The National:

FOR a country that is so dependent on tourism for income, Scotland has made a hash of running the tourist industry in the past.

The problem was that everyone seemed to know what to do to build a successful industry but nobody agreed with each other on how to do it. Yet somehow it prospered.

I well remember a Labour councillor opining that Edinburgh didn’t need to do as much marketing as it did because tourists would always visit the city. And lo it came to pass that NOBODY was visiting the capital because they were in lockdown at home across the world and the city itself was shut.

The pandemic has shown once and for all how Scottish tourism is so heavily based on our history and historic attractions. You can sigh and groan about it all you like but people come here to visit castles, take part in tartanry, and tour the locations where Outlander and Bravehart were made – though much of the latter was filmed in Ireland.

Scottish history is a huge resource for the nation, which is why we should all be worried about the massive blows to the two biggest providers of historic attractions, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) and Historic Environment Scotland (HES). The difficulties facing NTS have been well reported in The National and elsewhere, but at least they won’t have the talking albatross called Neil Oliver around their necks for much longer. I trust Sir Mark Jones and the executive team to survive and eventually prosper.

READ MORE: Neil Oliver to step down as NTS president after David Starkey row

Though it’s lost millions, I am less worried about HES which yesterday set out its approach to the re-opening of its heritage sites across Scotland as COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

HES is Scotland’s biggest operator of visitor attractions, with over 300 properties in its care, and as an agency of the Scottish Government it has the funding and backing of everyone in that Government from Nicola Sturgeon downwards. Ok, HES has blotted its copybook by picking fights with Yes movement members such as All Under One Banner, but the quango is worth sticking with.

Here’s what HES told us: “HES is adopting a phased approach to reopen 70% of its free to access and ticketed properties by mid-September, during Phase 3 of the Scottish Government’s route map.

“HES will provide access to over 200 unstaffed and key-keeper sites across Scotland where physical distancing can be readily maintained and where HES can provide free and safe access.

“In addition, this will include the opening up of free access to the grounds of Doune Castle, Caerlaverock Castle and Dundonald Castle. These properties, which would normally be staffed, have external green spaces which can be opened in line with continuing restrictions to offer health and wellbeing benefits to the local community.

“Some 26 ticketed sites across Scotland will then reopen on a rolling basis with Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Urquhart Castle reopening on Saturday 1 August.

READ MORE: This is when Scotland's most famous castles will re-open

“From August through to mid-September, HES plans to re-open a further 23 key sites across Scotland on a rolling programme including Glasgow Cathedral, Fort George, St Andrews Castle and Cathedral and Skara Brae.

“Visitors, including members, will be required to pre-book tickets online and to use contactless payment where possible; one-way systems will be implemented in some locations; and some areas of sites, such as enclosed spaces, will be closed off to visitors. Visitor numbers will also be limited for safety reasons.”

That is excellent news. Now, I don’t think NTS and HES are perfect. Far from it. Personally I would nationalise NTS and create a new super-department of history and culture, but that’s not going to happen any time soon.

What I do want now is for every ambulatory Scot to get up off our collective backsides and do our bit for Scotland’s historic attractions. Go and visit any NTS or HES site, and support our history and cultural attractions at least until tourism recovers. You know it makes sense – and you’ll get a good day out.

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