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The Economic Impact of Wildlife Tourism in Scotland



8.1 The net economic impact of wildlife tourism in Scotland is £65 million, with 2,763 FTE jobs in existence because of the activities of wildlife tourism in Scotland.

8.2 In total, 1.12 million trips are made to or within Scotland for the primary purpose of viewing wildlife. Around half of these trips are made by domestic ( UK) tourists. A total of £276 million is spent on these trips, with the majority of expenditure being by domestic tourists.

Table 15: Summary of Results for Wildlife Tourism

Trips (m)

Proportion of 2008 Totals (%)

Nights (m)

Proportion of 2008 Totals (%)

Spend (£m)

Proportion of 2008 Totals (%)

Domestic tourists







Day visitors





Overseas tourists














* Proportions of national totals cannot be calculated where day visitors are included because of the lack of up-do-date data on day visits.

8.3 With 0.63 million domestic tourism trips, 5.2% of all domestic tourism trips to Scotland are being primarily motivated by wildlife. 6.3% of domestic tourism nights and 7.4% of domestic tourism expenditure in Scotland is primarily motivated by wildlife.

8.4 0.41 million trips are made by wildlife day visitors, with £14 million of expenditure. Due to no up-to-date relevant data on total numbers of day visits, it is not possible to show what proportion of all day visits are primarily motivated by wildlife.

8.5 There is uncertainty regarding our estimates of overseas tourism trips, nights and expenditure, but the central estimate is that 80,000 trips are made to Scotland by wildlife overseas tourists (3.1% of the total), spending 720,000 nights in Scotland and £54 million. Spending by overseas wildlife tourists therefore makes up a significant minority of total wildlife tourism spending in Scotland.

8.6 Regionally, wildlife tourism is concentrated in the Highlands and Islands (with 50% of wildlife trips, 45% of wildlife tourism nights and £124 million of expenditure by wildlife visitors. The West Coast and Islands, Loch Lomond & Trossachs is the second most important region for wildlife visitors, with 23% of trips and nights, and £65 million of wildlife visitor expenditure.

8.7 This spending by wildlife visitors contributes £156 million to Scottish GDP, and employs approximately 7,500 FTE employees. This includes gross value added and employment in the supply chain from which wildlife tourists purchase products, which includes all the products that they purchase, not just wildlife attractions. Regionally, wildlife tourism in the Highlands and Islands contributes £78 million to the Scottish economy and generates 3,500 FTE jobs.

8.8 Wildlife tourism is a more complex market than simply classifying tourists as being either primarily motivated by wildlife or not. Tourists encountered at wildlife sites and by tour operators ranged from being highly involved and motivated by wildlife watching to it being a substantial but not exclusive interest and finally to it being a casual and passing interest for the day. Wildlife operators see the majority of their visitors as combining a strong interest in wildlife watching with other activities, such as walking, cycling, touring, sightseeing, photography, history, culture and visiting distilleries, which may make up the primary purpose of their visit.

8.9 Operators claim that their clients are comprised mostly of middle-aged, empty-nest, professional, middle-class couples who enjoy experiences in nature and are looking for new interests to follow. Other client groups include overseas visitors, families and a recent growth in domestic (Scottish) clients. Many such tourists belong to organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts and RSPB who also influence their decision to visit Scotland. Operators and observations reveal a number of people with a 'new interest in wildlife' instigated by either life stage (usually empty nesters) and/or television programmes, especially Springwatch.

8.10 Wildlife watchers often referred to their preferred independent style of travel and their ' DIY' method of wildlife tourism whereby they would travel with binoculars and sometimes a telescope and cameras, and be on the lookout for any wildlife watching opportunities such as walking in nature reserves or along the coastline. There was general consensus that in order to capitalise from this market and avoid untold disturbance to species and habitats, operators need to stress how much easier it is to see focal species with the help of a guide.

8.11 There is some evidence to show that wildlife tourism has been growing in recent years, although this falls short of accurate estimates of wildlife tourism trips and spending on a year-by-year basis, and that industry opinion is that it will continue to grow in the future. Developments such as the media coverage of wildlife in popular television programmes, increasing environmental awareness and a move away from long-haul destinations is thought to have helped the wildlife tourism sector weather the effects of the recession, but also show its potential for future growth.

8.12 The SWOT analysis conducted as part of the study was drawn from workshops and interviews with actual and potential tourists and businesses involved in the wildlife tourism industry and points to themes that could be further considered in this sector. The SWOT analysis indicates that further consideration would be useful in the areas of strategic management, national level marketing, infrastructure, product development strategies, resource and visitor management and quality standards within the wildlife tourism industry. In addition, the research indicated that there are industry perceptions of problems with national level marketing and support for wildlife tourism. Recommendations therefore include points on the strategic management of the sector and improved communication of activities between public sector agencies and industry.