New tourism body wants visitors to make ‘conscious choice’ to support Scotland’s local communities

Left to right: Marc Crothall, CEO of Scottish Tourism Alliance, Patricia Kent, manager at Callander Youth Project Trust, Carron Tobin, SCOTO facilitator, Russell Fraser, SCOTO Chair, Diane Smith, SCOTO coordinator. Front: Jack Wardrop, former modern apprentice and now youth worker with Callander Youth Project Trust.

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A new national tourism body is urging visitors to support community- owned tourism enterprises across Scotland and deliver a boost for local jobs and services as the sector rebuilds after Covid-19.

Scottish Community Tourism (SCOTO) is a new network of around 100 community- owned tourism organisations and enterprises, with representatives from the community tourism sector in Argyll and Lochaber among those driving the project.

SCOTO’s aim is to promote and represent the growing number of community run tourism ventures across Scotland.

It wants tourists to make a conscious choice to seek out accommodation, activities, and food and drink services offered by businesses that are owned and managed by local community bodies, where every pound spent is reinvested in local priorities, from the environment to jobs for young people, housing to wellbeing services.

The new body was formally launched on Monday April 25 with a series of promotional activities planned by members throughout the week.

A new interactive website has been designed to showcase Scotland’s wide range of independent, community owned cafes, community pubs, distilleries, accommodation providers, shops, cultural centres, outdoor attractions, festivals and other service providers including toilets and ATMs.

Members will be offered a free listing on the website and venues joining the network will receive SCOTO place-markers to identify them as community-owned enterprises.

Regional members include Jura Community Shop, Discover Tiree, the Columba Centre, Tiroran Community Forest and Bendoran Watersports in Mull, Oakwood Tourism and Crafts in Strontian, Knoydart Foundation and Eigg Camping Pods.

Lucy Conway is a founding director of SCOTO. She has been actively involved in local tourism, including Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, the charity that owns and manages the island on behalf of its residents.

Lucy said: ‘On Eigg, we’re proud of the fact that we are community-owned, that we generate all of our electricity from renewable sources and want to be carbon zero by 2030. We feel fortunate to live somewhere that combines incredible natural heritage and a beautiful landscape with a vibrant and growing population of creative people who work hard to make Eigg a fantastic place to live and visit.

‘Community-led tourism offers us an opportunity to share all this in a way that works for us, and ensures visitors have the best experience and know the money they spend here is invested back into the future of our island.’

Chairman of SCOTO Russell Fraser added: ‘There are dozens of examples of communities in Scotland taking ownership of local services and facilities and transforming them into successful community run tourism enterprises, but until now there has never been a dedicated body that represents their interests. SCOTO will provide that voice.

‘Our members are unlike other tourism providers because they are owned and operated by the communities they serve. Every penny spent with our members is an investment in our landscape, our culture, our people and their future.

‘Our vision of sustainable, regenerative tourism ensures that the benefits of tourism are felt across the community – through sustainable development, employment, improved connectivity and the natural environment. We want visitors in Scotland to make a conscious choice to support local tourism enterprises, knowing that their support will have immediate and long-lasting benefits for that community.’

The new organisation has received funding from the Scottish Government Tourism Leadership and Recovery Grant and has been supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, South of Scotland Enterprise, Scottish Enterprise and the Social Enterprise Academy.

Membership of the new body is open to community-owned tourism projects and businesses, organisations and individuals with an interest in the sector. For more information, visit scoto.co.uk