Fresh calls have been made for more tourism funding for Skye after new figures showed a rise in visitor numbers.
Business group SkyeConnect says the number of vehicles crossing the Skye Bridge rose by 11% last year between April and September.
The number of vehicles heading to the island during the key tourism period last year increased by more than 50,000 to 496,753.
In August alone, there were 229,000 crossings, with some days seeing the number of vehicle movements matching Skye’s population of over 13,000.
Call for for emergency funding
SkyeConnect says the increases demonstrate the need for effective destination management and investment in infrastructure to protect the island.
Gary Curley, the group’s executive chair, is urging the Scottish Government to provide emergency funding.
He is calling for help to maintain and enhance Skye’s infrastructure and to develop a long-term tourism management plan for the island.
“This data highlights Skye’s ever-growing appeal”, he says.
“Alarmingly, there is no long-term destination plan or tourism strategy for Scotland’s second most popular destination due to lack of resources.
“This needs to change urgently.
“We must hold the government accountable and ask why a destination generating over £260 million in economic output faces a future without a destination management organisation (DMO).”
Mr Curley says while England has invested in DMOs following a review, Scotland is set to cut DMO funding.
“It’s reckless and will hinder the Scottish Government’s ability to meet its own objectives for tourism.
“SkyeConnect wants Skye to be a leader in sustainable tourism. But without government intervention, tourism growth on Skye will become unsustainable and our environment, communities, businesses, and economy will suffer devastating long-term consequences.”
‘Encouraging’ figures highlight need for funding
The figures show vehicle crossings have risen by 19% since the first year of recovery after Covid in 2021.
SkyeConnect says while more data is needed, over 65% of bridge crossings in 2023 were tied to the peak tourism months.
Island councillor John Finlayson said the figures come as no surprise.
He said they support Highland Council data from places like the Old Man of Storr where paths have been repaired following damage, including from walkers.
“While these figures are encouraging for the tourism industry and the economy of Skye, they also highlight the continued need for ongoing investment in both destination management and infrastructure projects which clearly are also more difficult to fund in the current challenging economic climate.”
He said it is crucial that public bodies, visitor groups and other agencies continue to work together to develop ways of working and joint investment to provide the best experiences for tourists and residents
Last year SkyeConnect made a plea to have money raised from a mooted tourist tax spent on the island due to pressures on its environment, infrastructure and communities.
Tourism minister Richard Lochhead said: “We are committed to growing and diversifying Scotland’s visitor economy, and also to ensuring places across the country can develop, manage and benefit from tourism effectively and responsibly.
“Our national tourism strategy – Scotland Outlook 2030 – outlines our ambition to become a world leader in 21st century tourism.
Covid funding to DMOs
“We recognise the role that Destination Management Organisations can play in supporting this ambition.”
Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) provided £3 million Covid-19 recovery funding for DMOs.
Mr Lochhead added; “Whilst this funding package is coming to an end, HIE nevertheless stand ready to support SkyeConnect and other DMOs through a wide range of products and programmes while also helping them transition to sustainable, commercial business models.”