In an open letter to Skye residents Three Chimneys founder and director of Destination Skye and Lochalsh, Shirley Spear OBE, has called for a new local drive to tackle tourism related problems.
She said: “From my experience of business in Skye for the past 31 summers, I know that this time of year has always brought an influx of visitors to the island which is almost overwhelming for the resident community. This is nothing new, particularly in July and August.
“However, recent years have seen many noticeable changes in the type of tourists who have been coming to the island, particularly those travelling via the high number of tour buses from the Central Belt, plus the increase in the use of camper vans. More people have their own cars than ever before. People no longer buy postcards to send home to family and friends, but instantly exchange photographs of the places they visit (providing they can get a Broadband or mobile signal, of course!)
“The well-known beauty spots have become widely publicised on social media and as a result, they have been over-run and abused. There is no doubt about this, but as a community we have done very little indeed to come together to plan any sort of strategy to cope with the situation we are faced with now, nor for the future. We have no suitable organisation through which we can speak as one voice on behalf of the island and our vitally important industry, namely Tourism and Hospitality.
"Steve Carter’s petition attracted a lot of attention, so it is clear that the community cares deeply about what is happening. However, requesting direct assistance from Inverness and Holyrood is not the only way to tackle change, nor will it be the most productive. There are a large number of funding schemes which Government has already set-up for communities to use to suit their own needs. These schemes are in place and being widely used by virtually every other region in Scotland other than ourselves. This is exactly why we need to have a “destination organisation” in our community to be able to access these funds and to improve what we provide as a visitor experience, whilst also improving our own lives and caring for our beautiful environment.
"Some readers will be aware that Destination Skye and Lochalsh, was originally launched to handle such issues, but did not succeed in bringing the community together in a proactive way. I am currently working with two Skye business colleagues to improve this organisation and have taken the Chair, temporarily, to begin driving a new way forward. Since we announced that we wished to try and do so, at an event held at Skeabost Hotel, in March this year, we have made the necessary business changeover and are progressing. It is difficult to do so at this time of year, as many people will understand, but we have our first major meeting with the public agencies arranged for 26th August. We intend to hold a public meeting in the early Autumn. We truly hope many Skye residents will attend and show their genuine support for building a new destination organisation which can apply for the funds that are available to assist with improvements all-round.
"I urge everyone with an interest to follow what we are doing and to contribute. Nothing can succeed without community support and collaboration at every level. It is my greatest hope that younger people and new business owners who may have started-up in Skye in recent years, will join in and get involved. This new organisation is all about the future. Tourism is vital to our economy, but it is an extremely busy industry throughout Scotland and does not run itself. The days of popping a B&B sign outside the front gate to attract a possible passer-by, were over many years ago. We need to plan and improve collectively and take advantage of all the excellent advice, support and assistance that is available to us. Let’s get going!"