Changing Lives Through the Visitor Economy – 14th March 2017

Motion S5M-04576: Inclusive Tourism, Promoting Accessible Tourism and Changing Lives Through the Visitor Economy (Fiona Hyslop MSP)

“That the Parliament recognises the vital role that tourism plays in Scotland’s prosperity, not only in its direct economic impact, but in the many ways that it can help to tackle the inequalities that exist in society; notes the recent collaboration by VisitScotland, the Family Holiday Association, Historic Environment Scotland and the many industry partners to provide ScotSpirit Breaks for families in difficult circumstances, which has shown the positive impact that the industry can have on improving the lives and life-chances of people who are not able to step outside their everyday routine; commends organisations such as Euan’s Guide for their work with public partners and private sectors in making tourism more inclusive through the development of access statements for facilities and services, along with accessible travel itineraries; congratulates destinations and individual businesses, right across Scotland, on how they are making use of these tools to help widen opportunities, not only for people with permanent disabilities, but also parents with young children, senior travellers and people with temporary injuries and their travel companions; considers that tourism is for everyone, and welcomes the continued support of public and private partners and the tourism industry itself in their willingness to work together, aiming to further develop inclusive tourism as an overarching approach so that all of Scotland can reap the many social and economic benefits that it can bring.”

(From 40:58)

We should never underestimate how attractive Scotland is as an international tourism destination or how important tourism is for the Scottish economy. Scotland’s culture, landscape and complex history attract millions of people to visit each year from all over the world, and tourism sustains well over 200,000 jobs.

I have many fond memories of travelling around Scotland to explore and view its incredible landscapes, visit its inspiring towns and cities and learn about its unique and dynamic history. There should be no doubt about how attractive Scotland is for tourism; as a country, we have a responsibility to utilise its appeal and to grow and sustain the Scottish economy by protecting assets for generations to come.

I welcome the news that there has been a 33 per cent increase in the volume of visits to Scotland by those in the accessible tourism market since 2009. However, it is estimated that up to £9 billion went unspent last year in the UK because people were not aware that a particular disability could be catered for. As much of Scotland’s tourism is heavily orientated towards outdoor activities, such as golfing, biking and hiking, it is crucial for us to accept that many of our tourists, including people who are elderly or less mobile and young children, have access needs. It is our job and our responsibility to make tourism in Scotland a more inclusive activity and to make it easier for our visitors to enjoy what Scotland has to offer.

VisitScotland has played a crucial role in unlocking Scotland’s potential for tourism; it has highlighted a business initiative that is designed to attract more tourists, especially by making our services more accessible and inclusive. Accessibility involves so much more than just accommodating wheelchair users; it is about the attitudinal barriers that often prevent accessibility policy from being pursued, such as a vision that it is expensive. We must play our part in stimulating conversation to get across the fact that simple things make big differences, including getting messages across to normalise the topic.

Almost half of disabled tourists spend between £500 and £1,000 on a holiday, while 10 per cent spend about £1,500. That produces enormous social and economic barriers. We need to invest in a broader strategy that tackles the stigma not only for the traveller with accessible needs but among us here in Parliament and everyone involved in the tourism industry.

The business case for improving the accessibility of tourism is strong, but more needs to be done to make it tangible to business owners, who might not have an incentive to improve facilities. The range of initiatives on accessible tourism has included Capability Scotland’s accessible tourism project, which aims to make Scotland the most accessible tourist destination in Europe by identifying barriers that disabled people face. The Guide Dogs open for business package, which was launched in 2013, offered inspiration to the tourism industry for thinking about ways to make their businesses more inclusive. The Scottish Disability Equality Forum has launched the accessible travel hub website, which makes information, articles and guidance readily available. Last year’s aiming for inclusive growth event on accessible tourism was extremely successful. It brought together representatives of more than 20 tourism organisations from around Europe to raise the level of accessible tourism expertise around the continent, present policies and achievements, share ideas and set agendas.

Golf courses, galleries, coastal paths and museums bring thousands of tourists to my constituency and the rest of Fife every year. The massive impact that that visitor expenditure has on local businesses, the economy and jobs cannot be overstated—from directly influenced roles, such as those of hotel and restaurant staff, to those in the transport and retail industries, opportunities are created for services or facilities in communities that would otherwise not be sustainable. There are compelling economic, as well as social, benefits from ensuring that the tourism market is accessible to all. While a great number of businesses in Fife and wider Scotland have already made positive changes to improve their accessibility, we must continue to develop and promote our facilities and demonstrate our commitment to accessible tourism for every visitor.

The tourism industry for one of Fife’s best known natural assets—its beautiful coastline—could be transformed by making our coastal areas more accessible and promoting an inclusive and proactive approach that would engage new audiences who might have felt unable to enjoy those assets previously. We must do all that we can so that no one feels unable to enjoy Fife’s breathtaking shores and scenery.

In 2014, Homelands Trust—Fife opened a unique and accessible self-catering facility overlooking the Firth of Forth that was designed and equipped to meet the needs of people with a range of disabilities and health conditions. The Paxton drop-in centre offers a variety of group and individual activities, such as self-management courses, alternative therapies and health walks.

Fife tourism partnership’s vision is for Fife to establish the social and economic benefits for businesses, visitors and the wider area by creating an accessible destination. The partnership hosts a series of workshops for businesses and staff. All such services also help Fife residents with similar disabilities, so that is a win-win scenario.

Euan’s Guide, which is an online guide that shares information about places with disabled access, lists some great reviews of places in Fife, including the Harbourmaster’s house and the Adam Smith theatre in Kirkcaldy. A massive number of tourism businesses and destinations are now promoting services for disabled guests as the norm, and I am proud that Fife’s tourist destinations and venues are being recommended for accessibility.

In 2015, Scotland’s accessible tourism market was estimated to be worth more than £1.3 billion. I place a special emphasis on stimulating conversation about disabilities and access not just in the tourism industry but in everyday life. VisitScotland and the tourism industry have made immense progress but, as the main tourism season approaches, there is still much to do to achieve the ultimate goal of making our fantastic holiday destinations accessible to everyone. I fully support the efforts of the Scottish Government and all its partners to make tourism more accessible, truly change lives and support the Scottish economy.

 

Link to the Scottish Parliament Official Report.

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