Economic impacts of wind farms on Scottish tourism: report

Report commissioned by Glasgow Caledonian University to assess whether government priorities for wind farms in Scotland are likely to have an economic impact on Scottish tourism.

Executive summary

1. Background and Approach

Over the last two decades Energy Policy has seen a marked shift towards renewables as part of the UK commitment to reduce green house gas emissions by 20% between 2000 and 2010. The policy was reinforced in November 2007 with a new target of 50 per cent of Scotland's electricity from renewables by 2020, and an interim milestone of 31 per cent by 2011. The 2011 target implies around 5,000 Megawatts of installed capacity almost double current levels. Given current technology and the time needed to plan and develop large projects such as storage hydro or offshore wind farms, the policy suggests a very significant increase in on-shore wind farms with associated impacts on Scotland's landscape.

Scottish tourism depends heavily on the country's landscape, with 92% of visitors stating that scenery was important in their choice of Scotland as a holiday destination, the natural environment being important to 89% of visitors (Tourism Attitudes Survey 2005). As part of the general policy to create a more successful country, with increasing sustainable economic growth, the Tourism sector has agreed a target of 50% revenue growth in the ten years to 2015

The potential problem is that many people find that man made structures such as pylons and wind turbines reduce the attractiveness of a landscape. It is logical to assume that reduced quality of an important feature could reduce demand to some degree which in turn may result in either reduced prices for tourism services or reduced numbers of tourists or both. Any loss of expenditure will lead to a reduction in economic activity and result in a loss of income and jobs.

However the tourism industry itself requires a reliable supply of electricity and climate change threatens radical changes to our valued habitats and wildlife, and may irreversibly alter the very landscape that visitors value so highly. Wind turbines are an established technology readily available in today's market place, able to supply electricity whilst reducing the effects of our energy usage on climate change. Sensitively located, renewable energy can also bring social and economic benefits to communities and to local businesses. Government is required to evaluate all the issues including landscape, tourism, security of supply, the impact of climate change internationally (which is indisputably large and negative), and the public financial support implicit in the renewable obligation of the energy industry. To develop appropriate policy requires an understanding of the significance of each of these elements.

In reality the discussion on any particular wind farm proposal is now almost always an adversarial debate, and opinions on the policy area of wind farms in Scotland have become polarised and founded on competing myths (of which some are, and some are not, founded in reality). This research sought to provide an evidence base on one contentious element of the decision, the impact on tourism in Scotland, and to assist decision making by identifying:

  • The potential number of tourists that would be affected
    • Geographic Information Systems ( GIS) were used to assess the number of tourists that may come into contact (accommodation in sight of wind farms or through exposure while travelling by road) with any of the projects that are built, already permitted, or currently in the process of applying for permission within the planning system.
  • The reactions of those tourists affected by wind farms
    • this was established by carrying out both a large-scale internet-based survey of current and potential tourists' attitudes and values, along with nearly 400 direct interviews of visitor intentions at tourist spots located close to existing or proposed wind farms.
  • The economic impact of those reactions
    • this was believed to result from two main sources. First, there may be a change in the number of tourists going to an area when a wind farm is constructed, and it should be possible to estimate the related change in expenditure (through the intercept survey). Secondly, the views from some accommodation will be affected by the construction of wind farms. Under certain assumptions, a fall in average willingness to pay for a "room with a view" results in a proportionate fall in the average price actually paid by the tourist. Consequently, any proportionate fall in expenditure on accommodation can be calculated (through the internet survey). Bringing together the two effects allows the estimation of the net economic impact at the local and Scottish levels.

Examining the three questions above is a crucial step in:

  • Replacing myth with evidence
  • Determining if there is a trade-off, for local communities and for Scotland as a whole, between energy and environmental benefits and tourism impacts, or
  • Identifying the circumstances when there should be a general presumption for or against a development.

The initial step in assessing economic impact was to look to the experiences of other countries, by way of a literature review.

