Visit Scotland advocates for Sustainable Tourism Growth in a Changing Climate at their Annual St Andrew's Lecture

Visit Scotland advocates for Sustainable Tourism Growth in a Changing Climate at their Annual St Andrew's Lecture


Lord Thurso, Chair of Visit Scotland, a member of NECSTouR, delivered this year’s St. Andrew’s Lecture on 26 November in Brussels. Almost 100 representatives from the tourism industry, networks, EU institutions, academics, journalists and other stakeholders were attending, including NECSTOuR permanent secretariat.


During the lecture - Sustainable Tourism Growth in a Changing Climate’, Lord Thurso shared his thoughts for the future of tourism. He outlined Scotland’s commitment to carbon reduction and sustainable tourism development. Visit Scotland, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, has overseen huge success in that time. But Scotland – which relies so much on its unique natural landscapes and heritage for tourism – has committed to be bold in addressing the impacts of climate change and developing a sustainable industry.


Lord Thurso highlighted some of the measures VisitScotland is undertaking to reduce carbon and work with partners across the public and private sector to influence more sustainable approaches to destination development. This focused on three key areas of impact:

  • Internal – making a difference to carbon reduction within the organisation
  • External – the organisation’s strategy to develop a more sustainable destination – from seasonal and regional spread, to community engagement; from responsible marketing and promotion to working in partnership to develop more sustainable product and itineraries
  • Influencing working with key partners across the public and private sector and showing leadership in addressing climate change and building a more sustainable destination.

While acknowledging the gravity of the challenge ahead, Lord Thurso also made the important point that all of this is an opportunity to change – a chance to improve and deliver the many positive impacts of tourism for our communities, culture and economy, and ultimately make our destinations more appealing ones – better places to live and visit.


Visit Scotland’s Chair began the lecture highlighting the remarkable growth of the tourism industry in Scotland, with a triple increase in visitor numbers and an even more significant ten-times increase in its value to the Scottish economy over the past 50 years. In the context of climate change however, Lord Thurso emphasised the importance of value rather than volume. Other important measures of success: seasonal and regional spread, positive impact on communities and working in partnership to develop and influence sustainable tourism product.

Scotland was one of the first countries to declare a climate emergency and is on course to be carbon neutral by 2040 at the latest. Lord Thurso explained how sustainability plays a central role in everything VisitScotland does. Referring to ambitious environmental targets set for all public bodies in Scotland, focus was placed on the progress Visit Scotland has made: it has undertaken a number of actions to reduce its carbon emissions to help address climate change:

  • Overall carbon emissions reduced by 72% since 2009, exceeding government target of 56% by 2020.
  • Transport related carbon emission by VisitScotland reduced by 43% since 2009.

Lord Thurso explained that, alongside Visit Scotland’s own pledge to do more in the field of sustainable tourism, the organisation also places huge importance on working with others, sharing its insight and offering VisitScotland’s leadership to the industry. Given the huge value of tourism to Scotland, growth through tourism and a sustainable, environmentally friendly approach can still go hand-in-hand. “Travel and leisure are not the enemy – carbon is”, was an important point made by Lord Thurso in his concluding remarks.


The underlying message Lord Thurso gave was the importance of collaboration and exchange in tackling these challenges. Meeting the European Commission and Visit Flanders, the message was that Visit Scotland said they will continue to engage, share and be inspired by innovation and activity with important partners like NECSTouR.

Tourism and the tourism industry must be part of the discussion and the solution to the challenge ahead. As such, it remains more important than ever to advocate for recognition of tourism and its potential for competitive and sustainable destinations.


Visit Scotland will publish its new Sustainability Policy and action plan in early 2020. This will be a very practical document that considers the principles of the Barcelona Declaration and covers key areas of activity that will meet the objectives of:

  • Minimising resource use and waste
  • Reducing the impact of tourism transport
  • Protecting and enhancing Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage
  • Enhancing quality of life for Scottish communities
  • Making tourism in Scotland inclusive and available for all
  • Improving the quality of tourism jobs
  • Supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation in the tourism sector


These principles will be central to Scotland’s national Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, a whole year of themed events celebrating and promoting Scotland’s coastal assets. Importantly, it’s also there to benefit tourism SMEs and encourage wider industry and stakeholder participation. Sustainability and responsible enjoyment are integral to the year, from messaging to consumers to ‘leave no trace’ to partnership with relevant associations.