Slow Tourism - an Ecologists Perspective

This week we have a guest post from Callum Rankine. Callum is a respected ecologist and someone I've known for a few years (he would justifiably claim that it feels a lot longer) and I thought it would be great to hear his perspective on slow tourism, especially in light of the very real effects of climate change we're seeing.


Text and Photos: Callum Rankine


Mass tourism relies on convenience and cost. Slow Tourism relies on people developing a mindset where time is savoured and where destinations are less important than the overall experience. More tourists want an experience and they want an authentic one at that. Staying in one place for a time helps people to appreciate an area and what it has to offer. On top of that more and more tourists are becoming ever more environmentally aware.

© Callum Rankine

Last year it was clear that climate concerns were foremost in a lot of travellers minds and they were making decisions accordingly. In Sweden the concept of ‘flyskam’ or flight shame became popular. Many people realised that there are no environmentally friendly flights and it became increasingly socially unacceptable to fly. One of the obvious alternatives was rail travel and so alongside flyskam we had tågskyrt or train brag. People took to social media to show how they were forgoing flight, taking the train, having a holiday and letting the world know about it. And it caught on. Articles in magazines such as Wired and on social media helped push the message.

To help people plan trips there are sites such as The Man in Seat Sixty One run by Mark Smith. However I feel a warning is needed here. Don’t go onto Mark’s site thinking you’ll have a quick look. That will not happen. What will happen is that you be engrossed for hours, days even! There is information on travelling by train all over the globe. My favourite are the pages devoted to the Trans-Siberian Express. I want to do it. In Winter.



© Callum Rankine

Every year the industry looks at trends for the coming year. For 2020 it was all about climate-neutral trips, wellness holidays where people would go forest bathing and places off the beaten track. Instead Coronavirus hit and the world will never be the same again.

We are at the tail end of the initial hit as I write this in May 2020. Many people are worried that the virus may come back in successive waves. I think every biologist in the world would agree that is very likely. So where does that leave us?

Currently the tourist industry has stopped. One of the worlds biggest industries just…..stopped. Companies have zero income and it is clear that travel, especially international travel, will be one of the last things to get going again. This will change the face of the travel industry for decades.

In the meantime predictions are that ’staycations’ - I do apologise for using that word - will be the in thing this year. If you can’t go abroad then explore your home country. We are lucky living as we do in the most beautiful country in the world. It's not just me saying that, Rough Guides voted Scotland the most beautiful country in the world in 2017.

© Callum Rankine

Scotland was made for Slow Tourism. The pace of life, especially in the Borders and in the Highlands and Islands is slower than the cities. Sitting on a beach with few other people around, filling your soul with the sound of the waves, is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Something that is built for Slow Tourism is the North Coast 500. Yes you read that right, the NC500. The roads are unsuitable fo

r numpties racing around in cars and bikes and the convoys of camper vans would be better off clogging the roads of Englandshire. The roads are single-track and made for farmers moving around, not Porches and BMW’s. Take time to go round, say two weeks rather than two days and you will be well rewarded. I won’t tell you more. One of the best things about Slow Travel is discovering the hidden delights for yourself.

The wildlife of Scotland is also suited to Slow Tourism. It takes time and effort to see the good stuff. A golden eagle will reveal itself in its time, not yours and the joy will be heightened because of it. Otters are common in several areas but you still need patience to see them.

Desmond Nethersole-Thompson was one of our finest ornithologists and he divided naturalists up into arsers and leggers. The former sit around waiting on the wildlife to come to them. The latter run around chasing the wildlife. Invariably the former sees more than the latter! Slow Tourism was made for arsers.

One of the joys of getting to know somewhere is seeing how it changes over time. You may think your two week holiday would be too short for that but it depends on when you go. If you went wildlife watching for two weeks in Scotland in April, May, September or October you would see huge changes as wildlife gets ready for the coming seasons. I love these shoulder times of year. Seeing swallows swoop over fields full of pink-footed geese is odd but it reinforces the feeling that the Great Wheel of Life keeps on turning.

As the coronavirus restrictions begin to life people will start to look further afield but the same principles apply. Take your time. Reclaim your life. Experience more.

© Callum Rankine

Two final things. I do not think that Slow Tourism will replace Mass Tourism, not for a second. Slow Tourism is just another form of tourism, albeit one with less impact on the planet and the wildlife found there. Sometime in the 1980’s people came to regard their two weeks in Spain as a ‘right’. It isn’t. Flying should be a luxury. Slow Travel is an antidote to that way of thinking.

Finally, thought I have used Slow Tourism and Slow Travel interchangeably. There are several other slows we could add to the mix, chief amongst them Slow Food. The whole Slow movement began in the 1980’s as a protest against a McDonalds opening in Rome. Since then it has blossomed into various branches. Practitioners of one invariably have an interest in the others. A good place to start would be Slow Food UK. Dive in, slow down, experience more.

Callum has 30 years experience in ecology and conservation working with species ranging from waders to Snow Leopards. More recently he has been using images to tell the story of how people can help the planet, hence an interest in the Slow movement. You can find him over on his blog at Born on Thursday and on Instagram if you want to see more of his photos.




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