THEY have been blamed for bringing chaos to Skye’s narrow roads, causing traffic jams and disruption, and littering the island’s dramatic scenery.
However, a survey of people living on Skye has found that few locals regard the influx of tourists as a problem and many instead appear to be in favour of introducing a tax on visitors that would be used to improve infrastructure.
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An accommodation or local road tax could put the island on a par with Edinburgh, where city councillors have been keen to introduce a tourism levy to help raise funds to pay for visitor-related infrastructure and services.
Skye has been in the grip of a tourism boom in recent years, partly as a result of heavy promotion as a holiday destination as well as its popularity as a film location.
But fears have been growing that its popularity has a downside, with concerns that the island now has one Airbnb on offer for every 10 homes and pressure on medical services.
The influx of about 500,000 holidaymakers a year has led to complaints its infrastructure is struggling to cope, with cars and camper vans crammed on single track roads near the Old Man of Storr and the Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle, creating hazards for other road users.
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Initial findings of the year-long survey aimed at gauging feelings towards tourism on the island suggest many Skye residents are far less bothered about tourists – many in cars and unfamiliar with the etiquette of single-track driving – than had been previously thought.
Rather, the online survey findings suggest they are far more concerned about improving the island’s basic infrastructure to help make their stay more pleasant and tackling issues such as dangerous driving.
The survey asked residents what they believe to be the main issues facing the island as a result of tourism. Just three per cent of respondents felt there were too many tourists, while 1% cited “moaning incomers”.
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Meanwhile, 30% of respondents said dangerous driving was the island’s major issue, with most highlighting the lack of facilities and infrastructure.
Lack of toilets was raised by 18%, poor roads by 14%, parking issues were highlighted by 7% and 2% suggested more public transport was required.
When asked what could be done, many suggested ring-fencing council tax and introducing a road toll or accommodation tax to spend on roads, toilets, parking, waste facilities and public transport.
Many suggested dangerous driving could be tackled with better road signage, stickers on hire cars and information in hire car documents advising visitors on how to tackle the narrow, single-track roads.
It’s not the first time a tourist tax has been suggested as a solution to the tourism boom.
In the past, there have been calls for the island to be designated a Unesco World Heritage site to attract funding and suggestions it should receive a special financial deal from the Scottish Government in recognition of its economic contribution. Tourism on the island is said to be worth £145 million a year.
Results from the survey, commissioned by the destination management group SkyeConnect, will be used by the Skye Tourism Taskforce, set up last year to inform the Scottish Government and public agencies about how best to nurture an effective tourism industry on Skye and neighbouring Raasay.
SkyeConnect chairman Dave Till said the survey supports the message more public investment is desperately needed. We are starting to see progress with projects such as the Fairy Pools car park.
However, we have received dozens of exciting and innovative infrastructure project proposals and we need the public investment to make them happen to secure a sustainable future for not just our vital tourism sector, but for everyone who lives and works on Skye.”