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The Economic Impact of Wildlife Tourism in Scotland



7.1 This section focuses on the perceptions and attitudes of two sets of stakeholders in wildlife tourism in Scotland: the business people for whom wildlife tourism is the raison d'être of their business and wildlife tourists in Scotland. The results are largely based on the qualitative research conducted for this study of wildlife tourism in Scotland. There is no attempt to quantify the frequency of the responses within these qualitative surveys. The focus is simply on the perceptions and attitudes.

7.2 The results are presented in a SWOT analysis, outlining the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of and to the wildlife industry in Scotland. This simple framework sets a basis for categorisation that can provide useful insights into the current state of the industry now and in the future.

7.3 There is a spectrum of possible visitor markets from committed wildlife watchers who spend the vast majority of their leisure time pursuing new wildlife opportunities to general interest wildlife watchers and casual visitors. These different types will have different motivations to visit Scotland and or areas within Scotland. For the committed wildlife watchers, the wildlife is the specific attraction or reason to visit. However, for the general interest wildlife watcher and for casual visitors this may not be the case as wildlife watching is combined with other holiday activities. For these latter two types of visitor the natural environment, historic or urban attractions may very well be as significant an attractor (motivation to visit) as the wildlife; however the opportunity to watch wildlife is still considered an important factor in their decision to visit.

7.4 The SWOT table (Figure 22) shows a range of factors in each category, which are in turn described below.

Strengths of the Wildlife Tourism Sector in Scotland

7.5 Scotland is an attractive destination for many visitors, and has a range of unique and diverse attractions. While the comments here are concentrated on the wildlife sector, it should always be remembered that wildlife tourism sits in the wider context of tourism and leisure activities and the intangible, emotional attributes of Scotland such as the unique combination of atmosphere, culture and "quintessential Scotland" and the fact that visitors who are used to urban centres can experience a complete change and immersion into cultural landscapes where they can totally switch off.

7.6 Wildlife resources were seen by many operators and wildlife tourists as being the single most important strength. The diversity and quantity of species, as well as their proximity to each other is clearly the main reason why wildlife tourists visit Scotland. There was also an acknowledgment among current wildlife tourists of the investment put into developing wildlife sites through visitor centres, hides and trails with recognition that these could be improved further, particularly from wildlife enthusiasts who had visited other countries in Europe.

Figure 22: SWOT Analysis of Tourism's Wildlife Tourism Product


Wildlife resources
Visitor experience
Diversity of customers
Government agency attitudes
Information provision
Profile raising by Wild Scotland
Natural environment


Staffing problems
Accessibility to the wildlife
Poor value for money
Perceptions of poor service
Lack of clear strategic leadership
National level marketing
Funding and support


Wide range of iconic species
Product development
Domestic Scottish potential.
Media coverage of wildlife.
Environmental awareness
Attitude change
Increasing political will
Increasing co-operation
Economic opportunities


Meeting visitor expectations
Built developments
Business complacency
Financial insecurity of businesses
Product deterioration
Foreign competition
DIY wildlife tourism
Lack of coherent strategy
Government interest may be short-lived

7.7 Visitor experience is a key element of any tourism industry, for it is not a single product offered by an individual firm, but an amalgamation of products and environmental factors that form the overall experience. Focus group participants were in general agreement that Scotland is increasingly being recognised as a place that offers memorable wildlife experiences. In addition, it is seen as a place that offers additional visitor experiences (unique landscape, history, culture) that augment the wildlife product within an environment that is safe and friendly.

7.8 The diversity of customers gives the sector resilience as well as different growth opportunities and sustainability. According to operators in interviews and workshops, there is no reliance on a limited number of types of visitor and each type offered a counterbalance to any negative change in another type. Thus there was variation identified in terms of the origin (Scotland, UK, overseas) of the visitors and the age of the visitors. As importantly the level of focus of the visitor on the wildlife element of their visit varies. The visitors can be divided between committed (serious) wildlife watchers, general interest wildlife visitors and casual visitors. This in turn has lead to a diverse supply of wildlife experiences. Operators have been quick to embrace new market trends and have been opportunistic with regards to product diversification to cater for the increased tourism demand to a) have "wilderness experiences" and b) to see charismatic and flagship species. Operators also concentrate their efforts on providing a good, all-round holiday experience to cater for the general tourist with a casual interest in wildlife watching.

