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by Staff reporter
31 August 2023
Associate feature: Changing gear

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Associate feature: Changing gear

When Glasgow hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2014, it proved beyond doubt that the country could attract and organise sporting events on a global scale. Mike Hooper, who was then Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive, described it as “the standout games in the history of the movement”. It’s a reputation and legacy that has been built on with considerable flair, including most recently the Scottish Open in June. 

Approximately one million spectators attended the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships across Scotland this month. The event, billed as the world’s biggest in cycling, attracted a global TV audience and was expected to be among the top 10 most watched sporting events in the world.

Hosting the championships was an outstandingly prestigious achievement. UCI (the Union Cycliste Internationale) is the world governing body of cycling, recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The championships comprised 11 days of events at 10 venues across Scotland, with 8,000 elite and amateur competitors from over 130 countries, ending on 13 August. 

Featuring all the major cycling disciplines – road cycling, BMX, mountain biking, and track cycling – it included both male and female, as well as para, disciplines and greatly raised the awareness of the country as a leading cycling tourism destination.

More than 2.3 billion cycling tourism trips are taken in Europe annually, generating an estimated £37bn each year. Cycling is also a popular activity in Scottish tourism and the championships have created even greater potential to grow the value of this sector. VisitScotland agrees the event can be used to inspire both visitors and residents alike to enjoy the freedom that riding a bike can bring. 

As Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, says: “Bringing together 13 major world championships together in a two-week period was unique – the first time that’s ever been done. The world’s greatest got together across Scotland to compete at the highest level, make history, and show the world the power of the bike.”

This, and the scale and complexity involved, made it a major showcase event for Scotland, from road and time trials featuring elite athletes to the Gran Fondo (Big Race), a long-distance mass participation event that celebrated competitive cycling for everyone.

“The number and diversity of events was extraordinary,” Roughead continues. “The men’s elite road race began on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and the women’s at Loch Lomond, both ending in Glasgow, with mountain biking cross country through the Tweed Valley and the downhill at the Nevis Range in Fort William.” 

“Its legacy”, he adds, “will massively underpin Scotland’s reputation for hosting major set-piece events. In golf we’ve had the Ryder Cup in 2014 and the Solheim Cup in 2019, and we’ve also just had the Scottish National Open Water Swimming Championships earlier this month; and now, through cycling, we can build even more on our promotion of that as a visitor activity.” 

More widely, of course, it also helps with collective efforts to emphasise the health benefits of cycling and of getting people into active travel so that there’s greater participation in cycling across Scotland as a nation.

Cycling is also a perfect fit with Scottish tourism’s drive towards net zero. Supporting the urgent transition to a low-carbon economy is already a key pillar of VisitScotland’s Responsible Tourism Strategy. To underpin its belief that active travel by bike supports VisitScotland’s own responsible tourism and net zero ambitions, the organisation is supporting the £1.4m Community Cycling Fund, a partnership between EventScotland (part of VisitScotland), sportscotland and the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships.

When it comes to marketing Scotland as a cycling destination, Roughead is keen to ensure a broad geographical spread in terms of the products, facilities and experiences that Scotland has to offer. One of these is the new Kirkpatrick C2C, the South of Scotland’s coast-to-coast route. It covers 250 miles for experienced cyclists, from Stranraer in the west to Eyemouth in the east, and it is named after Kirkpatrick Macmillan, the blacksmith who created the first pedal-driven bicycle almost 200 years ago. 

In the Highlands, the Laggan Forest Trust’s Wolftrax mountain bike trails have attracted significant investment, and there’s also the Lochaber Wheeled Sports Society community bike park in Fort William. In the Central Belt, meanwhile, attractions include the Cathkin Braes Country Park walking and cycling route and Pollok Country Park in Glasgow, which has three mountain bike circuits.

