Isles leading in staycation breaks

The Western Isles is leading Scotland in taking advantage of the ‘staycation’ boom, the head of VisitScotland has said.

Despite the tough economic times afflicting the country, according to Dr Mike Cantlay, chair of VisitScotland, the Outer Hebrides are enjoying a mini-boom and prospects are looking rosy for the next two or three years to come.

He was speaking as new figures revealed that the Southern Isles have enjoyed a tourist boom on the back of the popular BBC 2 documentary series, An Island Parish.

Castlebay VisitScotland Information Centre has seen increases in visitor numbers of 25 per cent while there has been a knock-on effect too for South Uist, with a 10 per cent increase in visitor numbers in Lochboisdale.

Accommodation providers in Castlebay and Barra are, say VisitScotland, now almost completely chock-a-block up until the middle of September.

Meanwhile, last month’s Tall Ships visit also had a major impact, generating a massive 50 per cent increase in visitor numbers to VisitScotland’s Information Centre in Stornoway.

Also continuing to have a positive influence is Road Equivalent Tariff (RET), introduced two years ago.

Said a VisitScotland spokesman: “The Road Equivalent Tariff (RET), introduced two years ago, continues to have a positive impact on tourism on the island. The RET lets people come on to the island for half the price and we have seen more camper vans on the island as a result.

“We have seen camper van users coming into our VisitScotland Information Centres and buying souvenirs. They are also eating in restaurants and buying fuel for camping.”

The VisitScotland chair is therefore in bullish mood about the future and convinced that season 2011 will set up the islands nicely for a further two or three years.

He told the Gazette: “I think what is happening in the Outer Hebrides is important. Every industry is having a tough time coming out of recession, but the tourism industry in the Western Isles is robust and having an excellent season and we are very pleased to see some of the results coming in as well as the feedback we have been receiving from the business community who are really pleased about how things are going.”

Though the staycation – a holiday in the UK – was currently a trend being boosted by the uncertain economic times ahead, Dr Cantlay and VisitScotland are focussing very much in converting this trend into a habit.

In this regard, the Outer Hebrides was well placed. According to the VisitScotland chair the secret is to get people who would not normally holiday in the UK to do so, try something different and have a good time. And the Western Isles were leading the way in this in Scotland.

To be sustainable, however, the current trend had to be converted into repeat business and Dr Cantlay is confident this can be achieved here.

Certainly there is a large potential untapped market in Scotland alone; some 40% of Scots say they have never had a proper mainstay holiday in Scotland.

But Dr Cantlay was keen to emphasise that now was the best time in a number of years for further investment in the tourism industry in the Western Isles.

“There is an opportunity here for further investment. With tourist numbers up and strong projections for the next two or three years, we are very confident of the tourism industry in the Western Isles and across Scotland holding up well. If there are businesses out there thinking of investing, now is the time to do it,” said Dr Cantlay.

The tourism chief is also pinning hopes of a further boost to Scottish tourism on the back of a new Hollywood animation, Brave, which is set in Scotland. The Pixar/Disney production, which features the voices of Billy Connolly, Robbie Coltrane and Kelly Macdonald, is expected to be a massive hit when it is released next year.