Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT) is calling for a re-think on the future provision of information for visitors to the islands.
This is in response to Visit Scotland’s recent announcement of the closure of its Visitor Information Centres (VICs) in Barra and Lochmaddy at the end of this month and follows the closure of Lochboisdale VIC last year.
Just a single physical information source, yet to be decided in either Harris or Lewis, would then be left to serve the whole of the Outer Hebrides, with no confirmed alternatives yet in place for ongoing dedicated information provision in the Southern Isles.
Visit Scotland announced this as part of the closure of more than half its Visitor Information Centres (VIC) across the country in response to falling footfall and a move to digital channels for information.
However OHT highlighted the popularity of VICs with visitors to the Outer Hebrides, revealing that across the four centres still open, numbers have increased modestly since 2013/14, bucking the national declining trend.
This may reflect both the patchy mobile coverage for internet access and the popularity of the islands amongst older visitors with a preference for face-to-face information.
Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT) does not believe VisitScotland’s idea of a single ‘hub’ is the right solution for a 150 mile chain of distinct islands.
They added that VisitorScotland’s ‘VIP’ programme, where local tourism sites and businesses also provide visitor information, simply reflects what the industry has been doing for years and will not provide any increase in information or advice to visitors that could replace the services of existing VICs.
Ian Fordham, Chairman of OHT, said: “Visit Scotland’s proposed strategy for its VICs does not mean we cannot have a thriving and attractive network of information centres across the Outer Hebrides, helping visitors understand our islands, its heritage, get the most from their stay and put something back into the local economy.
“These could be co-located with existing tourism businesses, run by the industry or by adapting Visit Scotland’s proposals to better suit local circumstances.” Robert McKinnon, OHT’s Vice-Chairman added: “The national approach of Visit Scotland meets neither the needs of visitors nor tourism businesses in the Outer Hebrides.
“We are a network of small communities on individual islands, much of which still lack even the most rudimentary digital coverage.
“As a destination, we want to protect our proud track record of visitor satisfaction and providing a warm welcome.
“We are calling on Visit Scotland to join with the industry, CnES and other partners to develop an information network that best meets the needs of visitors to the Outer Hebrides for now and into the future.”