Without doubt, the Highlands and Islands lie at the heart of Scotland's tourism industry. But it was not always so.
Early days of tourism
Before the 18th century mountain regions were viewed as 'horrid and rude' wildernesses. Yet even by then a few travellers had begun to raise awareness of the peace and beauty mountain areas offered. Wordsworth wrote warmly of the Lake District in the north of England; so did Boswell and Johnson, Martin Martin and Thomas Pennant of the Highlands and Islands. Interest in the history of the Highlands was also stimulated by writers such as Sir Walter Scott.
The Victorian era
It was not, however, until Queen Victoria's decision to holiday at Balmoral that the Highlands became popular as a tourist destination. By then the railways were opening up the Highlands to easy and comfortable travel. New coastal resorts sprang up, such as Dornoch and Nairn. 'Taking the waters' became fashionable and spas developed, e.g. Crieff, Pitlochry and Strathpeffer. Tourists were encouraged to seek out various sights and 'gaze' upon them, e.g. the Queen's View at Loch Tummel.
The Harry Lauder image!
The 19th century Music Hall both helped and hindered Highland tourism through its portrayal of Scotland in terms of tartan, haggis, Loch Ness Monsters, Scotch mist and midges. This stereotyped the region's image and has since influenced how the media (advertising, television drama) see the Highlands.
What the Highlands offer the tourist
Most foreign tourists are struck by the stunning variety of scenery to be found in the Highlands. Where else can tourists find miles of unspoilt beaches like those in Harris or the stark grandeur of the mountains that overhang Glencoe, Glen Shiel or Glen Torridon or such diversity of wildlife including the golden eagle, red deer, otters and salmon?
Shooters and fishers still come north to enjoy the best of game sports, though this market has declined in recent years. Today, it is Gaelic culture, food, wilderness and genealogy that attract many visitors, particularly from North America.
Tourism - where now?
The remoteness of the Highlands and Islands and the unreliable weather both influence visitor numbers. The tourist trade is seasonal and work in it is seen as low-paid. The industry is also aware of its social and environmental obligations. In all theses areas tourist organisations are working hard to bring improvements through, for example, supporting good practice. The tourist industry understands only too well the need to work in partnership with all other interest groups involved.
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
Annals of Tourism Research
1985, no 12, pp371-391, Butler, Richard 'Evolution of Tourism in the Scottish Highlands'
3, Spring 1993, pp. 23-31 MacArthue, Mhairi 'Blasted Heaths and Hills of Mist: the Highlands and Islands through travellers' eyes'
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