Community Owned Land & Property

What is Community Tourism

It’s a question many people ask – and often because they like the sound of it and want to know more!

For SCOTO, which is working at a grassroots level across Scotland, community tourism is where a community is directly involved in managing the tourism offer in their area and ensuring tourism derives tangible benefits locally.

What does it mean to be local?

Blending what communities need and visitors seek

Historically many communities have felt that tourism happens to them rather than with them.
But as more and more communities across Scotland form local development trusts, take ownership of assets, and provide visitor facing services and experiences, there is a growing sense that tourism can be a force for good.

Community tourism has become something that delivers many positive benefits and can help address priority issues such as social isolation, retaining young people and preserving artefacts and assets.

SCOTO believes there are two primary types of community tourism in Scotland:

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Community Led Visitor Services and Experiences
This is typically where the community has set up a social enterprise which delivers a visitor facing service or experience which derives significant benefits back into the community and servicing visitors' needs.

The service may not be totally visitor facing, and tourism may not be seen as the primary driver. But the interface with visitors brings in much needed spend and other social benefits and helps the community deliver against priority issues and opportunities.


In Scotland, communities now provide services and experiences across the visitor economy. Social enterprises and charitable trusts offer places to stay or park your motorhome, eat, drink, sample local produce, buy provisions and meet local artists. They are staging events and festivals celebrating local culture and landscape and providing ways for visitors to get around. They have created visitor hubs and heritage centres with local interpretation and information. In some cases, these organisations offer many types of volunteering opportunities, 'voluntourism', for visitors to give something back.  


That's a lot! 


And yet not all visitors realise that the community has made elements of their experience possible. So SCOTO is focussing energy on helping our network tell their individual stories and giving visitors tips on what to look out for.


We're steadily developing a map resource to help individual communities see and be inspired by what others are doing and to help visitors find and enjoy unique and often quirky community experiences when travelling. 


We can guarantee there will be enterprises you know of that we haven't yet included on our map, so do reach out and tell us!

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Community Led Destination Development and Promotion
This is where a geographic community – a village, an island, a town, a city neighbourhood or a glen – comes together to consider and manage their tourism offer and how their area is promoted.

This involves local business and community interests collaborating to jointly agree on what matters to them as a community and then considering how tourism can be a force for good and help deliver this vision. This is hyper local and works best at what we affectionately call a ‘parish’ level. The boundary that a local development trust has identified often makes best sense for community led tourism. 

This typically requires external facilitation and is a key service SCOTO offers.

Two key considerations are how the area performs as a destination and how it is differentiated from other local places and communities.


Community Led Destination Competence Appraisal

SCOTO have identified 15 factors that affect how a destination performs. By working with a collective of business and community interests, they can jointly scope out what is working, what’s not, and what could be done better or differently. The improvements can come from businesses doing things differently, new business opportunities being highlighted for local entrepreneurs and social enterprises, possible asset transfers being flagged, or simply managing visitor expectations. Not every community can be all things to all visitors – and often, the key, at least in the short term, is to manage expectations and ensure precise and current information is readily available. 


Community Led Place Branding

Tied to SCOTO’s ‘be a temporary local’ proposition for visitors, we believe that locals are the custodians of their sense of place – and are absolutely best placed to decide what makes their community special, its unique selling points and what sets it apart from other communities visitors may be considering. By taking time to explore and delve back into its history and local interests can then develop a visitor proposition. Creating a community led brand that reflects the place they call home, which they are proud of and believe in and which will come to life for any visitor who takes time to slow down and be a temporary local.

Recalibrating Tourism

Traditionally here in Scotland tourism impact has been measured by footfall, spend and employment. Imagine a new way of measuring the value of tourism where social rather than economic considerations come to the fore – and measures reflect local priorities, not just national policy?

If a community has taken time to consider what is important to them and their priority issues, these can form the basis for measuring impact. Most of Scotland's communities have engaged in community action planning and have set out local priority issues. When defined, these can form the basis for measuring the impact of community tourism enterprises and initiatives – and measurement drives impact.

For example, if retaining young people in the community is a priority, measure young people working in tourism. If tackling social isolation is a priority, measure volunteer opportunities or even hours. If supporting local craftspeople and producers is a priority, measure the number of products sold at the community-run visitor hub. And if creating permanent rather than seasonal jobs is a clear priority, don't simply measure FTEs; measure the number of people with permanent contracts. This could be annualised hours and give the person blocks of time off – but they have a permanent contract, which allows them to put down roots and plan their life.

Fundamentally SCOTO believe in Carnegie UK's central message on measurement.


'What we measure affects what we do. If we measure the wrong thing, we will do the wrong thing. If we don't measure something, it becomes neglected, as if the problem didn't exist'.


If something is essential to an individual community and change is needed, build that into the community-led tourism enterprise and use it to measure impact.

Take the scenario where a visitor comes into the community run information hub. They browse the local crafts and spend £15 on some locally made fudge and a scented candle and help themselves to a locally ground coffee and leave a donation. They are served by a local volunteer who chats about the many things they can do and books them on a 'Tai Chi in the forest' event with a local entrepreneur that afternoon.  Traditional tourism measures would have clocked footfall and spending. In a community-led tourism world, this scenario would clock; volunteers hours which helps tackle social isolation, the local produce sold and the food miles, the number of small local businesses being supported, participation in a well-being event - and visitors receiving a warm local and informed welcome. 

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In 2023 SCOTO has been working with several communities across Scotland helping them consider destination competence and place branding.  Its early days but soon we hope to be presenting new measures on the impact community tourism is having at a local level within our pilot communities – where it matters the most.

If you think SCOTO can support your community – sign up as a SCOTO Networker below and get in touch – were here to help!

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