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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 19 March 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, United Kingdom Spring Statement (Implications for Economy and Public Spending), Mental Health and Incapacity Legislation (Review), Damages (Investment Returns and Periodical Payments) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Damages (Investment Returns and Periodical Payments) (Scotland) Bill, Decision Time, Scottish Tourism Month 2019


Contents


Scottish Tourism Month 2019

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-16004, in the name of Stuart McMillan, on Scottish tourism month 2019. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises that March is Scottish Tourism Month, which is coordinated by the Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA); understands that the aim of this is to engage, connect and inspire all of Scotland’s tourism businesses and organisations, as well as celebrate the enormous contribution that tourism makes to the economy; believes that the industry will come together to host a variety of sectoral, destination and business events under the mantra, Tourism is Everyone’s Business; understands that the month offers an opportunity for anyone and everyone to get involved in the networking events and tourism conversations all over the country, including Scotland’s Marine Tourism Conference, which takes place at the Beacon Arts Centre in the Greenock and Inverclyde constituency on 6 March; considers Inverclyde to be the country’s marine tourism capital; notes the calls for everyone to engage with the month, and hopes that the annual conference of the STA on 13-14 March is a success in bringing stakeholders together and proves to be impactful and inspiring.

17:02  

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

I thank every member who signed the motion to allow the debate to take place. I am a member of the Parliament’s Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, as well as convener of the cross-party groups on tourism and on recreational boating and marine tourism, so I am delighted to lead the debate.

Members will have heard the phrase, “Tourism is everyone’s business”. That is not just a catchy soundbite—it is a fact. Tourism plays a huge part in the success of major events such as the Solheim cup, which will take place in Fife later this year, the European indoor athletics championships that recently took place in Glasgow, the rugby tourism that happens every year through the six nations tournament and the autumn tests, and the many local highland games that happen across the nation.

Across the nation, there are also a million and one tourism opportunities that entice people to see them—including, in your constituency, Presiding Officer, Thirlestane castle in Lauderdale and the Tempest Brewing Company in Galashiels. In Emma Harper’s region is the Heads of Ayr farm park, which has something for children of all sizes and ages. In Gillian Martin’s constituency is the Glen Garioch distillery—I hope that I have pronounced that properly—which is Scotland’s most easterly distillery. I have mentioned the areas of those two members because I know that they will speak on behalf of the Scottish National Party in the debate.

Then, of course, there is the wonderful constituency of the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, where people can visit Linlithgow palace and the Linlithgow canal centre.

Members: Sook!

Stuart McMillan

Yes, I know.

Our country has tourism offers in abundance—it really has something for everyone. I particularly like a comment that was made by the chair of VisitScotland, Lord Thurso:

“Scotland for me is a land of innovation based on our glorious traditions. Both sides of that are important. We should celebrate our heritage of kilts, shortbread and heather along with our educational strengths and our inventiveness.”

I could not agree more.

My motion highlights that March is Scottish tourism month, which is organised by the Scottish Tourism Alliance. I warmly welcome that excellent initiative because it highlights many things. First, it is a celebration of what tourism brings to the nation, and to local communities. Secondly, it makes more people in our nation and elsewhere appreciate what we have to offer. Scotland might be a nation that is small in size, but we more than make up for that in when it comes to the stature of our many unique selling propositions and what we have given the world. I thank the STA for its excellent efforts and the work that it does all year round to promote Scotland as a tourism destination.

I also highlight the recent Sail Scotland marine tourism conference at the wonderful Beacon arts centre in my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency. The conference was on a return visit to Inverclyde, and the location was fitting. Marine tourism plays a growing role in the tourism economy, and the work of our cross-party group in helping to deliver the first marine tourism strategy is something of which I am immensely proud. With only a small part of our country having a border and the rest being surrounded by water, there was a glaring opportunity to be worked on, and it is now bearing fruit.

The absolutely shameless plug that I am about to offer for my constituency could go on all night, but I will highlight just two examples. First, Inverclyde is Scotland’s marine tourism capital. Whether it is recreational boating, with Kip marina being the home of Scotland’s boat show in October, or the growing number of cruise liners that are arriving, we are delivering more every year. When the new cruise ship visitor centre opens in Greenock, it will include some of the works of the late iconic George Wyllie, who lived in Gourock. The even bigger opportunity for cruise tourism is for more ships to use Greenock as their departure point, thereby encouraging more hotels to open up in the Greenock and Inverclyde constituency. That was touched on in an article in yesterday’s Greenock Telegraph, as an operator is looking to invest in Inverclyde.

Secondly, this is an important year for the history and legacy of one of Scotland’s greatest sons: James Watt. The cabinet secretary will be aware of my efforts to create a James Watt festival to mark the bicentenary of his death. Watt is a gift from Greenock to the world. The McLean museum is to be renamed the Watt institution, and it will reopen this year after its refurbishment, which has been part funded by Historic Environment Scotland and by Inverclyde Council. I was delighted to hear today that the James Watt commemorative tartan has now been agreed by the Scottish register of tartans.

I have unashamedly focused on some of the positive elements of tourism in our nation, but I also want to touch on three of the challenges. There is no doubt but that some members will raise the issue of the transient visitor levy; it is important that that issue be debated sensibly. The cabinet secretary made it clear last week that it will not be introduced until 2021 at the earliest, and that local authorities will have the choice whether to use it. I understand the argument against it, with VAT being so high. That being the case, what would be the financial impact if VAT were to be reduced and the levy brought in? A strong and logical argument could well then be deployed that it should be a national levy and not a local power. That would, however, fly in the face of devolving more responsibilities to local authorities.

