We have heard that “spirit of Scotland” is a theme for tourism week and, as has already been said, anyone who walks the West Highland Way can be fortified along the route at the Glengoyne, Loch Lomond and Ben Nevis distilleries. As they march along, we have heard that they may be listening to the Proclaimers and thinking of the 500 miles—fortunately, the path is only 96 miles—that they need to walk. I would have thought that the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber might have wanted to promote Runrig as an alternative, given the former career of the hon. Member for Perth

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and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). In today’s Budget, the tax duty on whisky was frozen, which I hope is another contribution to the benefits along the route.

Scotland’s tourism success does not happen in isolation. The UK’s domestic markets remain Scotland’s biggest, and Scotland is able to benefit from wider UK activities and support to attract more tourists across its border. Recent figures from VisitScotland show that, in 2014, more than 15.5 million overnight tourism trips were taken in Scotland, for which visitor expenditure totalled £4.8 billion. People from within the UK account for the majority of tourism volume and value in Scotland, with 12.5 million tourism trips in 2014, worth £2.9 billion.

At home, Scotland benefits from strong activity by the national tourism body, VisitScotland, to promote Scotland. Abroad, VisitBritain is responsible for promoting Scotland as part of Britain’s joined-up offer to international markets, but that is a two-way process, with VisitScotland and the other devolved nations’ national tourism agencies having access to VisitBritain’s overseas network to support their own campaigns and messages.

The Government recently launched their five-point plan for tourism in the UK, which is designed to boost growth, tap potential and encourage visitors beyond London to other parts of the UK, as has been mentioned. As part of the five-point plan the UK Government have committed to working more closely with the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and, where appropriate, Northern Ireland to enhance collaboration between their respective tourism bodies. We also want to ensure that stretching targets are set for VisitBritain to bring increased numbers of international visitors to all the nations and regions of the UK.

Ian Blackford: I am interested in what the Minister is saying, and I applaud her remarks. It is important that the Governments here in Westminster and in Edinburgh work together on such matters. Although we have been talking about some of the industry’s attractions not only in the highlands but elsewhere, there are two things that concern me to which we must give a higher degree of importance. One is connectivity in all its forms—transport connectivity and digital connectivity. We must ensure that we are world leading in connectivity. It is important that we recognise that we are part of a global marketplace and that people have a choice in where they go. We must also invest in the service culture to ensure that we are world leading in all these things. Connectivity and services are important in ensuring that we demonstrate, and can advance, our leadership in the tourist economy. The two Governments need to work together in order to do that.

Dr Coffey: The Government are committed to investing in infrastructure and transport connectivity. The High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill is still going through the House and, in time, HS2 will improve journey times to western Scotland. As has been mentioned, the Scottish Government intend to halve air passenger duty by 2021, and Scotland will be given that power through the Scotland Bill, which will hopefully soon become the Scotland Act.

Another important area of promotion is the Government’s “GREAT campaign,” which is a cross-Government initiative to promote the UK internationally as a great place to visit, study and do business. It is the

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Government’s most ambitious marketing campaign ever, and it aims to showcase the very best of what Britain has to offer the world under a single brand. Scotland features prominently in the campaign, with many varied images of aspects of Scotland to capture the imagination of potential overseas visitors and investors. From the great outdoors to the Edinburgh military tattoo; from Scotch whisky distillers to high-tech producers and universities; constructions new and old, such as the Kelpies, the Glenfinnan viaduct and the Forth railway bridge; the set of “Harry Potter” and wider film production; extreme sports; fashion; and fine dining.

Members have asked a number of questions. VAT on tourism came up several times, with reference to the experience in the Republic of Ireland, which cut VAT on tourism in 2011. At the moment, the Chancellor is unconvinced the measure would work here, but we are interested in doing some research into the benefits of Ireland’s experience, and I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who has responsibility for tourism, has written to the Chancellor to request further research. On European links, many visitors to the West Highland Way are essentially domestic, but the VisitBritain campaigns are targeting Germany, France and the Netherlands.

Broadband was mentioned earlier, and I understand that the First Minister committed at a conference last weekend to get fast broadband to all. The Prime Minister has committed to a universal service obligation for broadband, recognising the importance of connectivity, and the UK Government have already committed more than £120 million to the roll-out of superfast broadband in Scotland.

I am afraid that there is little we can do to help the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (John Nicolson) with his campaign for a lavatory in Milngavie, but I wish him well on that matter.

The words of VisitScotland’s tourism prospectus from 2007 still stand:

“Visitors to Scotland come for an experience that is rooted in our hills and glens, our castles and towns, our history, our culture, our way of life and our people. Visitors participate in any number of activities, pursue many different interests, see many different places but they do so against a distinctive backdrop that is the country of Scotland.”

The West Highland Way epitomises that description, which could also be said of other long-distance walking routes across Scotland. Such routes are increasingly

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popular and, as has been mentioned, attract thousands of visitors to the UK each year. In isolation, the economic benefits derived from people walking the West Highland Way may be modest. Nevertheless, such activity represents just one aspect of the

“distinctive backdrop that is the country of Scotland.”

The sum total of that tourism spend is worth some £5 billion to the Scottish economy annually.

Such debates bring to light the diversity of the tourism sector, not only in Scotland but in the British Isles. Of course, I encourage people to visit Suffolk—I am sure, Sir Roger, that you encourage people to visit your part of Kent. However, I also encourage visitors to travel extensively across the UK, whether that be to the Pembrokeshire coast, the Lake district or North Berwick, or the east coast of Scotland, which I particularly recommend after holidaying there in 2014, and which I learned today is the home of one of the civil servants who helped me to prepare for this debate.

As part of the UK, tourism in Scotland benefits from the “best of both worlds”, with dedicated support from the Scottish Government and VisitScotland at home, as well as benefiting from the work of the UK’s wide-reaching embassy network and VisitBritain in promoting the UK abroad.

Before I finish, I add my tribute to the person who came up with the idea for the West Highland Way, Tom Hunter. Sadly, as has already been said, Mr Hunter passed away last month at the age of 90, which—dare I say it?—is a testament to the healthy lifestyle that he obviously enjoyed. A keen walker with his wife, Margaret, his love for the natural environment combined with his walking. Without his passion, the route would not be what it is today. Prospective walkers may be interested in his book, “A Guide to the West Highland Way”. We can all thank him for his vision and for leaving a fine legacy.

This has been a good debate to celebrate the West Highland Way and its importance to tourism and the economy in Scotland, and I look forward to my visit there.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the contribution of the West Highland Way to the economy in Scotland.

5.28 pm

Sitting adjourned.