Paul has run Wilderness Scotland for the past 20 years and he has built something truly special: one of the UK’s most successful domestic tourism companies that has found its niche in offering bespoke and curated adventures for those that have a love for the great outdoors.
Ever fancied sea kayaking the west coast of Scotland? Or canoeing and sailing, perhaps? Maybe a week’s mountain biking across the best cross country routes Scotland has to offer is more your bag? And your bag! Wilderness Scotland will take care of that, curating not only your journey but looking after your stuff to let you enjoy the great outdoors.
On top of this tailored adventuring, Paul and his team are currently curating one of the most exciting developments I’ve seen in the Scottish business scene, a venture that will truly help them and their customers make informed decisions about their impact on the planet.
Wilderness Scotland is currently undergoing a comprehensive carbon foot-printing analysis that encompasses their internal and external operations. They are attempting to cover everything from their team’s commute to work (mostly by foot or bike), to their website hosting, through to the footprint of a night’s stay in every B&B and hotel that is on their suppliers list.
Not only will this data enable Wilderness Scotland to have a wealth of information about how to improve their carbon footprint, but it will also eventually enable their customers to see the carbon footprint of each holiday and package that Wilderness Scotland has to offer.
This is truly exciting. It will give the customer information that currently isn’t readily available and allow them to make decisions about their holiday choices that take into account their carbon footprint.
And, more excitingly to me, it provides a roadmap for how existing companies can put in the legwork to understand their own carbon footprint and therefore really make a difference towards reducing it. After all, if you don’t have the data, you can’t truly make an informed decision.
Out in nature, Paul says, you see the effects of climate change at first hand. But part of what he sees as a problem with climate change and people understanding the impact – especially in the UK – is that these impacts aren’t often obvious to people at all, partly because most people aren’t in nature day-to-day and partly because we are not experiencing climate change impacts as rapidly and severely as other areas across the world.
He has travelled and worked extensively across the globe, spending time in ecosystems that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The Alps and other extreme mountainous areas are one such place, where glaciers are very obviously in retreat.
You may think that one obvious solution would be curtail tourism. But Paul totally disagrees. Carbon emissions from the tourism sector contribute to between 5-8% of all man made emissions and is set to increase by 2030. Tourism is a bigger polluter than the construction industry – but the sector is also the world’s biggest employer, and when done well, tourism offers the opportunity to bring people closer to the environment and enhance their awareness of our impact.
There is a tension here, says Paul, where saying a hard ‘no’ to any kind of tourism for carbon emissions reasons would undermine the great work the sector does to redistribute wealth, alleviate poverty, create employment and help protect some of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet.
He is certainly leading the way in demonstrating in real terms how the tourism industry can become much more sustainable, helping people understand and appreciate wilderness, and how tourism can be done both sensitively to the environment and without compromising on quality.
In their attempts to scale the business some years ago, the management team spent considerable efforts in developing their offering in overseas territories. If they could offer great wilderness experiences in Scotland, why not in East Africa? Well… because all the market research showed it as a highly saturated market. They spent a lot of time, effort, and resources on the expansion but ultimately realised that they started the company because they had a love for Scotland and its habitats, and that working domestically meant they had control over the quality, delivery, design and operations of the business. Instead, they went full force to attracting customers from overseas to Scotland, and this now makes up 80% of their business.
His team all love the outdoors and are not only passionate about nature, they’re exceedingly knowledgeable too. Their customers love this about Wilderness Scotland: it is key to why they have so many rave reviews, repeat business, and personal recommendations.
The carbon audit is just one example of how Wilderness Scotland is continually pushing their business to improve. There is a rolling process of review, with feedback from staff and customers, to ensure that their offering is always top notch. They define their business as about ‘climate, community, and conservation’, and this informs the ways in which they can continually improve.
First and foremost, Wilderness Scotland is about great holidays. Their customers say they appreciate the overwhelming feeling of appreciation with their connection to nature on holidays with Paul and his team. The primary driver for their customers isn’t because Wilderness Scotland is a sustainable tourism business, it’s because they offer outstanding customer service. But their company’s environmental DNA means they are able to inspire people about nature, rather than resort to lecturing.
Most of Wilderness Scotland’s business is from overseas customers and understandably the pandemic has caused severe disruption. Managing their team’s transition through this period has been one of the most difficult things Paul has done in his career. Now that travel is opening up, the recovery in his business is strong and looking very promising. Paul is confident they can recover their business and, I think, they may indeed benefit from the increased awareness about the importance of nature in combating climate change.