Hopes for a new local marketing strategy were outlined at a major tourism industry event for the Isle of Skye held at Skeabost Hotel near Portree on Saturday.

The hotel's conservatory was packed with people involved in all aspects of the local tourism - from artists to hoteliers, from shop owners to landowners, from restaurateurs to photographers.

The meeting formed part of the Scottish Tourism Alliances' plan to increase overall earnings from tourism by £1 billion by 2020.  

A number of official speakers lauded the Outer Hebrides for the way the Outer Hebrides Tourism group - an industry-led body - had multiplied its membership tenfold and had just been instrumental in the launch of Hebridean Way cycle route from the Butt of Lewis to the Isle of Barra and the Eat Drink Hebrides food trail.  The launch had taken place at the new Harris Distillery in Tarbert, itself a major addition to the Outer Hebrides range of attractions.

Marc Crothall, the chief executive officer at the Scottish Tourism Alliance said the Skeabost event was one of a host of local events under the banner Connecting 2020 - the aim is to have at least 2,020 conversations with local businesses although probably 4,000 will take place.  He pointed out that the tourism industry employed 220,000 people and involved around 27,000 businesses. This region has highest growth of tourism employment inn the whole country.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance is the tourism industry’s voice and direct link with Government and has a seat on the UK-wide tourism body.  The STA 'On The Road' tour, of which the Skeabost event was part,  is intent upon connecting with as many small businesses as possible during Tourism Week in the run-up to the two-day Signature Conference in Edinburgh, along with the Thistle Awards, Scotland’s national celebration of top tourism businesses from every region. 

The leadership of the local tourism body Destination Skye & Lochalsh - with the slogan Developing All-round Excellence – is changing, the meeting heard, and a new group of tourism businesses is taking the lead with a new venture, which will have a much wider focus upon marketing the area and planning a future strategy.  

Among those contributing towards making these changes is Donald MacDonald, Manager of Aros in Portree, who said before the meeting:  “This is a real opportunity for everyone in Skye to work together to strengthen the local economy which, as everyone knows, is driven by tourism. 

"We need to collectively capture a new spirit of engagement, partnership and drive that will see this iconic destination reach its real potential. This will be the time to look at new initiatives, find effective solutions and help to develop the tourism product on Skye through a quality focused approach. Tourism is not just about beds and food, it engages every other service that is being offered on Skye.”

Shirley Spear, of the Three Chimneys Restaurant, who is also involved in a variety of other national promotional groups, said the new group, including Anne Gracie, of Skeabost Hotel, Donald MacDonald and Rob Ware from Sleat, wanted to create a "brand new conversation" about the future of the tourism industry in Skye and Lochalsh.  She outlined the way the structures of the industry had changed over the years, from local tourist boards onwards, to the present model of local industry bodies or DMO's. 

However, she said, this area had "not been very successful in pulling together a collaborative working group" and unlike all other parts of Scotland "in recent years…we don't seem to have made a great deal of progress in building a cohesive strategy for our local industry."  DSL started its life with a big flourish but "did not develop as many of us had hoped" because it had not been widely enough supported, she said. She praised the work of Neil and Rosemary Colquohoun, who along with Clive Pearson, had been the DSL driving force and had enabled it to achieve the progress which it had made.  But the group could not succeed in the future without developing a strategy and a business plan, winning external funding and involving everyone in the industry in Skye and Lochalsh.

(More information about STA, Tourism Week and the Roadshow, can be found here