A second challenge is the environment. I have raised with the Scottish Government before the issue that some camper-van drivers dump their human waste at the roadside instead of at appropriate sites. A constituent who raised the issue with me came back to my office and spoke to me about it again yesterday. He has also raised his concerns with the Caravan Club. He has been a caravaner for more than 50 years and is angry that some people from Scotland and elsewhere think that it is fine to dump their human waste illegally instead of paying a nominal fee to keep Scotland clean.

The third challenge is Brexit. The respected travel writer and author, Simon Calder, has stated:

“The travel industry is in complete disarray - flights from Edinburgh to Germany for £13 on 1 April, or a week’s package in Malta for £180. Westminster is committing criminal damage against Scottish tourism.”

Politicians need to listen. Mr Calder made his comments last week at the STA signature sessions event.

I will conclude on a positive note—something on which we can all agree. VisitScotland does an excellent job and its helps to partner many organisations together. It has become a widely respected international body and has shown great leadership in tourism. The Scottish Government’s themed years have certainly been a boost for VisitScotland: I am particularly looking forward to the 2020 year of Scotland’s coast and waters.

I want to say happy 50th birthday to everyone at VisitScotland. Thank you for what you have done and for what you will continue to do. Here’s to the next 50 years.

17:10  

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I congratulate my friend and colleague, Stuart McMillan, on securing the debate.

“The aim of Scottish tourism month is to engage, connect and inspire all Scotland’s tourism businesses and organisations”

and to celebrate the enormous contribution of oor tourism industry to Scotland’s economy.”

I commend Stuart McMillan for his in-depth contribution. It is clear that he has fantastic knowledge of the contribution that tourism, including marine tourism, makes to Scotland’s economy.

“Tourism is everyone’s business” is the driving message behind the month-long event, which is an opportunity for everyone to get involved in networking events and tourism conversations across oor country.

On Saturday, I attended a Cycling UK Scotland networking event, which was held in Dalbeattie in my South Scotland region, as part of its national campaign to engage with community cycling groups across Scotland. The event was attended by Lee Craigie, who is Scotland’s new active nation commissioner; Sally Hinchcliffe, who is a founder of Cycling Dumfries; and Jeff Frew, who is the local Cycling UK co-ordinator for Dumfries and Galloway. The main subject was how we can improve the cycling infrastructure across south-west Scotland in order to better connect communities and to attract more active travel and active tourism to the area. Active tourism would benefit the local economy—cycling and walking are key for oor region.

As members might know, we have many of the world-class 7stanes mountain bike trails, numerous on-road cycle routes, and now a new regional BMX track in Newton Stewart for people to enjoy. However, there is a need for the road routes, pathways and cycleways, and even the waterways for paddle sports, to be better connected. Following representations from constituents and local organisations, I have written to the Scottish Government, Borderlands growth deal officers, and Dumfries and Galloway Council about that.

Across Dumfries and Galloway, we have a rich selection of micro and small food and drink businesses, many of which are known across the region for their excellent quality. Many of those businesses are working together with partners including VisitScotland and DG Food and Drink, which is managed by Lorna Young.

In Dumfries, we have the Palmerston cafe, which opened in 1969. It offers a range of more than 50 flavours of award-winning ice cream, from traditional favourites such as old-fashioned vanilla, to more exotic flavours including Irn Bru, bubble gum and—my favourite—jaffa cake. I assure members that lots of insulin is needed for that one.

In Dalbeattie, the Galloway Soup Company cafe makes a wide range of soups using the finest local ingredients and has a shop that is loaded with other great food and drink from Dumfries and Galloway. In Castle Douglas, In House Chocolates by Design, which is an award-winning local shop that offers bespoke chocolate treats, is also doing great business. In Stranraer, Henrys Bay House restaurant serves Scotland’s finest seafood, including the delicious local Loch Ryan oysters. We are also lucky to have the best produce in Scotland: Scotch beef, Scotch lamb, venison, gin, whisky and even Galloway-grown chillies, which are made into great hot sauces.

Although I do not have time to talk about all the fabulous work across Dumfries and Galloway, I will mention some of our world-renowned visitor attractions, which I encourage all to visit and enjoy. The Stranraer oyster festival, which is now in its third year, is attracting more visitors to Stranraer, with an economic input of about £1 million in 2018. The redevelopment of Stranraer waterfront is another exciting project that is getting under way.

We have the world-famous Wigtown book festival, which oor First Minister spoke at last year, the luminaire festival in Kirkcudbright, Dumfries and Kirkcudbright farmers markets, the big Burns supper, the dark sky park and the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Partnership. The list is endless.

In conclusion, I pay tribute to all the businesses, people and organisations who are working hard to make the region as attractive as possible to visitors. I ask the Scottish Government, particularly in view of the formation of the south of Scotland economic partnership ahead of the new enterprise agency, to make sure that our infrastructure—including roads, rail, ferries and, let us not forget, provision for active travel and oor cyclists and walkers—is the best infrastructure, to ensure that people come to visit our most braw and bonnie corner of Scotland.

17:15  

Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

I join my colleagues in thanking Stuart McMillan for bringing to the chamber this debate on Scottish tourism month, which is co-ordinated by the Scottish Tourism Alliance. I am sure that everyone in the chamber will agree that Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and that we are lucky to call it home.

Earlier this month, I was delighted—and not unsurprised—to see that tourist numbers in the north of Scotland were up by more than 5 per cent. The Press and Journal reported that notable visitor increases were seen at various National Trust for Scotland properties, and that significant numbers were recorded at distilleries and whisky-related attractions, including the Royal Lochnagar distillery in my constituency.

