THERE is much talk these days of the benefits of slow tourism, both for the traveller and the places being visited.

While the phrase may be relatively recent, the idea behind slow tourism isn’t new.

It refers to the way we experience the places we visit, seeing travel as an opportunity to connect in a more personal way with people and culture, spending time in one place to get to know it, rather than rushing everywhere to see “visitor attractions”.

I have had some first-hand experience of how the opposite of slow tourism works.

In my younger days, I was a driver tour guide, taking people on day and overnight tours to different places in Scotland, mostly to well-known locations in the Highlands and Islands.

I hadn’t come across the term slow tourism then, but I do remember wishing that the tours were less packed with ‘must-see’ and ‘famous’ sites, which often created a pre-determined tick list of things to see and do, often making the trip a string of fleeting moments of sightseeing.

Almost everyone wanted to go to Loch Ness; most didn’t really know why, other than it was famous because of Nessie, and it’s what everyone did when they came to Scotland.

So the arduous one-day Loch Ness round trip became a tourist wacky races, with buses of all shapes and sizes heading for the same destination all at the same time.

I remember our brief pauses at places such as Glencoe, literally a few minutes to take a photo before herding everyone back on the bus.

I often secretly referred to it as the Loch Stress tour!

Most people seemed happy with the experience because they had got what they paid for, and I get that.

It’s a business model of travel, in which people are sold expectations and desires before they even arrive, and an industry is built around meeting the expectations this promotion creates.

Business is good, of course. We need footfall from visitors in our local shops, cafes and visitor services; the tourist industry is vital to our economy.

But there is a horrible paradox in all this mass consumerist tourism: it can ruin the very locations people come to see and experience, and, very often, the economic benefits bypass local communities, or large sections of them.

Changing this would be one of the big benefits of slow tourism.

The trouble is, you can promote slow tourism as an idea, but it’s more difficult to market, because the whole point of it is to go off the mass marketing grid and find deeper, more personal and satisfying connections to the places we visit.

I recognise we all travel for different reasons and want different things from it, and that will be true of people who visit our beautiful county.

As the idea of slow tourism or travel is becoming more popular, what is vital is not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

One of these big mistakes, I’d dare to suggest, is marketing ‘must-do’ driving routes with romantic titles.

This is the antithesis of slow tourism. By all means, provide information on local ‘off-the-beaten-track’ places to visit and experience, but Visit East Lothian’s idea of creating a local version of the NC500 and encouraging visitors to drive around East Lothian’s quiet country roads is just going to create our own version of the paradox I mentioned earlier.

The thing is, we have so many amazing places to visit in our county.

I’ve lived here most my life and yet there are still many undiscovered places I want to visit.

People who visit usually have limited time and, of course, that is a factor in their decision on what to do.

But a drive on clogged back roads usually isn’t the best-quality experience for anyone, local or tourist, not to mention the environmental impact that it will create.

How do we effectively encourage slow tourism so it benefits visitors and local people alike, and doesn’t just become the next new commodified trend?

I have some simple suggestions, beginning with improving public transport, of course, but it is a vital discussion we need to have.

Slow travel could mean different things to different people; we all have different interests, tastes and abilities.

But that’s the joy of it, it’s about making an experience in your own way.

Over the next six weeks of school summer holiday, we plan to be slow tourists in our own county.

I will share some of our experiences and the stories of places and people on our doorstep in this wonderful corner of the Earth.