The proposal by Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan that motorhome users coming to the Western Isles should face a special levy to pay for additional facilities on the Islands sparked off a series of meetings at Edinburgh ministerial level.
And Alasdair Allan also met with representatives of Outer Hebrides Tourism to discuss their complete rejection of the proposal.
The group – representing tourism businesses throughout the Islands – said that “whilst OHT acknowledges that there is work to be done to ensure adequate infrastructure and facilities, we disagree with the claims that motorhome visitors do not contribute to the economy. “
Following a study which OHT carried out this summer, the gross annual spend of all motorhome visitors in the Outer Hebrides was approximately £2 million.
- Motorhome visitors spent an average of 7 days in the Outer Hebrides
- Motorhome visitors spent over 60% of the nights on organised campsite, paying fees to local operators
- Motorhome visitors spent an average of just under £500 per trip on food, drink, fuel, goods, arts, transport, crafts and meals with businesses in the Outer Hebrides
- 62% of nights were spent using campsite facilities
- 26% never used a campsite
OHT met with Dr Allan as they “felt his proposal, although it might raise £80,000 per annum, would put at risk an annual spend of £2m and the financial stability of our islands.
“Motorhome visitors are highly flexible in their holiday plans, so are most likely to choose another destination in the face of discriminatory taxes or levies.”
Dr Alasdair Allan said: "I wholeheartedly welcome the contribution motorhome tourists make to the island economy. I have had a chance to speak to several of them over the summer and they have all been very courteous and happy to be enjoying their holiday in the Outer Hebrides.
"There is no proposal from the Scottish Government for any additional levy on ferry fares. There is, however, a local debate about how best to ensure we have the infrastructure which motorhomes need, and as local MSP, I responded to that debate. The Scottish Government is seeking to address capacity issues through the provision of new vessels and investment in piers.
"I think there is agreement about the need to attract motorhomes tourists to the islands, and the real discussion locally is about how best to enhance their experience, given the justifiably very positive view which motorhome visitors have of the islands."
Marc Crothall, Chief Executive of Scottish Tourism Alliance, the lead Scottish tourism industry body, said that the STA fully supported Outer Hebrides Tourism .
“The Scottish Tourism Alliance recognises that there is a need across most destinations for an increased level of long-term sustainable investment to enable quality marketing of the destinations.
“However funding this activity by applying a further cost to visitors is in the industry opinion, not a sensible approach to take.
“Our position is acknowledged and supported by Fiona Hyslop Cabinet Secretary for Culture Tourism and External Affairs so we were surprised that the levy had been suggested by one of her direct colleagues.” This was reference to Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf MSP, who was involved in the original discussion with Mr Allan.
Mr Crothall and STA board met with Fiona Hyslop and the finance secretary Derek McKay the following day to present the findings of ure recent research.
Mr Crothall said: “I have since been able to have a private conversation with Ms Hyslop to enforce our concerns and those of the OHT.
“I was pleased to hear that she had already addressed the concerns raised by industry directly with Dr Allan and that he would be in touch with some positive words.”
Mr Crothall said: ”The OHT are much-valued members of the STA and we are here to work with all destinations across Scotland and we are increasingly using our power of influence to promote and encourage supportive measures for our destinations at policy level.”
Meanwhile OHT continue to lobby for increased ferry capacity. “We have also been working with CnES to develop an action plan to tackle the issues raised. We encourage the industry to support the action plan.”