Just this past weekend, I was in Orkney, and was lucky enough to visit Skara Brae. Catching a moment to read the local weekly paper, The Orcadian, I learned that Historic Environment Scotland has noted that that heritage site had a record-breaking year in 2018 and was the sixth most-visited heritage site in the country, with nearly 112,000 visitors.

At this point, I would like to note my entry in the register of members’ interests in relation to a number of tourism businesses that I am involved in, from promoting local artisans to providing family-friendly accommodation.

Tourism is a necessary and welcome part of our sustainable future, as we diversify economically from oil and gas, and I am proud to play my part in it. I am also proud to be part of clan Burnett. Many relatives of the clan from all over the world have been encouraged to come and learn about its history. Ancestral tourism has played an important part in drawing visitors to Scotland, and our clan is no exception. There has been a Burnett gathering at Crathes every four years since 1992. Numbers have risen each year, with 2017 seeing more than 200 Burnetts visit Deeside from around the world. I am sure that such a volume of Burnetts might not appeal to everyone but—joking aside—clan gatherings have huge potential for Scottish tourism, and I have seen at first hand the benefit that they can bring to the local tourism industry. Those who flocked to our gathering from afar also attended the Aboyne games, took bus tours around Deeside, visited local National Trust properties, and many went on to other places in Scotland—in particular, Edinburgh and the Highlands. All that resulted in a contribution to Scotland’s economy of more than £250,000.

The north-east continues to build on its tourism successes, and 2020 will see the opening of the £350 million extension of Aberdeen harbour. Yvonne Cook from VisitAberdeenshire noted that that will be a game changer, because it will allow ships carrying several thousand people to dock. That can only result in boosting of local tourist attractions’ visitor numbers, so businesses across Aberdeenshire are eagerly anticipating the harbour opening.

Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

Does Alexander Burnett agree that not everyone wants to come off a ship and immediately get on a bus, and that it is important that there are attractions within walking distance of the new harbour at Nigg Bay, including in Torry, in my constituency?

Alexander Burnett

I very much agree. It is important to realise that, with so many visitors, not everybody is immediately going to jump on a bus and head up to Deeside, although we hope that many will. I am sure that people in Aberdeen will take every opportunity to do as much as they can to encourage those visitors into Aberdeen and elsewhere in Aberdeenshire.

The area is also about to see the opening of a brand-new exhibition centre at Dyce. I saw its impressive size as I flew back from Orkney yesterday, and I have no doubt that it will help to attract bigger events to the area and will offer even more opportunities for businesses to engage.

Scottish tourism month aims to bring together and inspire all Scotland’s tourism businesses, and I am lucky to have seen the benefits that collaboration can bring to local communities and the economy.

I have no doubt that Scotland will continue to prosper and flourish, and I look forward to another successful year for Scottish tourism.

17:19  

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

This evening’s debate is a good opportunity for the Parliament to recognise and celebrate Scottish tourism month. I congratulate Stuart McMillan on securing the debate and on his speech. I recognise the huge amount of organisation and preparation that goes into Scottish tourism month and the benefits and opportunities that it brings to Scotland’s tourism businesses and organisations.

Tourism is important to Scotland’s economy. It involves many businesses and employs people directly and indirectly. Tourists in Scotland generate around £12 billion of economic activity in the wider Scottish supply chain and contribute about £6 billion to Scottish gross domestic product. That represents about 5 per cent of total Scottish GDP. There has been growth in the number of people visiting Scotland from across the United Kingdom and internationally. There has been particularly strong growth in the number of visitors from Europe, and the sector is working hard to meet expectations and provide a quality experience.

The breadth of events that are taking place during Scottish tourism month demonstrates that the sector is working hard to play to Scotland’s strengths and offer unique experiences for travellers. As Stuart McMillan said, the marine tourism conference is promoting a growth area and looking forward to the year of Scotland’s coasts and waters in 2020. Showcasing events such as ScotHot and the Wild Scotland conference offer important opportunities for the sector to network, collaborate and ensure that businesses remain fresh and relevant. Scotland is doing well, but tourism is a competitive market and we need to work hard to demonstrate our value.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a discussion about staycations entitled “Should I stay or should I go?” with Fife College travel and tourism students. More than 70 students from across the campus attended. The students represent the future of the sector, so it was great to hear their ideas about what makes Scotland attractive and how we can increase the number of people who choose to holiday at home. The weather is, of course, a factor in people choosing Scotland as opposed to travelling abroad, but the students also discussed improving infrastructure and transport links and promoting more tourist cards that offer multiple discounts for the home market. The young people are enthusiastic about the sector and will be an asset to our tourism businesses.

Tourism supports jobs across Scotland and is a significant employer in parts of the country. However, the future is unpredictable, and, until our relationship with the European Union is resolved, we will not know the impact on tourism in many areas. Whatever happens, we know that Scotland will still have a story to tell. Our natural environment, our historic buildings—which are having a renaissance in popularity, thanks to enthusiasm for “Outlander” among other things—our wildlife and our Scottish food and drink sector are strengths and will remain so. We need to find ways to support the tourism sector in whatever the changed landscape will be.

There will be pressure on workforce and skills, and any new migration system must reflect Scotland’s needs. We also need to promote careers in the sector as being attractive. Organisations such as the Springboard Charity work to support people who are unemployed or from disadvantaged groups to pursue a career in tourism and gain new skills. An important part of attracting people into the sector is ensuring good pay and conditions and not allowing exploitative work practices. Unite the union’s fair hospitality campaign is doing great work on that. I also welcome the launch of the manifesto of chefs and cooks, which aims to put good practice at the heart of hospitality.

