Visitor numbers for the Outer Hebrides have remained almost static since 2013, after a big rise between 2006 and 2013, according to statistics presented to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Sustainable Development Committee on Wednesday June 13

But councillors were told that the findings of the 2017 Islands Visitor Survey showed the amount spent by visitors has soared by 20% from £53.5m to £64.5m.

However, the proportion of people “very satisfied” with their trip to the Outer Hebrides fell from 87% in 2013 to 82% last year.

Yet the proportion of leisure visitors among people travelling to the Islands has risen…in 2017 total visitor numbers (as provided by travel operators) were 218,590 comprising leisure visitors – 68% (up from 54% in 2013), business/ work – 19%; and visiting friends and relatives – 12%.

The total visitor figure in 2013 was reported as “just over 218,000”. The 2006 Outer Hebrides Tourism Update reported 171,137 visitors.

Other key points from the 2017 Survey are:

  • The largest proportion of visitors comes from Scotland (55%) and the rest of the UK (28%). Overseas visitors are predominantly from Europe (16%) and North America (6%).
  • Friendliness of local people and standards of accommodation received the highest satisfaction scores. The quality and value for money of visitor attractions was commended and the quality of local food produce, arts and crafts also received praise.
  • The most significant area of dissatisfaction was the poor extent and quality of digital connectivity (mobile networks, wifi, 3/4G).
  • The average spend per capita of visitors was £309, up from £245 in 2013. For leisure visitors, average spend was higher at £344.

Councillor Donald Crichton, who chairs the Committee, said: “The potential of tourism to create employment, generate income and retain population in the Outer Hebrides has been recognised for some time; however it is only in recent years, with a truly strategic and co-ordinated approach from stakeholders, that significant growth has been achieved.

“The findings of the Outer Hebrides Visitor Survey 2017 are extremely welcome and encouraging, demonstrating that the region is on-course to achieve the ambitious sectoral targets outlined in the Tourism Outer Hebrides 2020 Strategy.

“The availability of this data and insight is a significant resource which will inform the work of the TOH 2020 Group and its constituent partner organisations going forward. Local control of the Tourism Marketing budget has enabled the Comhairle, in conjunction with the TOH 2020 Leadership Group, to deliver initiatives to support and further develop the promotion of the Outer Hebrides in a responsive, innovative and multi-layered way.”