A new national tourism body is urging visitors to support community-owned tourism enterprises across Scotland and deliver a boost for local jobs and services as the sector rebuilds after Covid-19.
Scottish Community Tourism (SCOTO) is a new network of around 100 community-owned tourism organisations and enterprises, with several representatives from the community tourism sector in the Western Isles among those backing the new initiative.
SCOTO’s aim is to promote and represent the growing number of community run tourism ventures across Scotland.
It wants tourists to make a conscious choice to seek out accommodation, activities, and food and drink services offered by businesses that are owned and managed by local community bodies, where every pound spent is reinvested in local priorities, from the environment to jobs for young people, housing to wellbeing services.
The new body formally launches today (Monday 25 April) with a series of promotional activities planned by members throughout the week.
Members will be offered a free listing on the website and venues joining the network will receive SCOTO place-markers to identify them as community-owned enterprises.
Local members include Bùth Bharraigh, the community owned retail and visitor hub in Castlebay; Garadh a Bhagh a Tuath (Northbay Garden) in Northbay, Barra; An Clachan, the South Harris Community Shop in Leverburgh; Point & Sandwick Trail, a community organisation which aims to develop a 40km circular route close to Stornoway; Urras Oighreachd Chàrlabhaigh (Carloway Estate Trust) the West Lewis community land owner; and Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn, the community-owned estate of 56,000 acres of coast, agricultural land and moor around Galson in north-west Lewis.
Sarah MacLean co-founder and manager of Bùth Bharraigh said: “We've become a vital tourism hub providing information on accommodation, activities and events on the islands, and a valuable contact for the community, especially through the winter months when other services on the island are closed.
"Community tourism is important, as the community is in control of their own destination and give visitors a more local and authentic experience."
Jasmine Montgomery Wilkie, Media and Communications Officer for Galson Estate Trust said: "In January 2022 we opened public toilet facilities and four hard-standing pitches with electric hook-up for campervans and motorhomes behind our newly-constructed Business Centre. These much-needed facilities, sited on our community-owned land, are essential towards mitigating against tourism-associated and environmental pressures, ensuring local populations and tourists can enjoy the Galson Estate equally.
“We encourage responsible community tourism for a number of reasons - it generates income for our local businesses, creates local employment opportunities, and allows more people to engage with and enjoy our unique landscape and way of life. Money accrued via our donation boxes and fixed-charge campervan bays goes towards the upkeep of these essential facilities, so that we can all enjoy our wonderful Estate for many years to come."
Chair of SCOTO Russell Fraser added: “There are dozens of examples of communities in Scotland taking ownership of local services and facilities and transforming them into successful community run tourism enterprises, but until now there has never been a dedicated body that represents their interests. SCOTO will provide that voice.
“Our members are unlike other tourism providers because they are owned and operated by the communities they serve. Every penny spent with our members is an investment in our landscape, our culture, our people and their future.
“Our vision of sustainable, regenerative tourism ensures that the benefits of tourism are felt across the community - through sustainable development, employment, improved connectivity and the natural environment. We want visitors in Scotland to make a conscious choice to support local tourism enterprises, knowing that their support will have immediate and long-lasting benefits for that community.”
The new organisation has received funding from the Scottish Government Tourism Leadership & Recovery Grant and has been supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, South of Scotland Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise and the Social Enterprise Academy.
Membership of the new body is open to community owned tourism projects and businesses, organisations and individuals with an interest in the sector.
For more information, visit scoto.co.uk
Watch their launch video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtpk0XOz9RQ
Left to right: Marc Crothall, CEO of Scottish Tourism Alliance | Patricia Kent, Manager at SCOTO member Callander Youth Project Trust | Carron Tobin, SCOTO Facilitator | Russell Fraser, SCOTO Chair | Diane Smith, SCOTO Coordinator | Front, Jack Wardrop, former Modern Apprentice and now Youth Worker with Callander Youth Project Trust with the SCOTO place-marker