At the weekend, I was at Kirkcaldy’s food and drink festival, which was organised by Kirkcaldy 4 All as part of the Adam Smith festival. It was a good example of businesses, charities and colleges working together to promote their town, showcase its strengths and celebrate its history. Such hard work helps to promote the area and deliver multiple benefits, including for the tourism and hospitality sectors.

Scottish tourism month gives a focus to such collaborative working, which is important to the sector as it increasingly serves tourists who choose to come to Scotland for an experience that they cannot get anywhere else. I wish Scottish tourism a successful month and look forward to a positive future.

17:23  

Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) (Green)

I congratulate Stuart McMillan on bringing the debate to the chamber. As he said, there are aspects of the subject on which there is complete consensus across the Parliament, such as our pride in the country in which we live and the joy that we experience when we share what is great about Scotland with people who come to visit, whether they have come to experience older traditions to do with heather, golf and whisky or some of the newer aspects—I am thinking of the aim in the food and drink strategy to grow our brewing tradition. There are people who will travel far and wide for excellent beer, and Scotland should be proud of what it is producing in that regard.

As Claire Baker said, if the sector has continued success, that will strip away any justification among some operators for continuing to pay below the living wage or for using exploitative terms in contracts. We should be proud of having a thriving and successful tourism sector that treats all its workforce with the respect that they deserve.

There are also challenges that we need to debate honestly, as Stuart McMillan was right to point out. In particular, my colleague Andy Wightman has been working hard to say that there are good and bad practices in accommodation, particularly in places like Edinburgh. His work on short-term lets offers us the opportunity to distinguish between them. We can have great quality tourism, including the accommodation that is required, without the negative consequences that have been created in some communities.

An Edinburgh resident who wrote to Andy Wightman at the start of his campaign said:

“I live in a tenement block in Edinburgh. When I moved into my flat there was a mixture of residents—old and young, single people and families with kids. Many were owner occupiers while others rented ... Now on my floor the other two flats are run as short term lets. One is a short term let all year round—it’s a residential flat purchased for purely commercial purposes.”

If we see more and more residential accommodation—part of our community fabric in urban and rural Scotland—turned over to short-term letting businesses, it will come with consequences that are not good for the places where we live. We do not want to turn Scotland into a lowest-common-denominator tourism offering; we want to maintain strong, vibrant, enjoyable communities that are places that people will want to continue to visit and return to. I fear that, if people feel that they are visiting communities that are not being well looked after, they will not return.

Another issue that Stuart McMillan mentioned is taxation. I am not entirely sure what he meant by turning the transient visitor levy into a national proposal, because, to me, that would undermine its core purpose. For example, it would not go to fund our local councils, which invest in such things as streets, pavements, the urban environment, the built environment and even things as basic as toilet facilities—which Highland Council, in particular, has been keen to stress are really important to the quality of tourists’ experiences when they come to visit. Giving councils the ability to raise revenue locally is critical to maintaining an attractive place that people will want to visit again.

Stuart McMillan

If Mr Harvie reads the Official Report, I am sure that he will see that that was not what I was arguing for. I was highlighting the fact that, if some people argue for a reduction in VAT—which I disagree with—others could argue that the scheme should become a national rather than a local scheme.

Patrick Harvie

I apologise if I misunderstood the point. We have a commitment that what will be consulted on will be a locally determined tax, and I look forward to the Government continuing to commit to that.

Other, longer-term challenges that Scotland will have to face include the diversification of our economy away from oil and gas, which Mr Burnett mentioned. Not just in Scotland but globally, we face a crisis of our very survival, and moving from oil and gas extraction to an economy that depends on ever-greater levels of aviation is not a solution to that. We need to do what we can to make sure that people have good, affordable, accessible opportunities to visit Scotland by surface routes. At the moment, for example, a big tax cut through air passenger duty or the air departure tax would give a huge subsidy to local flights in the UK. A huge proportion of that tax cut would subsidise unnecessary short-haul aviation, which we cannot afford to see continue to grow.

I commend the work that we have done on the case for an aviation tax that limits environmental damage, because, unless we look after the environment, which is the foundation of what makes Scotland such an attractive place to visit, we may see short-term growth but long-term decline, which is not something that any of us should welcome.

17:29  

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I join other members in thanking Stuart McMillan and congratulating him on securing this debate on a sector that genuinely touches and has an impact on every corner of the country. Mr McMillan and I enjoy a good-natured rivalry over whose constituency attracts more cruise liners over the course of a season. Orkney is set to have 164 liners this year, so I am quietly confident that we may still have the upper hand. That is not without its challenges, and I will come to some of those shortly. Nevertheless, it is worth emphasising that Orkney is benefiting from the growth in tourism, as are communities across the country and Scotland as a whole.

After Alexander Burnett’s spoiler alert, I can confirm that tourism in Orkney is on the up. The statistics from VisitScotland suggest a 22 per cent increase in visitor numbers between 2013 and 2017—up to about 340,000, with average spend up over the same period and an overall contribution to the Orkney economy of about £50 million by 2017. That is not bad at all for a community of 21,000 people. That is a success story, and it has not gone unnoticed. A decade ago, I referred in the Parliament to something that “Lonely Planet” had said, suggesting that Orkney is the

“glittering centrepiece in Scotland’s treasure chest of attractions”.

