Richard W. Butler
Most successful tourism destinations of the modern era possess a selection of attributes which, although not identical from one location to another, tend to have certain characteristics in common. In general, the destinations are readily accessible to major markets, reasonable in cost, have good weather and possess a variety of activities and facilities of which the visitor can take advantage. Furthermore, they increasingly tend to possess heritage features, either cultural or natural or both, used as supplementary attractions. Indeed, it is relatively rare for locations to be successful in the long term as tourism destinations without such combinations of features. It is equally uncommon for tourism destinations to be able to maintain their attractivity over long periods of time unless they have unique and often spectacular features, such as Niagara Falls or the Pyramids, or are key locations such as the capital cities of London or Paris, or transportation hubs such as Singapore and Hong Kong.
It is perhaps puzzling, therefore, to imagine Scotland as a successful tourism destination over the long term. A small country on the periphery of Europe, long plagued by poor access and transportation, Scotland is costly compared to many other fringe areas, with a climate deemed unattractive to most visitors (and residents) and only limited facilities for tourists compared to other destinations. Yet the country has successfully attracted tourists for more than two hundred years as a destination, and to a considerable degree seems well positioned to continue attracting tourists over the long term.
To understand the paradox which Scotland represents as a tourist destination, it is necessary to interpret its origins and the image which it has presented and continues to present to potential visitors. Although this image is socially contrived, its origins are clear and well documented, and the attributes generally attached to Scotland over the past two centuries show little sign of declining in appeal. What has not been examined, however, is the relationship between past image creation, the evolution of tourists and the implications for Scotland’s future as a tourist destination.