2. The Literature Review:

This aimed to provide the background and likely bounds for the final results, by reviewing, as comprehensively as possible, previous research on the economic impact of wind farms on tourism. The review examined some 40 studies in the UK and Ireland. In addition, to ensure international experiences were also covered, the review examined reports from Denmark, Norway, the US, Australia, Sweden and Germany. As part of the review a number of the more important studies on attitude and value change were also examined. The findings of the review can be summarised as follows:

  • There is often strong hostility to developments at the planning stage on the grounds of the scenic impact and the perceived knock on effect on tourism. However developments in the most sensitive locations do not appear to have been given approval so that where negative impacts on tourism might have been a real outcome there is, in practice, little evidence of a negative effect.
  • There is a loss of value to a significant number of individuals but there are also some who believe that wind turbines enhance the scene.
  • An established wind farm can be a tourist attraction in the same way as a hydro-electric power station. This of course is only true whilst a visit remains a novel occurrence.
  • In Denmark, a majority of tourists regard wind turbines as a positive feature of the landscape
  • Over time hostility to wind farms lessens and they become an accepted even valued part of the scenery. Those closest seem to like them most.
  • Overall there is no evidence to suggest a serious negative economic impact of wind farms on tourists

3. Number of Tourists Affected

The research programme focussed on identifying the impact of wind farms on tourism in areas that depend heavily on the sector in the local economy, in addition to assessing the impact on Scotland as a whole.

The choice of which areas should be used as case-studies was made according to the importance of tourism and the landscape in those areas and the presence of wind farms either in operation or under construction. The locations for the person to person surveys were within four case study areas: Caithness & Sutherland; Stirling, Perth & Kinross; The Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway.

Map - The Case Study Areas

Not all tourists in an area will see a wind farm or stay in a room with a view of a wind farm 1 at a time when it is visible. The Geographic Information Systems ( GIS) study was concerned with estimating these numbers.

The first element consisted of developing a Zone of Visual Impact ( ZVI) for each wind farm that was identified as constructed, with permission for construction or currently under consideration after formal application. It did not cover those at the scoping stage or those that had been rejected. Summary table 3 shows the number of wind farms analysed in each area.

Summary Table 1: Number of Farms and Turbines Considered


Constructed and Permitted









% Scottish Capacity

Caithness & Sutherland








Stirling, Perth & Kinross








Scottish Borders








Dumfries & Galloway
















As at June 2007 (obtained from

Using these as a starting point, the following tourist numbers were identified:

Summary Table 2: Proportion of Tourists and Accommodation Affected




Vehicles (th)



Caithness & Sutherland

81 %




Stirling, Perth & Kinross





Scottish Borders





Dumfries & Galloway





The vehicle numbers include long day visits and transitory journeys by tourists. Thus the Dumfries & Galloway and the Stirling, Perth and Kinross figures are high because of their position on the major tourist arteries, the M74 and the M9/A9. In the case of Dumfries and Galloway the current situation is only a negligible fraction of the future position. Partly this is the result of the development of the Robin Rigg offshore farm and its impact on the holiday accommodation along the Solway coast. However the research also uncovered the apparent impact of new developments on views from the M74 which the research shows carries 80% of non-Scottish tourists into Scotland. Further investigation is required to confirm that the ZVI's undertaken for this project (which suggest substantial visibility) are correct, given some uncertainty about turbine location. Further work on the extent to which screening could or does reduce impact is also needed.

The importance of tourism in each if these case study areas is shown in summary table 3.

Summary Table 3 : The importance of selected tourist industries in each study area

Total GVA


%ge of total GVA

Total employee-jobs

Horeca employee-jobs

%ge of total jobs

Caithness & Sutherland







Perth & Kinross & Stirling







Scottish Borders







Dumfries and Galloway














Together the case study areas cover approximately 12% of tourist activity and 24% of current or proposed wind farms.

4. General Attitudes of Current Visitors Towards Wind Farms

The person to person survey intercepted 380 tourists at locations that maximised the likelihood that respondents would have seen a wind farm during their visit (such as certain Tourist Information Centres or tourist hotspots such as Stirling Castle), and was primarily aimed at confirming whether the experience had altered the likelihood of a return to an area or to Scotland as a whole.