7.9 Authenticity is seen as a strength by wildlife tourists, in that Scotland offers unspoiled, uncommercialised opportunities to view wildlife. Wildlife tourists are seeking authentic experiences but for many of these visitors they are seeking more than just a wildlife experience. As a result they have varied but overlapping demands. This is allied to experience, awareness and high levels of satisfaction of those who have visited Scotland. This is however mirrored in one of the threats discussed below, product deterioration, as the more serious wildlife enthusiasts worry that the authentic nature of these experiences may be spoilt by large numbers of general tourists.

7.10 Government agency attitudes were seen as a strength by wildlife organisations, in that they perceive that the Scottish Government is taking wildlife and its potential seriously, and that these attitudes are strengthening. This is countered, however, by several of the weaknesses identified later (lack of clear strategic leader, national level marketing of wildlife tourism, funding and support).

7.11 Visitors saw the information provision as being good, largely through the efforts of individual businesses that through websites in particular tend to offer good levels of information not only about their own services but in many cases about wildlife opportunities in the locality. Operators flagged information provision up as a weakness, however, but this seems to be more about national level marketing (identified in the weaknesses section) than about local level information.

7.12 Operators at the workshops as well as those interviewed were in general agreement that the profile raising by Wild Scotland was a tremendous benefit to the wildlife sector, bringing a much higher profile to wildlife tourism in Scotland than it used to have because " associations such as Wild Scotland have really brought wildlife tourism to the fore to turn Scotland into the number one wildlife watching destination in Europe". While enthusiasm for Wild Scotland may be expected in the workshop as it was conducted at a Wild Scotland event, and hence was with operators who see enough benefits from Wild Scotland to attend their annual conference, this theme also emerged through (confidential) interviews with operators and the (anonymous) business survey. Membership of Wild Scotland was also discussed in terms of the business setting, through encouraging partnership and collaboration and the facilitation of good training programmes with regards to responsible wildlife watching and customer care. Here it was noted that "Wild Scotland had been hugely important" and that "the overall quality of the wildlife tourist experience has improved and grown".

7.13 Three further strengths that have been identified are natural factors that while cannot be changed can be built upon through strategic planning and marketing to improve the Scottish wildlife tourism sector. The natural environment in terms of the variety and scale of Scottish landscapes and scenery is clearly seen as a great strength. The fact that this combines a wilderness feel with the wildlife watching experience is clearly seen as a positive for many visitors, as is its uniqueness in terms both of iconic species of wildlife and distinctiveness of Scotland's places, people and heritage. Location is also seen as an advantage in the UK market, where many respondents in qualitative surveys have said that there is simply no point in going further abroad when Scotland has so much to offer.

Weaknesses of the Wildlife Tourism Sector in Scotland

7.14 When asked what the barriers to the development of their business are, over one third of respondents to the business survey (36%) answered that there were no barriers. The barriers that were cited by the others were many and varied, with 9% citing lack of financial support, 8% indicating conflicts with other land users (e.g. local residents using land for other purposes and disturbing wildlife, developers), 6% difficulty in recruiting trained staff, 6% the current economic downturn and 5% competition from other providers. No individual weakness appears to exist that dominates all others, although two in particular - the lack of clear leadership and national level marketing, have received more attention from operators than others during interviews and workshops with operators. Individual businesses and visitors have identified certain weaknesses, with some respondents clearly strongly identifying a certain weakness that affects them.

7.15 Staffing problems are clearly a problem to a small number of operators in terms of difficulties in recruiting trained staff. Wider problems are that the quality of guides and interpreters, while good in many cases, is patchy across the whole of the industry. Visitors have no guarantee that their guides will be well trained, which may deter some from visiting. This weakness could be addressed by an industry-wide scheme of guide accreditation, either through a public sector quality scheme or voluntary private sector co-operation.