The shine has not come off that centrepiece in the intervening years. In the Halifax survey in 2019, Orkney was voted the best place to live. Kirkwall was voted top of the stops by passengers of the prestigious Viking Cruises for north Europe and Scandinavia. Orkney was also the runner-up in the “Countryfile” competition to find the best UK holiday destination for 2019—we have, of course, asked for a recount in that contest.

That all reflects the growing reputation of Orkney as a quality destination, which is important. It is not just a numbers game; it has to be about the quality and sustainability of what we offer. Orkney has natural assets, with its stunning landscapes and marine environment, with internationally renowned UNESCO sites, with world-class food and drink and with a hugely creative arts and crafts sector—the list goes on. We have found a way of harnessing all of that, and I pay tribute to the Orkney gateway project, which is a testament to the efforts, vision and collaboration of many partners including Destination Orkney, Orkney Islands Council and VisitScotland. There is the upcoming year of coasts and waters, in 2020, and the year of Scotland’s stories, in 2022. Both of those celebrations play very much to Orkney’s strengths. I am also delighted that Orkney is to host the international island games in 2023, which is a further opportunity to showcase what Orkney has to offer.

Stuart McMillan, Patrick Harvie and others have a right to enter a note of caution. We cannot be complacent or simply rest on a numbers game, and the success has come with many challenges. More active management of the tourists coming to Orkney will be required to take pressure off some of the busier sites and make better use of the wider assets that we have. Key to that will be our internal transport links—in particular, the replacement of our ageing ferry fleet that operates between the smaller isles. That is something on which the Scottish Government will need to step up to the plate.

Orkney and Shetland routes also require the road equivalent tariff to be implemented, not just in the interests of fairness but to remain competitive in tourism. VisitScotland has made real strides, but there is more that it could be doing to disperse tourists from the central belt by promoting the regions and the diversity of the product that Scotland has to offer. Furthermore, in Orkney we have world-class heritage sites, as I have said, but we still do not have the world-class infrastructure to support them. Historic Environment Scotland needs to keep working with local partners to deliver that infrastructure over the coming years.

It is right, in Scottish tourism month, to recognise and celebrate our successes and what we have to offer. However, given the importance of the sector not just to Orkney but to all parts of Scotland, we cannot be complacent and rest on our laurels. Tourism month is an opportunity to remind ourselves of that.

I thank Stuart McMillan once again, and I wish all those working in the sector a highly successful 2019 season.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

There are still four members who wish to take part in the debate, so I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3 of the standing orders, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by 30 minutes.—[Stuart McMillan]

Motion agreed to.

17:34  

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

I, too, thank Stuart McMillan for securing the debate. I also thank him for mentioning Scotland’s most easterly distillery, which is in my constituency. I think that I might have to bring him another bottle down.

I have spoken quite a lot before about the part that Aberdeenshire plays in our tourism offer. Last year, I used a debate to highlight the literary and cultural tour that people can do in Aberdeenshire East if they are so minded. This year, I want to talk specifically about Aberdeenshire’s long-standing environmental and nature tourism offer, which has the potential to really take off, given the right support.

First, I will go to my personal happy place: Newburgh beach and the Forvie national nature reserve. The reserve is home to a myriad of coastal bird species and has long been the twitcher destination of choice in the north-east. People go there from all over the UK to watch birds. However, in the past 10 years, the north side of the mouth of the River Ythan has become the resting point for the largest grey seal colony in the whole of the UK, and we have seen a great surge in the number of people who come to Newburgh just to see the seals.

I am working with residents of Newburgh to assist them in improving the visitor access to the beach and resurfacing the car park, which has been in a state for as long as I can remember. There is an infrastructure issue there, and I take on board what Liam McArthur said about infrastructure. The roads and tracks that lead to areas of natural beauty are often not managed by the council, so they fall into disrepair, and local community groups can find it quite difficult to maintain those routes. That is certainly the case in Newburgh, but we are hopeful. In particular, we want to make the beach more accessible to people in wheelchairs and people whose mobility is maybe not what it was when they were younger and who enjoyed that experience in their younger days. We should be able to continue to offer that.

We want to ensure that there is great access to the south shore, which is the best place to view the grey seal colony. I have met people from all over the world who have made a detour from the more obvious tourist spots in the west of Aberdeenshire, which Alexander Burnett mentioned, such as Braemar and the royal Deeside trail, which people automatically associate with Aberdeenshire. People are drifting towards the east specifically to visit our seals.

Two summers ago, we gained more fans, as a humpback whale and her calf came into the estuary at low tide to feed over a period of two months. The area therefore became the whale destination of the north-east, as well.

I agree with Maureen Watt that there is much more to Aberdeenshire than the west, as beautiful as it is. That is a very well-known area.

I hope that the redevelopment of Peterhead harbour will accommodate cruise ships. That is a huge opportunity for ecotourism in my and Stewart Stevenson’s areas.

Along the coast from Newburgh are Hackley Bay, Collieston and Whinnyfold, where colonies of puffins nest around this time of year, to add to our many seabird populations. Sightings of dolphins there are not uncommon. Torry, which is in Maureen Watt’s constituency, has the best place to view dolphins. I congratulate the RSPB on the work that it is doing there with dolphinwatch.

Lots of businesses have sprung up off the back of that coastal tourism offer. That leads me on to the theme of the tourism event that I led with VisitScotland in Fyvie castle last July. We spent a day talking about agritourism. There is a huge emerging market for agritourism and experience-type holidays. We heard from experts in the field, who, in effect, just talked about holidays literally in a field. We heard about farmers who offered farm holidays in which helping out at the farm is part of the experience. That is a great thing for young families to do. What can be better than the kids spending a weekend feeding lambs, collecting eggs and getting out and about in an environment that they may not have ready access to?