The findings in the four case-study areas included:

  • In total, three-quarters of people felt wind farms had a positive or neutral impact on the landscape, of which:
    • 39 per cent of respondents were positive about wind farms,
    • 36 per cent had no opinion either way, and
    • 25 per cent were negative (including 10 per cent who were strongly negative).
  • Compared to 10 other structures in the landscape (including pylons, mobile phone masts and fish farms) wind farms received the joint lowest number of "no impact" responses. It appears that opinions on wind farms amongst tourists are heavily divided relative to other structures with the majority of respondents (64%) offering either pro- or anti- wind farm views.
  • The level of negative response to wind farms (25%) was the fourth highest of the 11 structures in the landscape upon which opinion was sought, behind pylons (49%), mobile telephone masts (36%) and power stations (26%)
  • Overseas visitors seemed to be more positive about wind farms than domestic tourists.
  • Interestingly, the proportion of respondents whose main activity was indicated as walking/hillwalking (where the landscape change is a major part of the experience) and who indicated a negative attitude to wind farms (19%) was lower than the overall figure of 25 per cent; and likewise they were also more positive (45 per cent versus 39 per cent).
  • 68 per cent of tourists were positive about the statement "A well sited wind farm does not ruin the landscape" with a further 12% neutral
  • 48 percent of visitors were positive about the statement "I like to see wind farms" with a further 24% neutral.
  • Importantly, respondents that had seen a wind farm were less hostile than those who had not.
  • The results confirm that a significant minority (20% to 30%) of tourists preferred landscapes without wind farms. However of these only a very small group were so offended that they changed their intentions about revisiting Scotland.

The internet survey of current and potential tourists (600 based in the UK, 100 from the US) also discovered that:

  • The perception is that turbines are as prevalent in areas designated as areas of natural beauty as they are in other non-scenic parts of the country.
  • Tourists are generally unaware of attempts to keep wind farms away from the most scenic areas.
  • The youngest respondents (ages 16-25) in general appear to think that wind farms have less of an impact than potential visitors in other age ranges.
  • A much higher percentage of respondents indicated that they would not visit an area if a wind farm was constructed (17.8%) than was found in the intercept survey. It should be noted that this result is less robust than the estimate provided by the intercept survey and should therefore be treated with caution, as, unlike the intercept study, respondents were not made aware of what constituted the "local area". However, the result is indicative of the level of negative feeling some people have towards wind farms.
  • As in the intercept survey, wind farms appeared to be more favoured by foreign tourists compared to UK visitors.
  • Most individuals appear to prefer a landscape from the hotel bedroom without a wind farm (63%) but there is also a substantial proportion that is neutral (28%) and a few who positively like wind farms (9%). The size of the negative reaction is in marked contrast to the intercept survey result. It is believed that this reflects the difference between a transitory view when moving on a road, and a static longer lasting view from a hotel bedroom. For example seeing the wind farm at the Braes of Doune when heading north on the A9 generates some interest, even excitement, for a short (1 minute) period. Most people however, appear to believe that, from the hotel bedroom, it is better to face an open hillside, rather than a wind farm.
  • There appears to be a diminishing marginal loss of value associated with increasing size of wind farms. In effect, it appears that once there has been an intrusion into the scenery, the effect on the value of the landscape of expanding the size is relatively small.

5. Effect of Wind Farms on Visitor Intentions to Return

The survey of visitor intentions at the four case study areas also sought to assess the likelihood of returning to the area and to Scotland in the face of further development. As expected the impact with respect to Scotland is far lower reflecting the substitution that will occur as tourists move to less affected areas.

Normally three return visit likelihoods were required from respondents based on three different visual situations:

1. Having actually seen the windfarm;

2. Having been shown a photo-montage of the local landscape before and after the creation of the existing windfarm;

3. Having been shown a photo-montage of the local landscape illustrating the existing windfarm and how the landscape would look if the windfarm was extended by 40%-50%

Under all circumstances, the vast majority (93-99%) of those who had seen a wind farm suggested that the experience would not have any effect. Indeed there were some tourists for whom the experience increased the likelihood of return rather than decreasing it. The assessed change in likelihood combines both decreases (negative impacts) and increases (positive impacts)

In the second case (no farm to current levels) the net result of these changes in intentions at both the area level and nationally is relatively small, and in almost all cases is not significantly different from zero in a statistical sense. However when the farm was extended respondents became significantly more negative. The extended development scenario at the area level shows a small but statistically significant (at the 10% level) fall of 2.5% in the likelihood of revisiting an area and just under 0.5% fall in the likelihood of revisiting Scotland.