7.16 Accessibility to the wildlife (related to the next point, infrastructure) relates to the lack of accessibility to wildlife areas, which may be because of land ownership issues as well as remoteness and the difficulty in finding adequate places from which to view some species. Focus groups with lapsed and non-visitors (to Scotland) particularly pointed to accessibility issues related to focal points, signposting and transport infrastructure in remote areas and islands.

7.17 Public transport infrastructure is often seen as a weakness both by operators and visitors. While a number of private businesses have provided high quality facilities themselves, the picture across Scotland is patchy. Poor public transport infrastructure was noted by nearly all of the operators who felt that more attention should be paid to sustainable transport policies given the current debate on climate change. The lapsed and non-visitors also felt that Scotland would be very difficult to see using public transport and that there was a lack of innovative, integrated public transport infrastructure which met consumers' needs such as combined train and ferry tickets or multiple island ferry deals.

7.18 Variable quality of business facilities inhibits visitors who do not want the risk that they may encounter one of the poorer businesses in the sector, adversely affecting all businesses. Operators expressed a concern regarding the welcome that visitors receive. Therefore the subject of quality, service and customer care was seen as a crucial focus by all the operators in this study: "the biggest thing that people expect is that they are going to be looked after and cared for". Unfortunately operators had grave doubts as to whether tourists actually experience the quality they are now expecting: "The level of service isn't that great for tourists. Food and accommodation isn't fantastic in a lot of parts of Scotland. At the moment there's the top end that is done very beautifully and very well but the bottom end is done very badly". The perception of operators is that some businesses deliver a very shabby product. They see that there is a profit to be made but do not go about their business in a professional manner. One operator directed her clients towards a boat trip. On their return she discovered that there had been "no, or limited, commentary and interpretation and no activity sheets for the young children to complete - so who is going to book that boat trip again?"

7.19 A lack, or at least a perceived lack, of self-catering accommodation deters visitors who would want this form of accommodation in rural settings near to wildlife sites: According to lapsed wildlife tourists at the Bird Fair, Scotland "lacks enough reasonably priced self-catering cottages or crofts". Indeed the tourists who had experienced wildlife watching holidays overseas voiced the need for Scotland to develop more "wildlife interpretation centres which offer accommodation", "improved youth hostels" ("youth hostels have moved on a lot but not in Scotland!") and even "organised camping tours" whereby operators provide the transportation.

7.20 Seasonality of demand was identified as a weakness by operators in interviews, workshops and the operator survey. While the structure of seasonality peaks in May and September for wildlife tourism, wildlife operators are often busiest in July and August serving general visitors who make an incidental wildlife trip and expect to see wildlife at a time of year when it isn't active. While wildlife tourism has the potential to attract more visitors outside of the main summer months, in the 'shoulder' months either side of the peak season, very few wildlife visitors make their trips from November to March, when almost a third of wildlife businesses close for the winter. Clearly, for businesses this is a problem, and is a potential barrier to investment, as it restricts the return on such investment. This is partly driven by the fact that other tourist infrastructure closes in the winter, for example restaurants and accommodation providers.

7.21 Wildlife tourism in Scotland is seen as being poor value for money by visitors overall, being a significant source of discouragement both from current and potential visitors. Worryingly, while not a consensus, some operators considered wildlife tourism in Scotland to be good value for money, indicating that either they do not realise that the sector is expensive compared to other destinations and activities, or perhaps more likely, that some businesses are offering good value for money but are being let down by other businesses being expensive. Although not explored in detail as part of this research, value for money perceptions by visitors are based on the whole cost of a trip, so it may be that travel to and accommodation in Scotland is seen as being expensive but that the wildlife sector itself could still be inexpensive and good value. While further research would be needed on this, including international comparisons, it may be that the wildlife tourism sector is being made uncompetitive by other elements of the tourism industry, or that it is indeed giving poor value for money.

7.22 Perceptions of poor service exist at varying levels. These perceptions are particularly strong with lapsed visitors - those who had made trips to Scotland in the past, but not recently, and for these individuals may be more informed by past experiences with the tourism sector in Scotland rather than specifically wildlife sites. There were however some operators who cited poor service in other businesses, and it is clear that among wildlife operators and particularly accommodation providers, the level of service varies considerably from the very good to the very poor. In terms of accommodation providers, this is an issue that needs to be addressed in the context of the whole tourism industry.