Before I sit down, I want to mention the Sime family, who have really grabbed the ecotourism experience. That family have set up one of the few gin distilleries that make gin from scratch. They make it using locally sourced materials, and they are going to expand their business to include glamping and tours around the many stone circles in Aberdeenshire. People are grabbing the idea of experience agritourism in my area.

I always used to say that Aberdeenshire East is the best-kept secret, but I will not be saying that for much longer if people continue at this pace.

17:39  

Tom Mason (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank Stuart McMillan for giving us the opportunity to debate Scottish tourism month. The tourism industry is one of the most important sectors of our economy not just because of the jobs that it supports and the revenue that is raised but because it promotes Scotland overseas. With that in mind, I am pleased to join colleagues in welcoming Scottish tourism month.

Across the country, tourism’s positive impact on our economy is clear to see. Of all Scottish businesses, 8 per cent are involved in tourism, which generates almost £4 billion in gross value added every year. We outperform the rest of the UK in attracting tourists, and Edinburgh is the top UK destination outside London. Not only that, but Scotland was voted the most beautiful and most welcoming country in the world in 2017 by Rough Guide readers. To be frank, it is easy to see why that is the case. Those remarkable feats are certainly worthy of celebration in the Parliament and beyond.

My region has a wide variety of tourist attractions that are great for bringing people to the north-east. VisitAberdeenshire points out that its area alone has five ski centres, eight distilleries, 55 golf courses and 263 castles, not to mention royal Deeside and the Cairngorm national park. No matter what takes people’s fancy, we have got it all.

As an Aberdeen councillor, I must point to the new facilities there that have just been finished or are about to be finished, such as the refurbished music hall; the refurbished and extended art gallery; the brand-new 6,000-seat exhibition centre, which was achieved with little central Government support; and the harbour redevelopment, which will enable the largest cruise ships to dock and allow people from around the world to experience the best of our hospitality.

In speaking of excellent art exhibitions and festivals, I should mention Nuart, which is an international public street art festival that was recently voted the best cultural event at the Aberdeen city and shire tourism awards. For those who are quick, tickets are also available for the jazz festival next week.

However, I fear that our friends in Dundee might be able to top all that with the new V&A museum, which has been nothing short of transformational for the city. I urge colleagues who have not yet visited it to do so as a matter of haste.

All things considered, it is great that we have events such as Scottish tourism month, which is great for celebrating the successes that we have seen, assessing the challenges that are ahead and working on how best to support the industry. In relation to the work that we do here, the main issue that tourism organisations raise with me is the prospect of the transient visitor levy—the tourist tax. I have doubts about whether it would be the correct approach for the north-east, but there is still some road to travel. I am sure that I will not be alone in keeping a close eye on progress here in the months to come.

With that said, we have a great deal to celebrate in our tourism industry, and I am delighted to celebrate it today. Scottish tourism month is a great venture that I hope will focus our minds on how to put our tourism organisations in the best circumstances to succeed in the months and years that are ahead. I wish everybody involved well and look forward to seeing the progress that they are working so hard to achieve.

17:43  

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

I join others in thanking Stuart McMillan for bringing the debate to the chamber. I have no whisky for him, but the debate gives me an excuse to talk about my beautiful constituency—not that I need much of an excuse.

As members know, my constituency includes Loch Lomond, Helensburgh—that well-known seaside town on the Clyde—the Arrochar alps, Dumbarton castle and much more. I invite all members, and particularly the cabinet secretary, to visit. Whether visitors seek nature, historic sites, cultural events or even thrill-seeking adventures, we punch above our weight. We have whisky, too, and award-winning breweries.

For those seeking history, Dumbarton castle has the longest recorded history of any stronghold in Scotland. Built on a volcanic plug that was formed hundreds of millions of years ago, and overlooking the River Clyde, the castle is a sight to see and dominates the vista. In fact, I always used to say to Stuart McMillan’s predecessor Duncan McNeil that he had the better view, because he looked across at my constituency.

Dumbarton castle is, of course, home to several famous and important figures such as Mary, Queen of Scots, the wizard Merlin and Napoleon Bonaparte. I bet that members did not know that Napoleon narrowly avoided being exiled to Dumbarton castle, preferring Elba instead. I cannot imagine why, Presiding Officer.

Another major historical figure is Robert the Bruce. I commend the campaign that my local newspaper, the Lennox Herald, is running to recognise the contribution that Robert the Bruce made to shaping Scotland and, indeed, Dumbarton. Given that he lived some of his life in Renton and Cardross and that St Serf’s church is one of the burial sites for his remains, it makes sense for him to be commemorated in my constituency. I hope to engage the cabinet secretary in a discussion about how the Scottish Government could help that development in my local area.

Then there is Loch Lomond, which is the largest loch in the UK by surface area and the second largest by volume. It is such a tremendous, peaceful place, but, for anyone seeking excitement, boating and water sports are available, including kayaking, water-skiing and the great Scottish swim in August—it is a bit cold, Presiding Officer, but I recommend it. If members prefer something a bit more sedate, we have the restoration of the PS Maid of the Loch and award-winning cruises on the loch by Sweeney’s Cruise Co and Cruise Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond is just tremendous.

For those who prefer climbing to the water, we have the Arrochar alps, and there are Highland games in Balloch, Helensburgh, Luss and Roseneath. You name it—we’ve got it.