The result at first sight seems to stand at odds to the result from the internet survey, where it appeared that once there was an intrusion into the scenery, the effect on the value of the landscape of expanding the size is relatively small. It is believed that this discrepancy may be explained by the difference between stated and revealed actions. The extended photos used in the intercept study were theoretical developments. Again those who did not like the idea of wind farms were given the opportunity to register a "protest vote" by threatening to withdraw if it proceeded. Because of the context this protest was far lower than in some other studies but it would appear to exist. Consequently it is our view that the identified change should be viewed as the maximum response that might be expected.

The resulting impact on gross expenditure is summarised in summary table 4

Summary Table 4: Estimated Reduction in General Expenditure of Tourists by Area


Tourists Affected

Tourist Expenditure Reduction

Tourist Expenditure

Expenditure Reduction

Caithness and Sutherland





Stirling, Perth & Kinross





The Scottish Borders





Dumfries & Galloway





A problem arises because although tourists can stipulate a likelihood of return that is fairly accurate, they do not know when that will occur and indeed are likely to underestimate the time. Even if the likelihood of return drops by say 20% as a result of wind farm development and that likelihood covers a five year period, then it will take five years before the total drop has occurred. The economic impact analysis thus reflects what might occur at an unspecified point in time when all developments and all outcomes have worked through the system.

6. Effect of a view of Wind Farms on Accommodation Expenditure

The main objective of the internet survey was to provide estimates on the proportionate drop in the expected revenues obtained by the owners of hotel, bed and breakfast or self catering accommodation if a property gained a view of a wind farm.

Because of supply inelasticity and the fixed to variable cost ratios, the reaction of hoteliers in the short term is to drop prices using special and "on the evening" offers. Thus in the short term, given the assumption that the demand curve is linear, the fall in demand (willingness to pay) for a "room with a view", results in a corresponding fall in the average price actually paid by the tourist. Consequently, the proportionate fall in tourist expenditure on affected accommodation can be calculated. When combined with the estimated proportion of rooms in an area affected by wind farm development (identified in the GIS analysis) estimates of tourist expenditure lost in the accommodation sector in each area can be obtained. The percentage change for each area is shown in summary table 5

Summary Table 5: Percentage Reduction in Accommodation Expenditure by Tourists


Affected Accommodation

Reduction in Expenditure

Caithness and Sutherland



Stirling, Perth & Kinross



The Scottish Borders



Dumfries & Galloway



In the longer term, because the industry is competitive and normal profits are expected both currently and in the future, it might be anticipated that prices would move back towards current levels and the supply of rooms would contract. The hotels most vulnerable are expected to be those most affected by the wind farms.

7. Economic Impact

The economic analysis follows from three core pieces of information for each area and Scotland:

  • The number of tourists affected
  • The typical expenditure of these tourists
  • The size and structure of the local economy.

Each study area consists of one or more NUTS4 regions (a NUTS4 region being a local authority or some division of it relating to an enterprise company area). In this case, Caithness and Sutherland, Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders are NUTS4 regions, whilst the Stirling, Perth and Kinross area consists of two such regions corresponding to the local authorities.

Tourism statistics are often presented by tourist areas, most recently referred to as Network Offices. In the case of Dumfries and Galloway and The Scottish Borders these are identical to the Local Authority/ NUTS4 regions. Perthshire Tourist Board Area covers the Perth and Kinross region but Stirling is part of the network office that covers Argyll, Loch Lomond, and Forth Valley. Caithness and Sutherland is part of the Highlands but has had a number of analyses undertaken at the NUTS4 level.

Estimates of tourist activity (number of overnights) by NUTS4 area were made using VisitScotland data complemented by the evidence submitted by local authorities to support Grant-in-Aid financing. Estimates of "long" day trips were made utilising the GB Day Visitor Survey supplemented by the Road Analysis undertaken as part of the GIS study, the National Travel Survey and a gravity model. Estimates of expenditure patterns for tourists had been made in a number of studies undertaken by the consultants over a number of years. No attempt was made to identify a specific pattern for those likely to be lost to a specific region. Together these estimates provide the expenditure by main category in each region.

