- Written by David Bryan
A full moon reflects on the ink blue water. The sea has a glassy stillness that only seems to happen around high tide when the sky is clear and winds light. Your paddle strokes, occasionally illuminated by the beam of a lighthouse on the next promontory, easily guide your kayak along the rocky coast. Within 20 minutes you arrive, the evening light fading as you gently haul your boat clear of the high water mark. Your small group of paddlers follow a line of candles in lamps, to the marquee tent erected outside the lighthouse. There a meal is prepared for you, finest seafood caught that day, on the boat you fished from yourself earlier in the week. Conversation comes easily with the local people you’ve come to know during the week, from the ceilidh in the village hall, to crafting traditional moccasins in the village’s museum and leisurely conversations on street corners. They’ve come to share the meal with you, unhurried and genuine in their manner. You feel you’ve almost become a local yourself, immersed in the nature, culture and history of this most welcoming of places. You’ve learned so much from these people, and they from you too.
An impossible dream, right? Can tourism really feel like this – an authentic experience in which visitors tread lightly, engage with the culture of local people, and have unique experiences? This Autumn a group of rural community leaders from Shetland to Dumfries came together to explore a new form of tourism, which works for local people and communities. They heard from their peers across the world who’ve recreated tourism in their communities - the sort of tourism they want. The moonlit ‘lighthouse bite’ tour is real, it happens on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. There the community has identified what they want from visitors; for them to stay longer, experience what it is so unique about their place and help support more and better jobs. Their ‘Celtic Colours’ festival has made the autumn shoulder months a boom time for tourism, its lead a rebirth in interest for their Gaelic origins and professionally managed, it covers its own costs.
Tourism and tourists are changing. As with other sectors, the pandemic has accelerated a trend already underway. Visitors now want to stay longer, enjoy more to do and see, and have unique experiences. To be become a temporary local. Tourism does not have to be about bargain basement bus tours or the fleeting visits of cruise ship passengers. But the change won’t happen by itself – communities need to take the lead and social enterprises have a key role to play. This includes outdoor activities and catering enterprises, like the ones which got together for the Lighthouse bite experience. It also involve community owned leisure centres, museums, woodlands, accommodation providers and of-course community land owners. Maybe local sports clubs that can offer cycling or running tours to the places only local people know. It requires communities to come together and to nurture a shared vision for a tourist economy synonymous with celebrating culture, and not with social problems or environmental degradation.
Communities Leading in Tourism is a 12-day programme from Highlands & Islands Enterprise and South of Scotland Enterprise, starting in January 2021. Facilitated by Social Enterprise Academy, we bring international perspectives from our colleagues, partners and learners from across the world, inspirational stories such as this Autumn’s group heard from Cape Breton. A unique learning experience, a vision of a different future, a chance to work in partnership with your peers.
Applications for Communities Leading in Tourism are now open: https://your.socialenterprise.academy/course/view.php?id=279.
If you have any questions about this programme or how the Academy can support your learning and development, please contact:
David Bryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Terry Smith, CBT