For those who want to get away from it all, we have several high-quality hotels that I would recommend to my colleagues, including the award-winning Knockderry country house hotel. Built around 1846 as a summer retreat, it is now a picturesque hotel overlooking Loch Long and the Argyllshire hills. There are many others. Indeed, I am sure that Patrick Harvie, as a former local, would add to that list.

Patrick Harvie

Absolutely. Rather than recommending the caves round the back of Dumbarton rock as a favourite bunking-off spot when I was a kid, I express my surprise that Jackie Baillie has not mentioned one of my favourite tourist attractions: the Faslane blockades. So many people come to her constituency to go to the blockades from across Europe and far beyond. Will she join me in welcoming that continued, repeat tourism that her constituency gains from?

Jackie Baillie

Absolutely not—not least because those people come, they block the roads, they get arrested, they spend no money in the area and they cause disruption for the genuine tourists who want to experience the beauty of my constituency. I will press on.

Much of my area is covered by Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park. The scenery is beautiful; it is breathtaking. If further proof was needed, the numbers of tourists are increasing—everybody from day-trippers to weekend visitors and those passing through on their journey up to the north. They come from Glasgow, Edinburgh and beyond; they come from all parts of Europe, including Spain, Portugal, France and Germany; they come from America; and, increasingly, they come in huge coachloads from China.

We live in a beautiful country, and I am pleased that others come to enjoy and experience our culture and history. They spend money when they are doing so, contributing importantly to our economy. We should welcome them, and we should make sure that we keep them coming.

I thank the Scottish Tourism Alliance for its efforts in organising this month of tourism. I hope that we continue to see many more visitors.

17:49  

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I, too, thank Stuart McMillan for bringing this debate on Scottish tourism to the chamber. I associate myself with Jackie Baillie’s speech—well, most of it, although perhaps not her comments about Faslane. As a city boy from just outside Glasgow, Luss has always been a tourist spot for me. My brother got married there last year—it was a beautiful setting for his wedding.

However, I am here to talk about my constituency. I was not planning to speak. I know that folk across the chamber will be thinking that they would not naturally associate Coatbridge and Chryston with tourism but, as the local MSP, I feel that it is my job to change people’s minds. I cannot give other MSPs the opportunity to shamelessly promote their constituencies without a reply.

When people think about Coatbridge, and Lanarkshire more generally, they think about the area’s strong industrial past. If people are looking to learn about Scotland’s industrial past, they should visit Summerlee museum of Scottish industrial life, which is run by CultureNL. It is an absolutely fabulous facility where people can go down a real mine, ride on a real tram from the past, take a walk on the Vulcan, which is docked on the old Monkland canal, and much, much more. It is a great visit for kids and adults alike.

We also have the Time Capsule, whose tag line is “half ice, half water—a whole lot of fun”. My wee boy and I use the water park fairly regularly. Recently, there have been worries that its future might be in jeopardy, but a very strongly supported online petition has ensured that that speculation has been put to an end—at least for now. Although I would like the water park to go back to its glory days of being open throughout the week, which makes it more accessible, I am glad that it is still open at weekends and during school holidays. If anybody is planning to go along, I recommend going on Saturday or Sunday nights, when it is a bit quieter. However, if people like their whirlpools absolutely mobbed, it is best to go on weekends during the day.

If people want to go outdoors in the area, they can go to Drumpellier country park, which is part of the fabulous seven lochs wetland park project. A lot of work has been done through the project to involve a lot of youngsters and local schools, who benefit from outdoor learning and outdoor play. People can cycle or walk, there are running groups and there is boating on the loch in the summer months. There is a lot to do. It is great to have such a park in what is mainly a very urban constituency.

In the same vein, Gartcosh nature reserve is pretty nearby. It is an important site, because it holds the largest colony in Scotland of great crested newts—a protected species. The nature reserve is a very relaxing area, but groups and kids from the local school can learn about the great crested newt and what its existence means for the ecosystem and the environment.

Those are just a few of the attractions in Coatbridge and Chryston. It is a fabulous area to visit, and it probably does not get the credit that it deserves. We also have lots of good food places, including the Mad Batter bakery and coffee shop, the Inn on the Loch and the coffee shop at Coatbridge Sunnyside station. There is lots and lots to do—people can spend the whole day in the area.

I have just been to Skye with the Equalities and Human Rights Committee, so I know that we have absolutely fabulous attractions all over Scotland. Every MSP could talk for minutes and minutes about things to do in their constituencies or regions. The debate has been great. I did not plan on speaking, but I am glad that I have taken the opportunity to do so.

A couple of months ago, when my five-year-old and I were looking for a wee adventure, we went out and found Blawhorn Moss nature reserve, which is run by Scottish Natural Heritage—what a hidden wee gem that is, if anybody is looking for something to do outdoors. I thought that I would mention that, given that the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, whose constituency is not too far from my own, is summing up.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

After a tour around most of Scotland, I ask the cabinet secretary to close for the Government.

17:53  

The Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs (Fiona Hyslop)

I thank Stuart McMillan for securing the debate, and I thank members for their speeches. The debate and the many activities that are taking place throughout Scottish tourism month, which I and other ministers have attended, have highlighted to me the passion that exists for the country’s tourism sector. I am pleased to hear about members’ activities in supporting Scottish tourism month. Tourism really is everyone’s business and is everywhere, including, as we have just heard, in Fulton MacGregor’s constituency in the central belt. The fact that his constituency borders mine shows that there are nature reserves to visit right in the centre of Scotland—people do not always need to go to the rural areas that we might recognise.

