Skye businesses have voted overwhelmingly in favour of launching a visitor gifting scheme to help generate extra revenue for the island.
The scheme, to be called the Skye Foundation, would see tourists asked to make a small voluntary donation during their visit to help fund local projects and initiatives.
The move is being spearheaded by tourism lobby group SkyeConnect which discussed the issue at its spring conference held at the Sligachan Hotel last week.
Presentations were heard from Dan Visser of the Lake District Foundation and Sheila Gilmour of the Arran Trust, which run similar visitor gifting schemes.
After a wide-ranging question and answer session with the audience and discussions, there was a show of hands with the vast majority of the attendees in favour of setting up a foundation.
As with other highly pressurised tourist areas like Arran and the Lakes, SkyeConnect believes a foundation has the potential to generate significant community benefits.
SkyeConnect chairman Gary Curley said: “There is a growing need for investment in Skye’s environment, so innovative solutions need to be considered. Voluntary visitor gifting schemes work very successfully in other areas such as Arran and the Lake District.
“A trust or foundation for Skye would work alongside local community groups, environmental groups and businesses to encourage and improve sustainable practices. Money raised will be used to fund diverse projects around the island that help manage and protect our unique environment, landscapes and local communities.
“We hope through further consultation and collaboration with the local community that we are able to create something that will bring lasting positive benefits to Skye, Raasay and Lochalsh.”
On Arran, local tourism organisation VisitArran set up a visitor gifting scheme, the Arran Trust.
Sheila Gilmore, chief executive of the Arran Trust, told the Free Press that the scheme had reaped rewards for the island since it was established in 2011.
It invites visitor gifts through collecting cans and envelopes in different locations as well as QR codes which visitors can scan to donate and a “wishing well” at the pier where people can drop coins.
The scheme has raised £350,000 directly since it was set up and around £3 million for the island through money which local groups have been able to lever in as a result of Arran Trust support.
Ms Gilmore said: “We don’t fundraise for specific projects, but local groups can apply to us for funds. However the majority of the projects we support have an environmental slant.
“It’s different from a ‘tourist tax’ because it’s all voluntary donations and people are willing to give. It makes people aware of how special a place it is and it helps us to keep Arran beautiful. I think such a scheme would go down well in Skye.”
The board of SkyeConnect will now meet in the next month to decide the next steps including potential structures and pilot programmes.
There will also be further public meetings to discuss progress and identify individuals, companies and community groups keen to get involved with the foundation.
Article by Jackie MacKenzie