The size and structure of the four local economies is provided by the Detailed Regional Economic Accounting Model ( DREAM). This system is based on a 123 sector input output model for each NUTS4 region ( NUTS3 in England and Wales) with inter-regional trade flows estimated by a constrained gravity model. In the case of Stirling, Perth and Kinross the two NUTS4 regions were simply combined. Because DREAM has to be consistent with published national totals, the Scotland model is in fact simply the latest nationally published input-output table.

The economic impact of changed expenditure can be traced through the system by identifying the expenditure that initially stays within the local economy (the Direct Effect) and then is spent by the receiving firms within the local economy (the Indirect Effect) or is spent by receiving individuals within the local economy (the Induced Effect). There is also uniquely in the DREAM model an estimate of the feedback effects from local trade. That is, a proportion of the expenditure spent on imports to region A from an adjacent economy in region B is then spent by that economy on goods and services from economy A (the Trade effect).

The proportion of tourist expenditure lost in each region as a result of wind farms was calculated by combining the results of the Intercept survey and the GIS roads analysis and applied to the estimated tourist expenditure in the region. The resulting change in expenditure was then fed into the DREAM model of the region to provide estimates of the employment and income (gross value added) lost.

The change (loss) in tourist expenditure in the accommodation sector was estimated by combining the proportionate fall in price of affected rooms, the proportion of rooms affected and the total expenditure on accommodation by tourists in the region. This was then input into the DREAM model and the impact on employment and income estimated.

The results at the area level are summarised in Summary Table 6.

Summary Table 6: Economic Impact of Wind Farms on Tourism

Total GVA

Potential Reduction
by 2015 due to
Tourism Visits
(vs. no wind farms)

Potential Reduction
by 2015 due to
Accommodation Spending
(vs. no wind farms)

Total Reduction
by 2015 due to
Tourism Effects















Total GVA
in all industries

Total jobs
in all industries

Caithness & Sutherland









Stirling, Perth & Kinross









Scottish Borders









Dumfries & Galloway









It should be noted that

i. The estimate is based on all wind farms currently in operation, being constructed or with a current application submitted. Whilst it is recognised that success for all those at application stage is unlikely, it does not include other farms currently at the scoping stage that may be built.

ii. The figures are only the tourism impacts; they do not show other economic impacts of wind farms that may work to offset/reinforce these. These impacts may be particularly important in the Caithness area where activity in renewables is large and losses from tourism relatively small.

iii. Whilst most of these will be in Tourism related industries jobs and income in other industries will be lost due to the indirect and induced effects.

At the Scotland level any contraction in overall spending, including accommodation, has been taken into account by the contraction of tourist numbers. It is assumed that specific losses in accommodation in one area are likely to be offset by gains in other unaffected areas as existing spending is redistributed. In effect it is assumed that as "nice views" contract in one area they expand in another, in the short term by changes in price and in the long term by changes in supply.

Given this assumption the estimate of impact is confined to those who stated in the Intercept study that they would not return to Scotland and who were necessarily not domiciled in Scotland. Because of the impact of wind farms on the important tourist corridors, it is estimated that 95% of tourists to Scotland will experience 4 wind farms in the future. As before, the change in likelihood was combined with the proportion of tourists affected and estimates of total tourist expenditure in Scotland to give an estimate of expenditure change. In the Scottish case the DREAM model is the input-output table for Scotland, which is used to generate estimates of the direct, indirect and induced effects and the Maximum total impact on employment and income. For Scotland this is 211 Full Time Equivalent Jobs (equivalent to 0.1% of tourism employment in Scotland) equivalent to £4.7m of Gross Value Added, at 2007 prices.

The importance of substitution within Scotland should be noted; a bigger loss in Perth, Kinross and Stirling area than in Scotland as a whole is estimated. Part of this result is due to the exclusion of Scottish Tourists, who are assumed to continue to spend in Scotland. However this estimate is also dependent on the maintenance of areas without, or with very few, turbines.