7.23 A fairly strong consensus exists among operators that there is a lack of clear strategic leadership in the sector. This and the problems with national level marketing were consistently the most significant weaknesses as seen by operators. They thought that there was no clear strategic vision for wildlife tourism, that the marketing activities had the wrong emphasis, and there was little joined up marketing. Wild Scotland's activities, while viewed as being good, were not co-ordinated with what activity was going on elsewhere, such as VisitScotland, which the operators did not see as representing wildlife tourism very well. In many cases operators were of the opinion that Wild Scotland operates in a public leadership vacuum, with little or no strategy for the sector as a whole. Strategic leadership could, for example, be addressed through a Scottish Government initiative to undertake a stock take of public sector and collaborative private sector activities in wildlife tourism, followed by a strategic plan, with other marketing, funding and support determined by the requirements of that plan.

7.24 National level marketing has been continually mentioned by operators as a weakness, in interviews and workshops. They perceive that marketing is going to be down to them and that in order to compete and be successful they will need to draw upon their own business acumen and resources. Whilst there is considerable support for Wild Scotland, VisitScotland is criticised for "not knowing about wildlife tourism" as "Scotland is not currently branded as a wildlife destination". Businesses, in particular, believe that VisitScotland is not marketing wildlife tourism enough and that there are not strong enough web links between VisitScotland and Wild Scotland. Moreover, they see several latent overseas marketing opportunities as "Scotland is beginning to be seen as a wildlife watching destination by Europeans", and potential overseas markets from the US where " unfortunately golf is still the number one marketing strand". There was a general consensus in industry workshops that operators are moving away from membership of VisitScotland towards a greater relationship with Wild Scotland and spending money instead on developing their own internet sites. The largest annual trade fair for the wildlife industry is the British Birdwatching Fair, where virtually every country in wildlife tourism funds a stand. Scotland has been represented only by Wild Scotland, funded by the industry and volunteers. Several participants in the focus groups wondered why there were no Scottish public sector marketing bodies (tourist boards and national park authorities) at the fair as there were many such bodies from elsewhere in the UK.

7.25 In terms of funding and support, operators do not only consider marketing activities as a weakness but also the lack of funding to assist businesses. When it comes to development, funding is seen as a critical issue due to different funding grants in different areas. Operators see that funding has "dried up" in schemes that they can apply to, although the scope of this research has not included identifying where this has happened and determining the reason for any such cases. There was also some support for a marine national park and more National Parks in general. From operator workshops, it was argued that wildlife tourism needs to fit into the current landscape management policy with the recognition that wildlife tourism can play a part in allowing the land to reap more economic benefits. There has been no suggestion from operators in any of the research conducted with them that they should be singled out as a special case for support, but rather that they should have a level playing field and that they should fit into the wider landscape management appropriately, with for example, access to subsidies based upon land use for conservation that forestry activities can receive also being made available to wildlife operators who conserve forestry in the same way. It should be noted, however, that industry perceptions of a lack of funding does not necessarily mean that funding opportunities do not exist. Problems may be present in the communication of these funding opportunities or in the time that businesses may to devote to searching for funding.

7.26 Two further weaknesses are self-evident and repeated throughout the research: the weather and the presence of midges. These are natural factors that cannot be changed, but there are opportunities to mitigate them, for example by providing warm and dry wildlife centres and hides and by ensuring that there is a range of other things for wildlife tourists to do on wet days.

Opportunities of the Wildlife Tourism Sector in Scotland

7.27 The wide range of iconic species was often mentioned by both visitors and operators in terms of the potential to market them. Not only are such iconic species present in Scotland, but they are often more readily viewed than elsewhere, and in some cases are unique to Scotland. Marketing is essential to take advantage of this, but such a marketing role should also include on the ground planning of routes, infrastructure and product development.

7.28 Product development is a clear opportunity, as wildlife operators already have the tools and experience, partly because of a lack of national level strategy and marketing, to develop new products. They (or at least some of them) have clearly taken on the needs of flexible product development and dynamic packaging to match the requirements of post-Springwatch tourists, and indeed over a longer period have been very entrepreneurial in setting up businesses to serve markets that did not exist twenty or thirty years ago. While individual businesses (or again, some of them) clearly see the need for further product development, being flexible and responding to market needs, there is also a need at the destination level for co-ordination of and government support for new products, new types of experiences, with the dynamic management that such innovation entails.

