THE skinklan lichts o the Embra Christmas Mercat were at last slockit last week, aifter a stooshie-surrondit seeven-week installment in the hairt o the capital. The mercat wis aye thrang tae the last, but it an its Embra’s Hogmanay pairtner festival baith hae tane major pelters owre the overcroodin an claims that oor capital has tint its soul in its search fir siller. Is it time, fowk speired, tae reduce tourism an turn the city back owre tae the citizens?

As aye whaur ye see the media, commentariat an public in the capital get intae a fecht wi itsel, the rest o the country luiks on feart. Will this finally be the stooshie that sees debate in Embra disappear up its ain bahookie forever?

Embra debates gin tourism maun be restrictit, encouraged, taxed, an gin sic a mob o visitors in ae sma toon is braw or a blight. Whit doesnae seem tae occurred tae a guid wheen o fowk is that aa this tourism could hae a transformative, positive impact on aabdy in Scotland, if ainly we warked tae spreid it oot a bitty.

The difference atween whit Embra maks oot o tourism an whit the rest o Scotland taks in gars yer heid birl. Accordin tae figures fae the last twa-three years, fowk comin in tae Embra spent aroon £1.5 billion quid ilka year. Thon’s a fair nummer o overpriced mulled wines, tram fares an Fringe tickets. The bonnie, culturally rich, maistly toom region neist door in the Scottish Borders, but? Thae puir craiters maun hurple on wi an annual visitor spend o aboot £55 million.

Angus is mair o the same. Wi its heich Munros, lang, gowf links, whisky an castles, its a visitors dream. Ye could threap similar fir Perthshire, Caithness, Moray, indeed fir maist airts in Scotland. Ging tae thae places an ye’ll fin freenly locals chuffed tae hae visitors, views tae mak yer hairt glad an drams tae mak yer chooks reid.

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It’s acceptit in the tourism sector that we arnae gonnae see ony muckle inflation o nummers o visitors tae Scotland. We’re aboot at the limit. Sae oor focus maun be on spreidin the visitors we hae the noo oot o Embra. Baith tae save the culture o oor capital, but also tae reap the real benefits o tourism. France offers a lesson.

Paris is the maist touristit city in Europe. But it ainly earns 20% o aa visitor spend in France. Mony regions hae distinct identities, biggit up owre years o mercatin. Ye hae hunners o thoosans gingin tae Bordeaux, tae the Alps, tae Nice. Scotland maun ging doon a similar gate gin its tae spreid baith the burden an the blessin o tourism.

The skinklan lichts o the Embra Christmas Mercat. Lloyd Smith Photography

I hae warkit on an aff in tourism fir a guid skelp o the last decade. I ken fine the tremendous positive cultural impact that a steady vein o tourism can hae on a toon. I’ve tane wee groups o heich-spennin visitors roon Scotland. I’ve aye consciously constructit the tours tae maximise meaninfu engagement wi Scottish fowk, cultural practitioners an stories. The ettle is tae forge a relationship that’s respectfu an lastin atween hosts an visitors.

We took ae group oot tae Cruden Bay, on the North-East coast. This is whaur Bram Stoker cam fir his screivin holidays, an we bade in the hotel whaur he set doon Dracula. There we explored Bram’s experiences as a portal tae the past, then met up wi a local storyteller. Oot on grass aboon the cliffs, sea maws skraichin in the sea-fog as the waves crashed ablow, the storyteller brocht us aff wi her on adventures intae the folklore o the area, the true history, the myths. The visitors wernae passive; they speirt things, they pit in their ain stories fae hame. It wis meaninfu fir practisioner, fir me an fir visitor. Whan we were done, we went tae explore the toom, muckle ruins o Slains Castle, which in pairt inspired Count Dracula’s castle.

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Compare their fates wi them o the twa million sowels that sprauchle aboot lik bleatin yowes throught the closies an wynds o Embra’s owre-stappit castle ilka year.

Gingin back alang the gait tae Cruden Bay fae the cliffs, we got bletherin wi an auld mannnie. He wis oot walkin his dug. He spake guid braid Doric Scots, an gied aabdy in oor group a wee chocolate each that he’d wi him in his pooch. “Fit a scunner it is that the haars in noo an yous didnae get a guid view o the castle. Ach weel, yous’ll hae tae come back noo eh? Heh heh!” he lauched. He telt us that he kept the chocs wi him just in case he saw ony tourists, tae thank them fir visitin his toon. Admittedly no aadby in oor group kent whit he wis sayin, but they were astonished by the guid-will o him.

This is tourism as it could be. Siller spent in mair rural areas, growin the local economy an subsidisin the pub an restaurant infrastructure. Visitors as an audience fir local cultural practitioners, gien them a crack at earnin a fair fee. But maist o aa, biggin cultural connections atween host an visitor. Positive taste bein lefts in the mous o the locals.

The skinklan lichts o the Embra Christmas Mercat. Lloyd Smith Photography

The Borders Railway has aaready creatit fower thoosan tourism jobs, by gien a link atween the floodit capital an the drouthy region. Infrastructure sic as this could be an aim o the Tourism Tax. A fiver on hotel rooms, a quid on ilka Fringe ticket an mug o mulled wine at the Christmas Mercat in Embra wad big up mercatin an infrastructure tae entice fowk oot the capital an intae oor worthy regions.

Mair tourism in the rest o Scotland (ootwith Skye) wad hae multiple positive effects. Fowk wad be mindit that their airt is bonnie an valuable, gin it had busses o happy visitors snappin photies o their Pictish stanes or their folk music sessions. Visitors wad encounter fowk wi patience an time fir them, no just meetin ither tourists an Scots tryin tae get fingers in their pooches. Fowk could mak some siller rentin oot a spare room, or warkin as a musician, chef, or tour guide.

An we could aa enjoy the improvements tae currently keich infrastructure that tourism wad help pey fir.