Experiencing Galloway and Southern Ayrshire ‘Biosphere Experiences’.

“Don’t underestimate your ‘ordinary’ features, or your guests. They may be interested in something which is obvious for you but ‘exotic for them. Sometimes ordinary is extraordinary!”

Heidi Koponen – Ilomantsi Museum Foundation North Karelia, Finland

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere see its designation as an opportunity to brand and market the businesses and communities of SW Scotland under the international banner of being a UNESCO Biosphere. Through SHAPE we wanted to build on the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere’s special qualities and develop sustainable tourism, added value and new partnerships. Our aim is to develop opportunities for the visitor and tourist to sustainably experience the ‘Biosphere’ which we are branding as ‘Biosphere Experiences’. This has involved developing a suite of guided and unguided experiences, taking in cultural and natural heritage, including cycling, walking, water-based activities, wildlife watching, arts and crafts, local history walks and star gazing. Our aim is to add value to existing opportunities such as partnering and packaging up local guides with accommodation providers, as well as developing new experiences. Through SHAPE we explored expanding the remit of existing guides and developed and ran a Biosphere Experience guide training course for 8 local people. SHAPE has been focussed around the area of the Cree Valley and Glentrool Village, which is a Biosphere Community. Glentrool community are developing their own plans through its Development Trust to increase tourism and visitors to its village

Aims of the learning journey

Sharing lessons learned through the development of the eco-tourism initiative and ‘Biosphere Experiences’.

How we are connecting places together – rural with town centre heritage and culturally based activities – with visit to museum and participation in guide experiences

Experience and explore opportunities to develop Darkness and Dark Skies tourism

Find out about the development of local Biosphere Experience Guides to support eco-tourism

Meet stakeholders from Glentrool village and learn about Community led tourism development


The 3-day learning journey gave an opportunity to share our SHAPE eco-tourism initiative ‘Biosphere Experiences’ and a chance to showcase the newly trained Biosphere Experience Guides. The participants had a packed programme of experiences to take part in from history and wild-life experiences to a night-time darkness and star gazing experience. On the last day a workshop took place with learning journey participants and local stakeholders to explore the common challenges and solutions to developing eco-tourism in their respective countries and a chance for Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere to get feedback on what stood out for participants and what people felt was our USP.

Participant feedback

Tarja Kupiainen – Karelia University of Applied Sciences, Finland – Professor of Tourism Marketing and Management and Folklore

Barry’s learned and entertaining presentation on Bruce, the great Scottish hero was excellent. He really got our attention! And Martin explaining the detail of the tweed pattern in his jacket and gaming clothing he was wearing was great story telling. Lots of interesting experiences and lovely narratives. Every part of the learning journey could be included in my work as a tourism teacher and developer.

Nic Bullivant – Mountain Guide Business – from Wester Ross Biosphere

On return keen to develop ideas within our Biosphere for the training of local guides and I think there is tremendous opportunity for Dark Sky tourism in Wester Ross

Kjartan Bollason –   Sustainable Tourism – Snæfellsnes Regional Park (Iceland)

Very impressive to see how the area is full of talent and potential. The meetings with local stakeholders were outstanding and helpful in getting in depth knowledge and learning about the big picture of tourism

Isabel McLeish Highland Forest Therapy – Wester Ross Biosphere

I feel that creating a sense of wanting to visit a place with a ‘sustainable lifestyle’ is key, in other words ‘live like a local’ and get tourists to stay and experience a place for a while.

Exploring joint solutions to common challenges

On the last day, learning journey participants along with local stakeholders explored challenges and solutions to developing eco-tourism.

  • Challenge

Visibility and Exposure in the world marketplace
‘Iconic’ destinations promoted for so long- difficult to change.
Long term investment is needed to change perceptions.
Time – how long have we got to change this?

  • Solution

Need to work with and influence National Agencies
Promote ourselves
Look to alternative types of investment besides money – people – time – volunteers- partnerships – co-creation
Market Healthy Living – Experience sustainable lifestyle in a SHA/Biosphere – Live like a local

  • Challenge

Touristic product and business development
Accessing training in rural areas
Difficulty in getting small businesses to collaborate
Communication across regions and rural areas
Lifestyle businesses – happy not to make changes
Financial viability – Finding the right customers who are willing to pay enough for the product
Lack of guides to deliver experiences
Difficulty in knowing what eco-visitors are seeking

  • Solution

Create mechanisms to innovate – ideas and product development – share knowledge and experience good and bad.
Business support for small rural businesses – sole traders
Create tourism associations and vehicles (support systems) for collaboration and networking
Fine tune our offer – its already good/quality – target visitors
Training for guides and rangers
Create a Guides hub – local – national – SHA/Biosphere
Certification Schemes – promoting quality

  • Challenge

Short season and weather
Transport and infrastructure
Remote areas – difficult transport links for independent travellers
Lack of eco-transport options

  • Solution

Developing opportunities outside traditional season – dark skies activities.

Community Transport
Packaging products – with transport solutions