7.29 The domestic Scottish potential is seen by many operators as a way of supporting the business by developing marketing towards Scottish residents. Making Scottish residents more aware of the wildlife possibilities available close to home also brings economic and social benefits to them that are not captured in economic impact studies. Developing this potential should be brought in to a wider strategic plan for the wildlife tourism industry, but at the very least those responsible for national level marketing need to consider marketing within Scotland as well as outside.

7.30 Media coverage of wildlife has been one of the key drivers of market changes over recent years, and the opportunity to take advantage of the growth in popularity of nature programmes was identified in relation to post-Springwatchers. While further opportunities exist in relation to current programming - for example, through national level bodies co-ordinating appearances on such programmes and co-ordinating with wildlife and accommodation providers at particular sites featured, the greater opportunity exists through even greater media coverage, through other channels and media. It is clear from this research that television programmes, typically Springwatch, have captured tourists' imagination with regards to Britain's endemic species. Indeed, Springwatch was repeatedly mentioned in all elements of this research as having instigated, supported or reinstated, an inherent love of nature, which has led in turn to increased numbers of wildlife visitors.

7.31 Environmental awareness is a key early-stage driver of interest in nature and wildlife. In-depth interviews with operators reveal growing perceptions that tourists have a much greater awareness . These attitudinal changes over recent years in the general environment in which wildlife tourism takes place has increased participation in outdoor pursuits and in general interest in nature, along with demand for wildlife viewing opportunities. According to a reserve manager: "there's a sea change in a lot of people's attitude towards wildlife and towards their own health. They want to get out there and enjoy it, they want to cycle they want to get fit and all the rest of it. I can only see wildlife tourism growing and getting better and better". "People want this wildlife element now".

7.32 Increased environmental education in schools, activity by environmental pressure groups, political and media exposure to environmental issues, all contribute to greater knowledge of and interest in nature, particularly in urbanised populations. These changes are perhaps influential in the changes in wildlife visitor numbers and types which are expected to offer continued opportunities in the future. Product development and marketing that takes place in the context of the environment, rather than just wildlife, can take advantage of this awareness and interest.

7.33 Attitude change amongst landowners can bring about improving access to wildlife. There is a general perception repeated several times in research with operators that landowners who previously opposed tourism development are gradually being persuaded of the economic benefits to them that wildlife tourism brings. This might be considered to present a permissive opportunity, in that it opens up more possibilities for development, rather than decisive opportunities, those that govern the choice of wildlife tourism destinations. This attitude change can be reinforced by government action, and can be taken advantage of by taking account of it in strategic planning.

7.34 The recent trend towards 'Staycationing', broadly defined as holidaying domestically rather than overseas, although more specifically meaning undertaking holiday-like activities from home rather than taking a tourism trip, presents opportunities to the Scottish market, as well as challenges in preventing overseas and more distant domestic ( UK) visitors from switching to such behaviour. The economic crisis and the threats of climate change inducing people away from long-haul travel are key drivers of staycationing. Given the links between increased environmental awareness and climate change, this presents an opportunity for nature-based tourism of all kinds to capture the attention of a new market: Indeed, the industry workshops and in-depth interviews with operators noted an "i ncreased demand for accommodation due to the 'staycation' effect of the recession" and more domestic visitors from within Scotland. Moreover some operators have noticed "a change in attitude and a change in people's perception as to what we're doing to the planet. This is coupled with an awareness about the impacts of flying. However, Scotland offers a solution. You can come here and you don't have to fly miles to see some fantastic wildlife". It should be noted, though, that the recession and weakness of the pound have created much of the staycation effect, and that while climate change may have a much longer effects, any staycationing effect on tourism may have slow and gradual growth.

7.35 Increasing political will was seen as an opportunity by many operators, as the public sector bodies continue to recognise the worth of wildlife tourism. There had been increasing recognition of the activity in the past, but that recognition had not gone far enough for many operators who see wildlife tourism to be considered a niche product.

