To (General Manager),
This letter is an open letter, available on my Highland Historian blog and Facebook page. It is not a complaint letter and is hopefully the beginning of our positive joint-effort to ensure that information is available to all guests, clients and tour guides who use your facilities, whether that is on a regular basis or on a once-in-a-lifetime visit. I hope that my colleagues in tourism and tour guides will also read the letter and take positive action.
I have been visiting the Kingshouse semi-regularly since around 2005. Before that I visited a few times with family. I have watched the development of the site and the activities of those who visit closely, including attending the planning meeting where the modern Kingshouse Hotel received planning permission; due to that meeting also including the Viewhill (Cairnfields) housing development built on Culloden Battlefield being on the agenda.
The issue I am raising here is people and their reactions to animals; particularly deer. This will be no surprise to you as the issue has been discussed widely and you no-doubt look out of the window and see people interacting with the deer on a daily basis. For those who are not aware, my view on this is that the deer herd from Etive and the southern end of Glencoe which regularly gather in the Kingshouse car park are often interacted with by visitors. This ranges from photos from a distance which is great, to photos with the deer which is less-great, to stroking which is too much interaction, to feeding which is completely wrong for guests to be doing. It is not a new issue, but it is developing rapidly with increased footfall.
I have personally watched as people have fed crisps, peanuts, chocolate digestives, oranges and kit-kats (other brands of chocolate biscuit are available) to the enthusiastic deer. A young stag ran into my tent in 2009 by the stream when an inebriated member of a party camping close by tried to make it drink whisky at 5am. Explaining the implications of these actions to one person is one-thing but it will (and does) occur again and again unless something more substantial is done.
The rights-and-wrongs of this biologically have been discussed widely, as have the health and safety implications. I know that your team are aware of these, but again for those not aware, these wild animals can move very quickly and can protect food and even scrap for food on offer. This has been very close to causing injury on several (in fact, many) occasions at the Kingshouse and we are remarkably lucky that incidents of serious injury are not more regular.
I strongly believe, having managed a visitor centre that received over 250,000 visitors to the site and over 115,000 paying visitors to a visitor centre per year, that it is time for Kingshouse to take the lead on an awareness campaign to ensure that the experience of seeing these animals can continue safely. However, I am also offering to help because I recognise that additional tasks on top of day-to-day operations will not be part of your business plan or budget, particularly if there is no legal requirement to act.
There are many options available, but I am imploring you to act on at least one of them. I am happy to meet and discuss options or to be contacted about how we might develop wider awareness of how to safely interact with the deer in the car park, but without Kingshouse taking the lead on this, it will just continue. Your new facilities have already brought an increase of footfall to the area and that will hopefully continue. But with this generated increase comes an increase in your duty of care to your guests, whether they are paying customers or not.
As the interactions usually occur between the guests’ vehicle and the entrance, there is no point in discussing the issue after arrival. There are also many tour guides now using the Kingshouse as a stop. Many of these share my views, but some encourage the interactions. This is something to be reviewed and may lead to positive engagement with companies and tour guides to ensure greater awareness of the implications of enticing wild animals to feed on unnatural resources.
Signage in the car park does not appear to have worked. You do have a message on your website, but this requires the visitor to read English, to click on the link and to read between the lines of your message. It could be clearer and the page is under a heading “meet the deer, dear” which, if the rest is not read, is an encouragement to engage with one of “your best bits” (as if the deer are somehow pets). Whilst it is explained later that they are not pets or belong to the hotel, it is unlikely that many website visitors will read that far. The message is there, but it is too cloudy. We can clarify the message easily.
Let’s discuss and act on this. We have an opportunity to ensure responsible measures are taken to ensure quality and safe experiences during the continuing growth of your business.
Andrew Grant McKenzie MA (Hons) FSA Scot