Science tourism opportunity looms for Lochaber

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Science tourism could be at the heart of future travel experiences in Lochaber, the Highlands and the Arctic, according to two research centres at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

The researchers, part of an international consortium, are calling for tourism businesses interested in developing products in remote destinations across a range of subjects such as marine science, geology, climate change, archaeology and local ecosystems to take part in the EU-funded project worth more than €1 million.

Led by the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland, the two-year scientific tourism (SCITOUR) project will help small businesses and start-ups based in remote northern regions to create, promote and sell new products offering tourists an educational experience, and help to diversify local economies.

The SCITOUR project has grown out of recent patterns whereby once remote destinations have become more accessible.

Though many Arctic destinations are closed to visitors this year, given fears about the spread of Covid-19 in small and vulnerable communities with little medical infrastructure, over the last decades Arctic and peri-Arctic regions have seen an increasing number of visitors.

The growth of the expedition cruise industry, cheaper accommodation and an increase in flights have all contributed to this trend.

The project is part-funded by the Northern Periphery and Arctic (NPA) Programme of the European Union.

It draws on the expertise of Perth College UHI’s Centre for Mountain Studies and the Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research at West Highland College UHI – which has a campus in Fort William and elsewhere in Lochaber and Skye – research bodies with experience of managing similar projects on slow adventure and ecotourism.

They will work with international partners at the University of Lapland, University of Iceland and Greenland National Museum, as well as tourism entrepreneurs and tourism marketing associations.

Fort William-based Dr Steve Taylor, Head of the Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research, explained: ‘In Scotland, we will be working closely with tourism entrepreneurs in remote areas to help them develop and market scientific tourism products.

‘Influenced by the idea of the academic field trip, where students are taken out into the field for an extended period of time to learn in the environment, this embraces a range of subjects such as marine science, climate change, geology, archaeology, astronomy, traditional knowledge, and local ecosystems.

‘We invite tourism businesses throughout the Highlands and Islands to get in touch with us if you are interested in being involved.’