7.36 Increasing co-operation between operators is occurring and is also needed as well as public sector initiatives. Wildlife related businesses identified opportunities in terms of taking advantage of new commercial opportunities and sharing of good practice in what they consider a secure business environment. It should be noted, however, that our research has been conducted throughout with those businesses that have taken the time to assist, and that these businesses are probably biased towards those that want to co-operate with others.

7.37 Economic opportunities were identified by operators from the weak pound making Scotland more competitive: becoming cheaper for visitors from overseas and reducing the incentive to go overseas for UK residents. The possible recovery from recession was also mentioned as a positive opportunity.

Threats to the Wildlife Tourism Sector in Scotland

7.38 Meeting visitor expectations of quality and authenticity in terms of accommodation and service is seen as a potential threat. This is related to other threats described below, but specifically relates to building up expectations through marketing only for the visitors that make wildlife trips as a result to find that the reality on the ground is not what they were led to believe would be waiting for them. Operators are finding that client expectations are much higher than they were due to increased travel experiences and increased standards of living at home. Scotland must therefore go 'the extra mile' to meet them. There was consensus amongst operators during the in-depth interviews that there are higher expectations across the wildlife watching spectrum particularly with regards to wildlife experiences, guiding, interpretation, accommodation, food and service.

7.39 Wildlife watching expectations have been fuelled by the media and particularly television programmes that show "close up and personal views of wildlife" which cannot always materialise on the day. This expectation may vary between each segment of the wildlife tourism market but particularly where the focus is on charismatic species that have a mass or universal appeal. This makes running tours very difficult in terms of tourist satisfaction as these tourists can have a very narrow fixation on seeing these charismatic species and high expectations which are impossible to guarantee. These general, casual tourists can be more difficult to satisfy than the serious wildlife watching sector that have a broader interest and understand the chance factors of wildlife watching. As this boat operator explains: "We try to emphasise that they won't necessarily see the dolphins, not 100% but hard as you try to steer it away from that, that's what people want. There are a percentage that are enjoying being out there, enjoying whatever they see and they are delightful to have on board but there are a significant percentage that just want dolphins. You'll get them coming back in and you say 'how did you get on what did you see' and they'll say 'oh nothing'. They can have seen porpoise, they'll have seen seabirds but they didn't see dolphins. There's a very narrow mindedness in some people".

7.40 Built developments cause conflicts with wildlife activities, both by disturbing wildlife itself and by making an area less attractive for visitors. The development of wind farms in many rural areas was viewed as a threat to wildlife tourism by a small minority of operators that took part in the qualitative research. Other developments, from transport infrastructure to housing, golf courses and other buildings also affect wildlife and wildlife tourism and were raised as concerns by operators and NGOs.

7.41 Business complacency can weaken any industry's competitive position. Should businesses in the wildlife tourism industry see visitors arriving in record numbers, and those numbers being sustained over a period of time, they may see little need to re-invent themselves, to innovate and develop new products, or to train staff and improve quality. Businesses in the in-depth interviews re-iterated that there was no room for such complacency given the increasing customer expectations and the threat of competing near-European destinations.

7.42 Financial insecurity of businesses is a concern in any industry that is dominated by small firms. Wildlife tourism is affected by this as is the tourism industry in general, as small operators often do not have the financial resources to withstand short-term losses. While the 2009 recession has not had serious consequences for the operators in our research, this may be largely due to the growth in wildlife tourism itself which has continued a trend of growth. Financial insecurity remains a threat for the future.

7.43 The threats to Scottish wildlife tourism are identified in terms of an initial increase in visitor numbers leading to product deterioration and a subsequent decline in visitor numbers. This was very much the concern of operators and NGOs rather than tourists. However several dedicated, serious, wildlife tourists encountered on-site also spoke of increased visitation to Scotland's wildlife sites and a potentially deteriorating experience: " Scotland has got too many wildlife visitors now…there is too much pressure on the environment in places, especially like Chanonry Point, Speyside and Mull".

