Future of the Highlands to be discussed at world-first sustainability conference in Inverness.

A world-first partnership of the tourism and renewables sectors in the Highlands of Scotland will host a conference on Friday 24 May at the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness. Entitled ‘Inspiring a world-leading sustainable future’, the conference is hosted by Highland Tourism CIC and Highland Renewables in partnership with DC Thomson with the Press and Journal and Energy Voice as community and media partners. The conference is supported by main sponsors, SSEN Transmission and premier sponsors Statkraft and RES. 

Post Covid, a group of tourism business and community leaders came together to form a community interest company, believing one vision, one mission, one strategy and a single investment in the ‘Highland Brand’ had an opportunity to put the Highlands on the world map as a world leader in sustainability.

In August last year, Highland Renewables launched – a strategic arm of Highland Tourism CIC – bringing together two of the Highland’s key economic sectors. The marriage of tourism and renewables is a world first. Collectively they believe that the Highlands can be a world leader by sharing a single vision and mission and that the investment the two sectors make together will change the economic, social and environmental future for the Highlands leaving a greater legacy for the next generation. 

Keith Masson, Head of Net Zero Transition at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), who will present a baseline carbon footprint report commissioned by HIE at the conference, said: “Whilst the Highlands of Scotland has much to do to achieve Net Zero we also have a significant opportunity to contribute to Scotland’s wider Net Zero ambitions as well as being an exemplar to other regions, not just nationally but across the world.   Working together, across- sectors and with communities, we can and must achieve a climate positive future for the Highlands. I’m looking forward to presenting our work on a baseline carbon footprint for the Highlands & Islands at the conference. Proactive, meaningful climate action starts with good data, and I’m excited to share our findings and listen to the ideas and needs from the community at this event. That will ensure we can collectively move forwards to deliver an impactful plan that everyone can play a part in. 

“The prospect of the Highlands becoming a world leader in sustainability and the difference this can make to the Highlands as a destination for all those of live, work, visit, study and invest here is extremely exciting.” 

Key speakers will also include Highland Tourism Ambassador Kate Forbes MSP, Yvonne Crook, Chair Highland Tourism CIC & Highland Renewables and Internationally renowned tourism guru Professor Terry Stevens. The conference panel discussions will also see representatives of the tourism and renewables industries and community organisations discuss some of the biggest opportunities facing the Highlands – including repopulation, jobs, housing, repositioning of the Highlands as a higher value visitor destination and strategic use of hundreds of millions of pounds of community benefit funds.  

Yvonne Crook, Chair Highland Tourism CIC and Highland Renewables, said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Highlands. We are at a turning point. For many years we have had unrealised value in our internationally renowned Scottish Highlands brand. We have also been all too aware of lack of investment and promotion in the Highlands as a better place to live, work, visit, invest and study. Together with a shortage of housing, this has led to a devastating decrease in population in many rural communities and so whilst we have come to an unfortunately slow realisation that the tourism industry takes more than it gives and that has been the case for many years, we have realised a greater opportunity for two key sectors to come together to invest in the Highland Brand and Vision, to put more back than we take, to contribute to Scotland’s Net Zero Targets and to invest in a strategy that attracts higher value visitors that appreciate what we, as a community, are doing to overturn a negative situation to a positive economic, social and environmental future for the Highlands.” 

Kate Forbes, MSP became a Highland Tourism Ambassador in 2022. Kate believes that the Highlands is at a crossroads when it comes to the future of tourism, has been so invested in her role as an ambassador that she has hosted a series of roadshows around the Highlands to hear from business and community leaders. Ms Forbes said: “Right now, the Highlands has some of the greatest social, economic, and environmental challenges and opportunities it has ever faced. The Community Interest Company has vision. It means business and it has spent a great deal of time consulting with communities. This is such a critically important time to do this. I am excited by the unique collaboration and the opportunity to think strategically for the greater good of the Highlands. The conference provides a unique opportunity to think innovatively and differently and to take joined up action shaping a transformational investment plan for our region.” 

Highland Tourism CIC’s mission is for the Highlands to become one of the world’s leading sustainable destinations. An important element of the conference schedule will discuss the role the Highlands can play in helping Scotland reach its Net Zero goals and how the region can be an exemplar to other regions and countries around the world.

Professor Terry Stevens is an internationally renowned tourism consultant often working in partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation. Terry is an early ambassador of Highland Tourism CIC and believes that the collaboration of tourism and renewables in the Highlands was an obvious thing to happen and that it is now leading the curve of destinations in Europe and beyond. Speaking from Loch Ness, Terry shared his thoughts having brought a learning journey from Ireland to the Highlands this week whilst already having shared the Highland Tourism CIC story with many other UK and European Destinations. He said: “With so much at stake, this is a time to think differently, to be innovative, to share vision, strategy and investment plans and to take this opportunity to develop a world leading partnership. 

“This will be a strong foundation to develop a world leading sustainable destination development plan and why I am a Highland Tourism CIC ambassador. I encourage anyone that would like to be involved in making a difference in the Highlands to attend the conference and get involved in the development of the Community Interest Company.”

Christianna Logan, Director of Customers and Stakeholders at SSEN Transmission, said: “We are delighted to be Highland Renewables’ main sponsor, helping drive forward its mission to boost the sustainable tourism economy in the region.

“Through our Pathway to 2030 programme, SSEN Transmission is already investing heavily in the Highlands, bringing benefits to communities through jobs and investment that supports economic development while protecting biodiversity and helping Scotland and the UK meet its net zero ambitions.

“This partnership is testament to our commitment to unlock Scotland’s renewable energy potential and promote economic development in the region, including activities to support sustainable tourism.”

Places are limited and filling fast so those interested in being part of the development of the future of the Highlands as encouraged to book. Conference tickets are priced at £60 + VAT and can be booked here.