of many tourism businesses in SB, some of which have individually built a reputation and get good repeat business entirely through their own efforts. However it is an uphill struggle for them to capture the attention of potential visitors and get that first visit. It is widely reported by them and by others that for small businesses, which most tourism-associated businesses are, there is no Borders tourism 'Brand' which identifies the region broadly as a place to consider as a vacation destination. This poses major problems for individual tourism businesses. They struggle to achieve favourable occupancy rates and are faced with low profit margins, short seasons and rising labour costs. It also discourages new tourist business creation and limits the income to businesses which receive indirect tourism-related income, e.g. construction trades, transport, retailing etc.
Decline in passing trade.
In spite of its outstanding scenery and the tremendous panoramic views of Southern Scotland from Carter Bar, the A68 is not included in VisitScotland's list of twelve national tourist routes.
On the plus side, these dire tourism statistics suggest that there is an opportunity to grow tourism in the area if only the key to effective marketing can be found. There is no obvious reason why Scottish Borders should not enjoy at least as strong a tourism economy as other parts of rural mainland Scotland. The challenge is to make it visible and attractive to the vast potential UK and international visitor market.
What is the solution?
VisitScotland (2012) found from a survey that the main motivator of 58% of visitors to Scotland was scenery/landscape:
Although not immediately evident, there is a coherent identity to the topography. The line of the Cheviot summits is more or less the Border, from which wild uplands the land, mov-ing northward, passes through decreasing rolling and occasional craggy moorlands and small glens to the wider valleys of the Teviot and Tweed. It is a gradual change that links the magnificent and massive range of the Cheviots to the more pastoral and agricultural low-land valley plains. No wonder the Romans pushed their famous road, Dere Street, north from York beyond the heights of the Carter Bar towards the Forth estuary when they saw the vast expanse of fertile land to the north of what is now the Border between Scotland and England. No wonder the beauty of the scenes has been celebrated in song, literature and visual arts through the centuries. No wonder visiting artists such as William Turner chose to execute some stunning, romantic landscape paintings and drawings here.
There is no dramatic change from mountain top to glacial valley floor as in the Highlands, rather a single, sinuous sweep of subtle variation from the natural habitat of rolling moor-land, through ancient and less ancient woodlands, giving way slowly through hedged, fenced and walled pastures to the wide, open agricultural bread-basket of The Merse. The visual connection is a two-way delight: panoramic views from the highest points, across the foot-hills to the valleys, glens and plains are complemented by the reverse view from riversides and their cultivated former flood plains up to the distant hills, all under a unifying arc of 'big sky'.
The cultural heritage
This part of the Borders is steeped in cultural heritage from earliest times to the present day. Most of the hill-tops show evidence of Iron Age settlement, giving a coherence to the uplands which was important to those early inhabitants since line of sight was vital for communication and mutual defence. Roman activity is clearly demonstrated in sites such as Trimontium and Dere Street, while the border reiving and land disputes of medieval times and beyond gave rise to many a pele tower or fortified dwelling, built in positions commanding views of the surrounding countryside or near to water and land routes. Such positions, scenic in themselves, are thus significantly enhanced by the romance of the cultural landscape. The same is true of the positioning of the ruins of medieval abbeys, close by our great rivers, surrounded by farmland.
Many of these ancient buildings remain in some form (eg Hermitage, Smailholm, Bemer-syde, Hume, Fatlips, plus the abbeys at Melrose, Dryburgh, Kelso and Jedburgh), and the stories and ballads to which these places and times gave rise have been preserved in oral and written tradition (not least by our most famous wordsmith Sir Walter Scott, the inventor of the 'historical novel'). Many remain known and celebrated today thanks in part to the spectacular Common Ridings. That literary heritage is also kept alive by, inter alia, the SBC Library Service and Heritage Hub, the internationally successful annual Borders Book Festival, held in Melrose, and the prize-winning independent bookshop in St Boswells: The Main Street Trading Company.
The stately homes of Floors Castle, Makerstoun and Monteviot are set in designed land-scapes close to the great Tweed and Teviot rivers, where today salmon anglers from all over the world come to sample the excellent sport. These rivers themselves of course gave rise to the thriving woollen and tweed industry, now seen only in smaller, high-end mills which nevertheless, along with the Textile Museum in Scotland, attract tourists to their visitor centres.
Horses have continued to play an important part in the Borders cultural heritage outside and alongside the common ridings. Equestrian sport is a passion for a disproportionately high number of the population. From breeding and training horses for national hunt racing, eventing and show-jumping, to hosting those events and sending our riders and horses across the world to compete, the Borders and Borderers are synonymous with success.
And the Borders Festival of The Horse, initiated locally to help the region bounce back after the devastation of the foot and mouth outbreak, has grown every year since its inception in 2001.
With 350km of horse trails in the Borders, the area is a popular equestrian destination all year round. To make life easier for visitors there's also a B&B service for horses and po-nies. The five-star Horses Welcome initiative successfully established under the guiding hand of the British Horse Society (Borders) now offers 10 quality assured stops.
Culturally significant is the other great Borders sport of rugby, and the birthplace of sevens rugby at the Greenyards in Melrose still attracts thousands of visitors and players annually from all over the world. More ancient still, since probably originating from the Norman in-vasion, are the hand ba' games still held in Borders towns like Jedburgh, Ancrum and Denholm - games remarkably similar to some held in France, Italy and the Orkney Isles.