7.44 These threats are essentially related to a possible decline in the visitor watching experience. This possibility might come about for two reasons. The first is that the operators may destroy the product by reacting to the possibility of increased numbers of visitors in ways that are likely to cause disturbance to the wildlife. The second is the attitudes of the visitors themselves in that they may have unrealistic expectations both in terms of the wildlife and the quality of the experience. Thus regardless of when they come they expect to see the wildlife they want to see, which puts pressure on operators to find those species, which in turn can often cause disturbance to nesting sites, setts and other habitation. In addition they want a quality product but do not necessarily want to pay for it because they see wildlife as a 'free' good, which can also lead to disturbance of the wildlife. Both these reasons could lead to a reduction in satisfaction with the visitor experience provided and, given competition from other European wildlife destinations, a reduction, rather than an increase in demand.

7.45 One particular aspect of product deterioration is that the more serious wildlife enthusiasts' expectation of unrestricted access to animals in their natural habitat is threatened by the development of visitor centres, car parks and other facilities that encourage higher visitor numbers. Strategic management is required to mitigate the effects of product deterioration, in

  • codes of conduct to ensure that wildlife habitats are not damaged and that wildlife is not adversely affected by visitors;
  • recognition of the concept of carrying capacity, that there is a limit on visitor numbers before the wildlife, and the wildlife experience, becomes tarnished, and also that individual businesses are ill equipped to constrain numbers where multiple businesses are in competition to take visitors to the same site.
  • product differentiation, in restricting development in some areas to keep them authentic for the markets that value authenticity highly while developing other areas to take the volume of visitors who are more concerned with comfort and the probability of seeing a particular (usually iconic) species.

7.46 Foreign competition is clearly a factor, and while many operators are concerned that if the pound were to strengthen they would see customers going overseas, there was little recognition of where the foreign competition was coming from. This may be because the diversity of the market means that different segments wanting to view different species each have their own set of foreign competitor. When asked in the business survey which country is Scotland's biggest competitor for wildlife tourism, a variety of answers were given by respondents. Many respondents (29%) answered that they did not know. Many others were relatively noncommittal (e.g. " Eire? Norway?"; " not sure, perhaps somewhere like Iceland"), but of those that did volunteer an answer, 17% mentioned Scandinavia (or a Scandinavian country), 15% Africa (or an African country) and 12% England. In the context of a dynamic industry, however, it should also be noted that competition can drive up standards and may benefit an industry.

7.47 The growth in DIY wildlife tourism presents a threat to many wildlife businesses, as tourists may turn in increasing numbers towards independent bookings and looking for wildlife themselves rather than seeking out guides and organised viewing opportunities. In part this reflects a general trend in tourism towards independent bookings as tourists who have visited a destination once become much more confident in travelling independently on subsequent trips to the same, or similar, destinations, as well as increased ease of making such bookings. For wildlife tourists, this translates to those who are more confident not just in being able to book suitable accommodation but more importantly those who through previous visits have become more knowledgeable about the wildlife, where, when and how to find it, and so no longer need organised guides or interpretation. In addition, general tourists are becoming, through other information sources such as the internet and television programmes, more confident in being able to see wildlife without the help of tour guides. Indeed tourists often described themselves as " DIY wildlife tourists" who would seek out nature reserves or places where wildlife is renowned. They do not necessarily want to be confined in a group or constrained by time.

7.48 These DIY tourists are perceived, by operators, not only as a missed financial opportunity but also that they may become so significant in numbers that they become the major threat to wildlife disturbance, and their impacts on wildlife cannot be controlled by codes of conduct or regulations on firms. Some operators looked upon this group as a future opportunity and saw the possibility of offering new products to access this market in terms of information provision, recommended independent itineraries and suggested modes of responsible behaviour around wildlife.

7.49 The lack of coherent strategy is related to the weakness of "lack of clear strategic leader", but relates more to the threats of what might happen in the future if this problem persists. This was noted by tourists who took part in the focus groups but was recognised more as a lack of wildlife focused, integrated marketing. Operators on the other hand noted the absence of a coherent wildlife tourism development strategy.

7.50 Finally, there is concern that government interest may be short-lived, and funding and support for wildlife tourism could be cut even further. This concern of operators may be partly related to the reasons for which they were being interviewed and involved in workshops, that is that they saw this study as being an indication of government interest and were worried that such interest would not be sustained.

