As tourism numbers continue to grow in Scotland it has become difficult for small businesses to stand out amongst the competition in the guided tour market. That’s when every experience counts and Owners of Heartland Travel, Nory and Louise Hope know it. 

According to Neil Christison, Visit Scotland Regional Director for Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, Stirling, and East, West and Midlothian, the tourists coming to Scotland “are not seeing themselves as tourists. They see themselves as adventurers, explorers and want to immerse themselves in local communities, speak to locals, and eat local food.”

Taking these ‘megatrends’ from Visit Scotland into account the Hopes have created a guided tour that specializes in creating a unique experience for their guests, over funneling them to tourist hot spots for a quick picture. It is this attention to guest experience that sets Heartland Travel apart from other guided tour companies.

Nory guides visitors on a private guided through the Scottish Highlands on a 16 seat bus. This the magic number for Heartland Travel because any smaller and the costs per person become quite high, limiting who can go on the tour, and any bigger makes navigating the small roads in the Highlands difficult.

Along with keeping the tours small, the Hopes have found a way to compete with the big names of the guided tour industry. Heartland Travel targets its 3-day tours, run every weekend from April to November, to international students. By working directly with the University of Dundee, Stirling, and St. Andrews the Hopes are serving an underrepresented market and providing a service angled towards the adventurous student.

The 3-day tours include visits to all the most popular destinations in the Highlands and the Isle of Skye. While the cost of the accommodation is separate, it remains affordable keeping the price for the entire trip under £200 . Guests stay in the converted Stationmaster’s Lodge in Stromeferry that comfortably hosts all 16 passengers.

Nory Hope, tour guide and co-owner of Heartland Travel. Photo courtesy of Heartland Travel. Photo courtesy of Heartland Travel.

As a guide, Nory goes the extra mile to ensure that each one of his guests has a great experience. This is evident from picking up students directly from their university, taking song requests during quieter parts of the drive from destination to the next, and getting visitors off the bus as often as possible for “phooootooograaaaphs.” Often pulling to the side of the road to give visitors time to snap a few photos of the scenery before moving on. He also immerses visitors in the history and culture of Scotland by sharing the legends and myths passed down generation to generation about the landmarks visitors see on their tour.

A “phooooootooograaaaaph” stop in Glencoe. Photo by Rose Muy-Sanchez

Despite seeing success in his 3-day tours through the Highlands and Isle of Sky, Nory would like to see tourism expand into smaller and more remote villages and towns throughout Scotland. “There are other areas of Scotland that can hugely benefit from tourism, areas that quieter, [areas] where jobs are more scarce, that are very beautiful, that people don’t really visit.” He believes that for this to happen there needs to be a “more joined-up way of thinking in regards to our tourism, rather than funneling everyone into the same locations.”

Pushing that movement are guided tours, much like the ones he runs.  Nory believes “the more people that come here once, they get the desire to see more, and may plan return trips to see more.”