A Borders National Park would go a long way towards providing such a focus. With proper marketing (including a good website on which all SB businesses could advertise, and good social media exposure) it could enhance awareness of all SB-based visitor attractions, within and beyond the area of the National Park. Importantly, the occasion of designation of a National Park would attract a huge amount of media interest, nationally and internationally. This would cost nothing and provide a major opportunity to raise awareness of the whole region and its appeal as an outstanding place to visit.
The appeal of the 'National Park' label
In the highly competitive world of international tourism the NP label catches the attention. It encourages further enquiry into the NP and its environs as a holiday destination. In 2012 the UK Association of National Park Authorities published a study based on 1800 telephone interviews. It showed that -
90% had heard the term 'National Park'.
Would the designation of a specific area damage tourism in the surrounding areas?
Impact on tourism numbers, spend and employment
Studies of the economic impact of National Parks in the UK and overseas show that National Parks attract more visitors, increase average visitor spend and lengthen the visitor season (Mayhew, 2013; SCNP, 2016; Council for National Parks, 2006; Campaign for National Parks, 2010; LL&T, 2011; Wales, 2013; England, (2013) and many others.
Looking closer to home at visitor numbers and spend in NPs, Cairngorms NP, designated in 2003, saw visitor numbers of 1.5m in 2015 with an average spend of £87.40 per person/day (cairngorms.co.uk), and totalling £185m in 2009 (nationalparks.gov.uk). Loch Lomond & Trossachs, operational from 2002, saw visitor spend of £115m in 2005 rise to £190m in 2009 with 4m visitors (LL&T, 2011; national parks.gov.uk). Northumberland National Park, designated in 1956, had 1.5m visitors who spent £190m in 2014 (nationalparks.gov.uk).
What might the figures look like for Scottish Borders? Unfortunately different studies have calculated the figures in different ways, and so we do not have fully comparable 'before and after' figures for UK and Scottish NPs. Accordingly it is necessary to be very conservative in any predictions and to recognise these limitations. Nevertheless there are relevant, recent figures on Scottish tourism on which to base predictions. Scottish Borders would be starting from a very low base, at the bottom of the league of Scotland's mainland regions. If, for example, the designation of a National Park in Scottish Borders led over a few years to a doubling of visitor numbers and visitor spend in the region - the National Park plus the surrounding area - it would still only be equal to Dumfries and Galloway, second bottom in the league of Scottish mainland regions (VisitScotland 2015). This looks like an achievable position. It would, however, have a significant economic impact.
VisitScotland and SBC have used different methodologies in calculating tourism statistics so their figures are not directly comparable. If we take SBC's STEAM figures for 2014 (STEAM 2014), a doubling of tourism would equate to £187.44m additional visitor annual spend, 3774 additional FTE jobs and 4572 total additional jobs if indirect impact is included. VisitScotland's figures for tourist trips and tourist spend are significantly lower than SBC's (see Appendix 1). However the figure of £187.44m is close to the figure of £190m for nearby Northumberland National Park (nationalparks.gov.uk 2014): a fact which tends to support it as a modest and reasonable prediction. Northumberland NP has an area of 1030 km2 compared with 1375 km2 of the proposed Scottish Borders NP. The predicted growth in tourism and visitor spend made here is for the whole of Scottish Borders, not just the proposed National Park area.
How well could Scottish Borders cope with a doubling of visitor numbers?
Nor does Scottish Borders suffer at present from congestion and overcrowded facilities. The current provision could easily absorb a substantial increase in use. In addition there is every reason to believe that the private sector would welcome the opportunity to expand provision.
In conclusion, it is not unrealistic to predict that National Park designation and the accompanying publicity would lead to a very significant increase in visitor numbers and tourism spend, possibly as much as a doubling, without creating an undesirable level of pressure on facilities. This would have a significant positive impact on the local economy.
You can help to develop this discussion further. Please comment in the comment-box (below the references) or email your comments and information to us.
A68 (2016) - http://notjustsheepandrugby.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/drastic-loss-of-traffic-from-a68.html
Campaign for National Parks (2010)"Economic contribution of National Parks"
Council for National Parks (2006) "Prosperity and Protection: the economic impact of NPs in the Yorkshire and Humber region".
England (2013) "Valuing England's National Parks", Cumulus Consultants for National Parks England
Lindberg, K & Denstadt, JN (2004)" Impact of NP visitation on rural economies and government revenue in Queensland" as quoted by SCNP (2015).
LL&T (2011) "Valuing the National Park", Loch Lomond and Trossachs NP Authority.
Mayhew, J. (2013) "Unfinished Business", APRS, SCNP, www.aprs.scot
SCNP (2016) "Tourism and Future National Parks in Scotland", author, Graham Barrow, scnp.org.uk
STEAM (2014) Steam Final trend report for 2009-2014, SBC.
Stokke, KB, Bjornstad, K, Clemetsen, M, Haukeland, JV (2011)" Recreation and tourism - sociocultural and socioeconomic impacts on protected areas in Norway".www.iscar-alpinresearch.org
UK Association of NP Authorities (2012) www.nationalparks.gov.uk
Wales (2013 "Valuing Wales' National Parks", Arup for National Parks Wales, www.cprw.org.uk