Developing the visitor appeal of Orkney’s Norse heritage sites
: A route to more sustainable tourism?

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by UHI)


This thesis considers the unsustainable consequences of tourism concentration at destinations, and the role of under-visited heritage sites to increase dispersal and therefore sustainability at destination level.
It does so with reference to the Orkney Islands in the north of Scotland. This archipelago has experienced a dramatic growth in tourism in recent years, and the concentration of tourism impacts at particular attractions/areas is acutely felt. The thesis looks at whether under-utilised aspects of the Orcadian attractions landscape, in particular smaller Norse heritage sites, may serve as a potential alternative to overused sites/areas, and thus increase the sustainability of tourism to the destination.
To that end, an in-depth, holistic case study analysis was carried out of six lesser-known, Norse heritage sites in Orkney and their contexts, using documentary analysis, structured and participant observation, and semi-structured interviewing. The aims were two-fold: first, to clarify which factors presently serve to attract visitors to those sites or, conversely, deter visitation, and the extent to which it is possible and realistic to facilitate an increase in site appeal. Second, to analyse the expected social, environmental and economic consequences of a tourism increase to the sites and their surrounding areas and communities, thus clarifying the extent to which dispersing visitors to them is indeed a sustainable measure.
The thesis concludes that there is, in sustainability terms, certainly a case for greater dispersal to the Norse sites and surrounding areas, although particular concerns necessitate that judgments be made on a case-to-case basis and after extensive stakeholder consultation. A number of recommendations are made to increase the appeal of the Norse sites. Those findings have a broader academic relevance, particularly in terms of sustainable tourism in cold water island destinations, cruise destinations and/or to small heritage sites. As central tourism stakeholders in Orkney are at present seeking ways to increase tourism dispersal, the results presented here also have a direct policy application.
Date of Award28 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SponsorsESF studentship
SupervisorAlexandra Sanmark (Supervisor) & Finlo Cottier (Supervisor)

Cite this