Reflections on the Economic Observatory Rural Economies and Sustainable Tourism Roundtable
EDAS board member Charlie Woods attended the Economic Observatory Rural Economies and Sustainable Tourism Roundtable. In his reflections below he shares key takeaways that will be of interest for EDAS members.
The Economics Observatory (ECO) is an initiative funded by the Economic and Social Research Council that aims to bridge the gap between academic research, government policy and the general public. Their goal is to provide balanced and reliable answers to economic questions in as accessible and engaging a way as possible. The ECO team are drawn from across the countries and regions of the UK, with a hub in Bristol. They publish daily articles, videos and charts to help the public and policymakers better understand the various challenges and opportunities they face. More information can be found here.
At a roundtable event at the University of Glasgow Campus in Dumfries on 6 March organised by ECO, academics and non-academics discussed rural economies and sustainable tourism. The discussion was led by Stuart McIntyre of Strathclyde and Graeme Roy from Glasgow.
The first session focussed on the economics of circular tourism. It began with presentation by Patrizia Rigante from the University of Glasgow. She highlighted:
- the significance of the global tourism industry (105 of global output and employment and 30% of service exports)
- the impact that elements of the industry, such as transport, have on the environment and carbon emissions in particular
- the potential that tourism has to impact (positively and negatively) on nearly all of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
- the importance of nurturing the capital assets (natural environment, culture, heritage etc.) on which tourism flows of income can be built
- the problems over-tourism, gentrification, seasonality, impact on residents (negative externalities)
- the rebound from Covid lockdowns and the development of ‘proximity tourism’
- the role of evaluation frameworks such as that being developed by DCMS
A wide ranging discussion included the following areas:
- maintaining the assets which attract tourism
- building critical mass of attractions
- widening the reach and impact of tourism beyond magnet attractions
- the impact of tourism on wellbeing both of residents of tourist areas and tourists
- the potential of a Community Wealth Building approach to help ensure more sustainable tourism
- the problem of marketing of attractions getting ahead of investment in supporting infrastructure e.g. North Coast 500, South of Scotland mountain biking
- the potential of levies on aspects of tourism to address negative externalities in tourism and generate resources to invest in tourism infrastructure, skills etc.
The second session looked at levelling up in rural economies and discussion included:
- the wide and varied spectrum between dense urban areas and remote rural economies
- generating agglomeration economies in more sparsely populated areas – e.g. the role of enterprise hubs and market towns
- recognising the innovation and enterprise that sometimes goes under the radar in rural areas
- building on local knowledge and understanding and the need for involving communities in strategy development and decision making
- making the links to external knowledge and lessons from elsewhere
- learning the lessons of the LEADER programme
- the right balance between devolved funding to rural areas with a lot of scope for discretion and national funding competitions
- goals for economic development in rural areas – beyond GDP – have rural areas been ahead of the game in having more concern for wider issues of wellbeing
The Economic Observatory is a resource for those working in economic development and they would welcome suggestions from policy makers and practitioners for research questions which they could help answer.