Environmental change is the biggest long-term challenge facing the tourism and events sector, with the climate crisis – recently demonstrated by terrifyingly high temperatures across three continents – already affecting many aspects of the natural environment that makes Scotland such a popular destination for visitors.

“Our focus is very much about responsible tourism and how we can work in collaboration to address the climate crisis,” Roughead says. “Our Destination Net Zero (DNZ) Action Plan was established in partnership with Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, South of Scotland Enterprise and other partners.”  

Key areas of activity for VisitScotland and its partners include the provision of advice and support for tourism and events businesses, including the publication of a climate action tool which provides step-by-step guidance on how to identify, measure and reduce carbon emissions, adapt to climate change and communicate with stakeholders. Work is also being delivered to support the development of net zero tourism products and itineraries and the reduction of carbon across the wider tourism supply chain. Increasing the collaboration between tourism and other sectors is also a priority. 

No single organisation can, he emphasises, do this on its own. “It must be a coalition of the willing, so we need to talk to other like-minded sectors and work together with business to try to mitigate the crucial issues around climate change. 

“What we have produced so far has been very positively received. And while Destination Net Zero is industry wide, we must also look at reducing our own carbon emissions. VisitScotland is well ahead of its 2030 target of being carbon neutral and we’ve already reduced our carbon footprint by 87 per cent.” 

A Destinations’ Journey to Net Zero resource has also been created for stakeholders, highlighting key action areas that can assist destinations with their own climate action planning, in line with the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, which was launched at COP26, and the DNZ Action Plan.

While sustainable tourism means maximising its positive impacts – job creation, sustaining communities and improving people’s overall wellbeing – it also involves minimising its negative impacts, which include challenges such as over-tourism and emissions.

Roughead concedes these are challenges all destinations face. At the same time, the rising cost of living is making it incredibly difficult for many tourism businesses across the sector, pressures which can sometimes be an obstacle when looking at implementing more sustainable tourism practices. 

“Everyone understands the necessity of tackling climate change,” he says, while agreeing that changing individuals’ behaviour takes longer. “We know that from previous national campaigns about smoking, drinking and eating healthier food: people get the message very quickly, but it often takes some time and support for them to change their behaviour.”

It’s understandable in these straitened times for those in the tourism industry to try to minimise costs as running a business constantly becomes more expensive. 

“What we are emphasising, though, is you can actually improve your bottom line by utilising carbon-friendly options, such as LED lighting, split-flush toilets and electric vehicle charging points,” explains Roughead. 

The Destination Net Zero programme, a Scottish Government-funded Covid-19 tourism recovery project, included electric vehicle charge point funding, which has supported the installation of more than 90 charging points across Scotland to date.  

“All of these improvements need to be made more available, accessible and affordable – because that will drive a change in behaviour as much as anything else. If something is too difficult to find or too laborious to implement, people tend to turn their attention to something else, which we don’t want,” he says.

Having first joined VisitScotland in 2001, Roughead has seen many crises in the industry, ranging from the September 11 attacks to the impact of volcanic ash clouds to the Covid-19 pandemic, so he is no stranger to overcoming hurdles. 

2023 has already been an encouraging year, however. Tens of thousands visited the Edinburgh festivals this month and other high spots include the Burrell Museum in Glasgow being named the UK’s Museum of the Year after its reopening in 2022, not to mention the success of elusive street artist Banksy’s first solo exhibition in 14 years at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art. 

And the prospects, Roughead says, are promising. “We’ve seen a strong recovery in international markets, particularly from North America. A lot of that has resulted from increased capacity as we recover the air routes that we lost during Covid-19, with strong interest also coming from Europe – particularly France, Germany and the Netherlands.

“I’m always an optimist and this is a very resilient sector. Going forward we’ll continue to address climate change with our partners and drive the responsible development and promotion of tourism – that responsible lens is how we approach all areas of our activity and influences how we engage with visitors, industry and partners alike.” 

This article is sponsored by Visit Scotland

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