Editorial: Despite reports elsewhere, Skye welcomes visitors!

Editorial: Despite reports elsewhere, Skye welcomes visitors!
West Highland Free Press, by Keith MacKenzie


The national media frenzy which has occurred around “overcrowded Skye” in the past week or two was predictable, but not particularly welcome.


Skye is not an innocent little outcrop in the Hebrides which has suddenly been overrun by hordes of tourists.


Skye is a very large and relatively affluent island which until recently was economically depressed.


Our ’35 Years Ago’ column this week puts matters into perspective. In 1982 Skye really was an innocent, declining little Hebridean outcrop.


The Skye and Lochalsh Local Plan for the year took note of the region’s high unemployment rate, and saw no more hope of reducing it over the next five years than over the previous 50 years.


The island’s main hope, said the Local Plan 35 years ago, lay in tourism.


So it did. Now, largely thanks to tourism, Skye is one of the very few success stories in the north-west Highlands and Islands.


Modern Skye has, for large parts of the year, become a tourist island. There are doubtless those who regret that, but there are also plenty of people who welcome the fact that the place is no longer on its knees.


We should be careful what we wish for. Bryan Clark was right, in last week’s letters columns, to point towards Saltcoats and Girvan. They once had all the tourists. The tourists no longer go there. Saltcoats has become a basket case and would give a lot for a share of Skye’s 21st tourist industry.


Skye, in short, does not have a problem with tourists. Skye does have a problem, a very big problem, with its infrastructure.


Our roads and car parks are inadequate, our public transport provision is insufficient or, in the case of an air service, non-existent. We have bad mobile phone signals and slow or absent wifi.


Our regional authority cannot even provide public toilets for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who eat and drink in Skye.


Once again, a “tourist tax” has been proposed. When Hugh MacLeod of MacLeod suggested this last August, we opposed it because it would be impractical and unfair.


“Who would set and collect such a tax?” we wondered. “Who would distribute the revenue? How could it be invested in such essentials as the roads, which are already the responsibility of Highland Council and the Scottish Government?


“More importantly, visitors to Skye already do pay taxes. Every time they buy a meal, or a bed for the night, or a souvenir, tourists contribute something to the exchequers of our regional authority and our two parliaments in Edinburgh and London.


“The more tourists there are, the more they contribute. Why should we further burden, and possibly alienate, our visitors by making them pay twice for basic civic services?”


We are in no doubt that more investment must be made in the infrastructure of Skye. The question is, where should that investment come from?


Obviously both Highland Council and the Scottish Government should start returning some of Skye’s income stream back here.


But another source suggests itself.


Last year Inverness became the recipient of a £315 million bonanza. That was the Inverness city deal.


Inverness won the money from central governments with a promise that large quantities of the £315 millions would be spent, not in prosperous Inverness, but in the wider Highlands. It was to be, in their words, a city-region deal.


So far there has, unsurprisingly, been little evidence of the cash being splashed out here on the west coast.


Skye’s tourism infrastructure problems surely present the ideal investment opportunity for the “city-region deal”.


Some of that £315 million could build toilets, car parks and other facilities.


It would not solve all our problems, but it would help. It would also send a signal that Skye and the rest of the Highlands welcome visitors.


After the newspapers, radio and television coverage of recent days, that message must be widely broadcast.