Today’s debate very much reflects the themes that are at the forefront of the Scottish Government’s approach to the visitor economy: delivering a successful tourism sector, enhancing Scotland’s international reputation and looking to opportunities for the future.

Scottish tourism has been doing well. The number of international visitors is growing strongly at a time when numbers for the rest of the UK have been decreasing. To help cope with the increasing number of tourists across Scotland, we have allocated £3.6 million to the first 21 successful projects supported by our rural tourism infrastructure fund, improving facilities in communities throughout rural Scotland. As Tom Mason pointed out, we have also seen the opening of the world-class V&A Dundee, which has contributed to significant increases in footfall at other visitor attractions in Dundee and the surrounding region.

Last month, the First Minister announced our support for the Andrew Fairlie scholarships, which will provide a fabulous opportunity for two young chefs to further their careers—a further boost to our food and drink sector, following the publication last August of the food and drink tourism action plan.

A key component of our tourism sector is our brand, which is founded on provenance and heritage—including Robert the Bruce, as Jackie Baillie mentioned—and is increasingly recognised at home and abroad. Alexander Burnett should be aware of the Scottish clan fund to support the tourism opportunities from clan and historical societies. I announced the latest funding round last week, alongside the Hawick Reivers Association.

Gillian Martin talked of tourists visiting Aberdeenshire for nature and beauty, and of the Newburgh seals. Tomorrow morning, I am speaking at the Visit Aberdeenshire event as part of Scottish tourism month. I am not sure that I can get glamping with gin in, but I will see what I can do.

The global public’s appetite for our fantastic produce is growing every year, and Scotland’s food and drink is now worth £14 billion, which is testament to the passion, dedication and entrepreneurship of the thousands of people who work across the industry. Emma Harper shone a spotlight on South Scotland’s fantastic natural larder.

Although we welcome this success, the tourism sector is fragile and we cannot be complacent. The international market is incredibly competitive, and we must continue to work extremely hard to draw visitors to Scotland and ensure they have an outstanding experience when they are here.

Patrick Harvie referred to diversification of businesses to tourism, and we have heard about agricultural tourism and agritourism as part of that growing experiential drive.

Liam McArthur talked about the competitiveness of the cruise market and of the need for sustainability, which we are very conscious of.

Visitor spend may have grown by more than 3 per cent last year, but that is not at all commensurate with the growth in visitor numbers, which means that visitors are spending less when they are here. Trying to encourage tourists to spend in the appropriate places and in the appropriate ways is an important part of how we market and how we attract visitors to the country. Rising costs to businesses will have exceeded the 3 per cent growth in spend in some cases, so there is real pressure in the industry.

Remaining competitive is a challenge, and the impressive headline figures mask some of the underlying pressures that Scotland’s businesses face. Perhaps the biggest issue facing Scotland is the need to continue to access labour under freedom of movement. It is estimated that, in the year to June 2018, the Scottish tourism sector employed 21,000 European Union nationals, who accounted for 11.6 per cent of those employed in the sector. The independent expert advisory group on migration and population has clearly outlined the harm that the UK Government’s proposals would have on Scotland, potentially reducing net migration by up to 50 per cent in the coming decades, thereby jeopardising Scotland’s economy, public services and future population growth. The Scottish Government has made it very clear that freedom of movement has enriched Scotland and must be allowed to continue. It is important for the tourism sector, in particular.

The sector needs our support. I am deeply committed to it and to enabling it to maximise its success, cope with the challenges and thrive in the future. As Claire Baker pointed out, it is vital that the sector continues to have the skills that are necessary to provide a high-quality tourism product that gives Scotland a competitive edge. The industry, in partnership with Skills Development Scotland, is already committed to bridging the skills gap and encouraging new entrants through the tourism skills investment plan, through which over 2,700 modern apprenticeship new starts were delivered in the sector in 2017-18. We are encouraging those new entrants to see tourism as a career of choice with rewarding opportunities, and we are championing the plan as a commitment in our programme for government.

It is important that those careers are built on a culture of fair work, as Patrick Harvie said. We have therefore committed to increasing the number of workers who are being paid the living wage, and we welcome the support of the tourism sector in achieving that.

We have been sensitive to the needs of our regions—in particular, those of the south of Scotland, where we are establishing a new enterprise agency and supporting the region through a dedicated marketing campaign and investment in infrastructure.

Our themed years have been a great success in driving collaboration. Next year’s year of coasts and waters will showcase the many and varied water-based opportunities that exist across the mainland and on our islands, and it represents a great opportunity for marine tourism, which is ably championed in the Parliament by Stuart McMillan.

The creation of the new national tourism strategy is well under way. It will look at the new and exciting tourism trends that are emerging and at what Scotland can offer the world by way of unique and world-class experiences.

Building on the incredible success of the European championships, the international island games will be held in Orkney in 2023. In the same year, we will bring the UCI cycling world championships to Scotland, which will be the first time ever that 13 cycling disciplines will have been brought together at the same time in one country. That will afford us the opportunity to use a prestigious major event to promote not just our country but sustainable transport, active lifestyles, our environment and our economy.

As we plan for the future of tourism in Scotland and the challenges that it will bring, it is vital that we continue to engage and to face those challenges together with the tourism industry. The coming year will bring opportunities. We need to grasp those and show the world that Scotland remains an open and welcoming nation. It is through the passion and dedication of the people who work in the sector that it thrives, but it is only by working together that we can ensure its future success. I commend the motion.

Meeting closed at 18:01.