THERE was much for Scotland’s tourist industry to celebrate in 2017, as the weak pound, increased capacity on flights and the global popularity of TV shows such as Outlander all contributed to a significant boost.

Not only did the number of international visitors rise by more than 10 per cent, but while here they splashed the cash, spending 20 per cent more than in the previous year. The domestic market also grew, as Scots and those from elsewhere in the UK weighed up value for money at home with unfavourable exchange rates abroad.

The most prestigious travel guides continued to heap accolades on Scotland, with Rough Guide readers voting the country the most beautiful in the world and the Wall Street Journal picking Dundee as one of its hottest destinations of the year. So successful was Skye’s marketing, meanwhile, that island infrastructure struggled to cope with soaring visitor numbers in the summer.

Loading article content

The picture is a sunny one, then, in a sector that is becoming ever more important to the Scottish economy.

Black clouds are on the horizon, however, according to one of the country’s most respected tourism experts. Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development at Glasgow Caledonian University, believes the industry faces a number of acute problems that will hit businesses hard, resulting in closures.

The shortage of migrant labour precipitated by an exodus of European Union nationals following Brexit is one big headache facing the sector, he argues, at the same time as rising food price inflation looks likely to force many restaurateurs and hoteliers to increase their prices.

Higher prices could, of course, stem the flow of international tourists looking to exploit the weak pound. But it would also be likely to hit domestic “staycationers”, many of whom will already be hurting from rising inflation and falling wages.

Indeed, Prof Lennon is so concerned he believes the tourist industry in Scotland is “gazing over a cliff”, despite a strong performance in recent months.

With fragility and uncertainly in so many areas of the underperforming Scottish economy, it is worrying to countenance a slump in this key sector.

With this in mind, there has surely never been a more important time for the industry, the Scottish and UK Governments and the wider business and infrastructure sectors do everything possible to harness the tourist pound.

As pointed out by Prof Lennon, it is time for cities and destinations to work better and more closely to spread the benefits of tourism. Edinburgh, which brings in a whopping £1.32bn a year from visitors, is an ideal case in point.

Tickets offering unlimited rail travel between it and Glasgow is one plausible suggestion - which would also benefit towns en route such as Linlithgow and Falkirk - while more co-operation on accommodation during big events such as the Edinburgh Festival and Hogmanay could also help share the spoils more widely, while giving visitors a more diverse experience of what Scotland has to offer. The same strategy could be employed in the Highlands and Islands, meanwhile, with tourists to the likes of Skye and Loch Ness perhaps given more encouragement and practical assistance to visit less saturated but equally stunning spots such as the Western Isles, Wester Ross and Sutherland.

At the same time, we need to find ways to retain the EU staff who keep the industry afloat.

The success of our tourist industry depends on good hospitality and good infrastructure; we must ensure both are in place if we are to reap the benefits of the natural beauty Scotland is blessed with, both now and in the future.