Recommendations and Themes for Further Consideration

7.51 This section discusses some of the areas emerging from the discussions that took place with businesses and tourists which could be further considered in developing the wildlife tourism industry in Scotland.

7.52 Time and again the issue of representation of wildlife in national tourism marketing has been perceived as a problem by operators and tourists. Recognising that VisitScotland does have a dedicated wildlife tourism site, has included wildlife images in broader campaigns and does undertake targeted marketing to wildlife tourists, the industry perceptions of poor representation of wildlife do have to be considered carefully, possibly by a review of national level marketing for wildlife that should determine if the industry views on this representation are correct or if there are problems of representing what national level marketing bodies are doing to the industry. Such a review could then determine necessary actions, which might be greater communication of marketing to operators, including how they can tie in their products to forthcoming national level campaigns, or creating more effective and integrated web-links, involving the industry in improving current marketing, and/or working more closely with Wild Scotland on campaigns that satisfy the needs of the current wildlife tourism sector.

7.53 The fact that the key months for wildlife tourism are on the shoulder of Scotland's main summer peak season makes it possible for wildlife tourism to extend the tourist season. VisitScotland could also consider whether the growing markets in wildlife tourism, such as the post-Springwatchers and 'activity plus wildlife' tourists, could be markets where they can get a greater return on marketing spend than some other markets that they currently give greater attention to. One way to do this might be to directly promote the opportunities to see wildlife in a region alongside existing attractions.

7.54 Wildlife tourism infrastructure can be improved in many ways, such as through more or improved wildlife watching infrastructure (e.g. hides, picnic benches, lay-bys) in appropriate locations, marine parks, better signage of attractions and better public transport infrastructure in remote areas. A review of wildlife tourism infrastructure would highlight specific cases and ways in which improvements can be implemented. It should also review infrastructure provided by private businesses, such as hides and visitor centres, and determine how, within funding arrangements, to ensure a common minimum quality of visitor experiences.

7.55 Various product development improvements can be developed by the public sector or private sector collaboration, such as a website (or part of another website, such as VisitScotland's or Wild Scotland's websites) giving more comprehensive information about wildlife in Scotland and where and when it is visible. Greater use could be made of literature and websites to promote wildlife maps, itineraries and guides as to what is available to see in a particular area at a particular time of year. Given the potential misunderstanding between private sector businesses and public sector authorities there should be closer attention paid to improving the communication channels from public sector departments. Within the current economic climate, funding new ventures or campaigns is likely to be challenging, therefore greater energy and emphasis should be placed on partnership and collaborative campaigns. This would go some way to overcome the perception from the private sector that there is a lack of 'joined-up' thinking.

7.56 Resource and visitor management is another area for consideration, with the potential as things stand for tourism numbers to not only damage the wildlife tourism industry but to lead to irreversible damage to wildlife. While statutory instruments do exist, such as the EU Habitats Directive that prohibits deliberate or reckless disturbance of a cetacean, resource protection at public sites needs to go beyond this to avoid a "tragedy of the commons" whereby different operators, or visitors acting independently, compete for closer views of wildlife. The extent to which voluntary codes of conduct between operators can address these problems could be considered. Carrying capacities could be considered at locations that have significant numbers of wildlife tourists, decided upon and then maintained by careful management of visitor numbers.

7.57 Quality standards within the wildlife tourism industry is another theme emerging from this research project, with emphasis on how accreditation, qualifications or training can be provided for wildlife guiding and interpretation activities. The public sector and industry could investigate the costs and benefits of such schemes, which would enhance the product as well as improve the recognition of tour guiding as a career choice and help to address resource and visitor management issues. While many operators will see this as something that they already do, the costs of accreditation should be low for those who are already providing skilled and knowledgeable guides that meet accreditation criteria, but would also protect them from the negative implications that other guides may have on the image of the wildlife sector in Scotland.

7.58 Finally, the strategic management of the sector has been highlighted as a weakness by operators. A stock-take of public sector and collaborative private sector activities relating to wildlife tourism would be a first step and should lead to the development of a strategic plan with the ability to encompass marketing, funding and if necessary legislative changes to provide joined-up support.