Scott Armstrong, regional partnerships director for visitscotland
The idea of a "bedroom tax" or similar levy on tourists and visitors to Skye as a way of getting finance for improving facilities was firmly rejected by Marc Crothall, the chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance, speaking at the inaugural meeting of skyeconnect, the local destination organisation, on Saturday (March 18th),
At the meeting in the Aros Centre, Portree, which was sponsored by NFU Mutual, a number of concerns were raised by audience members - including the decline in island bus services and how that affected both visitors and local people trying to work in the tourist industry; the state of the Armadale-Mallaig ferry service; the need for affordable housing both for local people and as accommodation for people coming to the Island to find work; the problems caused by the lack of broadband connections and the failure to roll-out superfast to so much of the area; and the possible options for getting additional money spent on improving the conditions for everyone.
Marc Crothall explained that according to the calculations done by STA, the UK already rated 140 out of 141 in the world for price competitiveness because of the harsh VAT régime, the level of air passenger duty, the level of business rates and other levies, plus the impact of the national living wage and other Government changes. It was particularly hard to justify such additional charges for tourists when we were offering them attractions which did not have toilet facilities or car parking available.
However, he did point to the success of the Isle of Arran in running a voluntary scheme which works through the Arran Trust - the island's visitor gifting scheme. The Trust funds projects which look after the landscapes and environment of Arran. The Trust works alongside businesses and community groups to improve sustainable practices and aims to safeguard the future of the island.
Also speaking at the meeting was Dave Liley of the website www.isleofskye.com who explained the very rapid growth of the website since it was redesigned and relaunched in 2013. He said it had millions of hits a year now and provided the most comprehensive local service of advertising for tourism related businesses.
Jake Sayles pictured above from NFU Mutual in Portree - which sponsored the event and organised the associated trade fair - spoke of the services which his company could offer to the tourism industry, "covering anything not on the water or up in the sky".
Mark McBrearty, sales manager of NFU Mutual, spoke of how the insurer started out in 1910 and for the first 80 years only delay with farm insurance and farming customers. In 1990 they widened out the range of customers served to support the types of businesses and customers which were related to those with which they were already involved. And they work very closely with the NFU Scotland.
Martin Kennedy, the new vice-president of NFU Scotland, said he wanted to highlight the benefits of farming and crofting for tourism in the islands. Local food and drink is important in many areas - there was a lot of work being done by farmers and crofters which maintained the landscape for visitors to enjoy. In some areas, agriculture was struggling and support was needed to keep the crofting communities alive - the vegetation and the landscape would not be the same without agriculture. It was important that we did not let the value and impact of local produce be undermined by imports of a lower quality. He spoke in support of moves afoot to create a local abattoir in Skye which would retain added-value on the island.
Scott Armstrong, the regional partnerships director for visitscotland, said the organisation was dedicated to marketing and improving the number of visitors and the amount spent by visitors. It was increasingly digital and increasingly via mobile devices. Their website attracted 18 million visits while visitscotland is the most used visitor destination on Instagram. He pointed out that the special events coming up - themed years from 2018 which is the Year of Young People - will be every two years. 2020 will be the year of Scotland's Coast and Waters and 2022 will be Scotland's Stories, both of which will be very relevant to Skye.
Alan Mackenzie, the Portree-based Industry Relationship Manager for visitscotland, explained about the visitscotland marketing opportunities offered on-line both aimed at individual bookings and to the travel trade.