From Falklands to a new isles tourism challenge
Julie Sloan’s last job was located in Thatcher Drive and meetings took place in the Liberation Room which perhaps gives a couple of clues to the location - Port Stanley.
For three years, she worked as a tourism development specialist for the Falkland Isles Government. Now Julie has switched islands and is living in Lewis as Project Manager for Outer Hebrides Tourism with a specialism in food and drink.
Her first initiative is called Food With a View and visitors are invited to tag a photo which connects an island eating place to its location or local products to settings in which they are consumed. It’s all about using social media to widen the audience for two of the islands’ great assets – food and the environment.
The Falklands offered different challenges. “I just loved it and embraced it,” she says. “I joined Falklands Conservation as a penguin warden which mainly meant telling tourists not to chase after them”.
While the Falkland population is 3000, this would double on days when big cruise ships called. “Even government departments would close down. Everyone had a 4x4 to charge a few hundred pounds a day, taking them to see the penguins”.
Part of her Falklands role, with relevance here, was to extend tourism benefits. “We wanted to get away from tourism being based on people spending a day in Port Stanley,” says Julie, “and get them spending a week or more, out around the islands. There need to be more places for them to stay and things to do, but not so much as to spoil the place. It’s a fine balance to be struck”. As indeed it is here.
Her Falklands contract was for three years. “The last cruise ship left at the end of March 2020 and there has been very little movement since. There were a few Covid cases but basically we were cut off from it”.
Just prior to the pandemic, Julie was part of a team which secured a second civil flight route between the Falklands and Latin America, with Brazil. There is still no communication with Argentina and the existing route is through Chile. Not to see the Brazil connection take off was one disappointment.
The Outer Hebrides job is part funded by the Scotland Food and Drink scheme. As well as promoting the islands as a food destination and helping to market products, Julie has been liaising with the catering course at Lews Castle College, now led by James MacKenzie who previously ran Digby Chick restaurant.
The idea is to create skills which can help enhance the standards of the local offer while at the same time encouraging the idea of careers in the islands’ hospitality sector.
Extending the season is a big part of the Hebridean challenge and Julie points out that “the appeal of big open spaces exists all year round” – perhaps more so post-Covid. However, it needs events to help draw people and eating places open once they arrive. Food, including the appeal of local produce, has a major part to play.
Julie is originally from Newcastle and has previously worked on tourism initiatives along Hadrian’s Wall and in the Burns Country, pre-Falklands. She is now living in Valtos where the advice given to her on arrival in Port Stanley may again have relevance: “Learn to embrace the wind and you’ll love it”.