Finally it is important to reiterate that this is a worst case scenario because

a) The research was based on reactions to the extended farms

b) The research assumed perfect visibility conditions

c) There was an upper bound of 100% to likelihood of return. One individual who indicated an initial certainty of return was given a101% likelihood but there may have been others also constrained. One option is that the constrained individuals would respond with increased frequency.

d) The intercept study possibly overstates the likely negative responses because they were based on hypothetical extensions and were out of line with the marginality findings of the internet study. It is believed that there is an inherent possibility of a protest vote against wind farms which is not matched by similar responses from supporters.

e) There has been no attempt to estimate any possibility of an increase in likelihood of return if trips to wind farms prove to be a significant tourist attraction.

f) The development will happen over a number of years and both the market and tourists are likely to in part adjust to meet the new challenges.

8. Planning Recommendations

Every development is in some ways unique. Consideration by planning authorities has to include

  • the distribution of the viable wind resource;
  • technical and economic constraints to the viability of exploiting different wind speeds;
  • electricity grid access constraints;
  • protected areas;
  • impact on wildlife
  • Impact on local economy and community development
  • Landscape character and visual amenity
  • Historic environment

and the

  • Impact on tourism

In general this research has found that the negative impact of wind farms on tourism at national level is small and any reduction in employment in tourism will be less than the numbers currently directly employed in the wind power industry. However the impacts in some local areas are important enough to warrant specific consideration by planning authorities. These should include the following:

  • The number of tourists travelling past on route to elsewhere,
  • The views from accommodation in the area,
  • The relative scale of tourism impact i.e. local and national
  • The potential positives associated with the development
  • The views of tourist bodies i.e. local tourist board or VisitScotland

In many cases this consideration would be greatly assisted if the developers produced a Tourist Impact Statement as part of the Environmental Impact Analysis. The core of the statement would be the tourist accommodation and the number of tourists on roads within the ZVI. However in tourist areas the developer might also be expected to generate proposals to make use of the positive aspects of the development.

At the national planning level the research in this report identifies that from a tourism viewpoint:

  • Having a number of wind farms in sight at any point in time is undesirable
  • The loss of value when moving from medium to large developments is not as great as the initial loss. It is the basic intrusion into the landscape that generates the loss.

This suggests that to minimise the impact on Tourism very large single developments are preferable to a number of smaller developments, particularly when they occur in the same general area.

Finally this research found that, in general, the public did not recognise that some areas had been protected from development. Currently those tourists who do find wind turbines an objectionable presence are most likely simply to move to another area in Scotland. To ensure substitution opportunities it is important that areas are retained where turbine development is limited to supplying local needs in small remote communities, and indeed the wilderness nature of these areas publicised. Equally the research found some tourists positively attracted to wind turbines, particularly in quiet rural areas. The research suggests that there may be an opportunity to market these areas as "Green" and to view wind farm development positively. Of the case study areas only Caithness would appear not to be able to easily absorb the predicted fall in tourism employment and equally it is this area that has the greatest opportunity to promote itself as a centre for Renewable Energy.

9. Conclusions

This research has shown that even using a worst case scenario the impact of current applications would be very small and for three of the four case study areas, would hardly be noticed. The fourth, Caithness and Sutherland, has an extremely fragile economy with its largest, indeed dominant, employer disappearing. Renewable Energy offers an alternative but whilst business tourism would probably expand in the short term it would negatively affect those tourists to Caithness looking for scenery and tranquillity. It might well be argued that one answer is to utilise the strongly positive attitudes of some tourists and market the area as the region for Renewable Energy and seek to ensure farms are accessible and have information boards and centres.

The GIS work has shown that even large sites such as Dalswinton can have minimal impact on Tourism. Conversely the exposed nature of the Braes of Doune wind farm and its location on the most important tourist artery north of the central belt would appear to maximise the admittedly very limited negative reactions. The situation with the new developments along the M74 needs further investigation.

The research suggests that there is a need to make clearer to the general public that in some "scenic/wilderness" areas they will not see large commercial wind farms and that some other areas are positively marketed as green centres of renewable energy. In this context it should be noted that this research suggests that a few very large farms are better than a large number of small farms. A number of medium size farms dispersed in a relatively small area so that they become contiguous, is also not desirable. The current policy on cumulative effects should thus be maintained.

Finally this research set out to establish if meeting targets on renewables would significantly impact on the possibility of meeting tourism targets. Our overall conclusion is that the effects are so small that, provided planning and marketing are carried out effectively, there is no reason why the two are incompatible.


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