Visitor-spend in the Outer Hebrides rose by £11.5 million to £65 million in the four years to 2017, says the latest Islands Visitor Survey.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in partnership with VisitScotland, commissioned the Islands Visitor Survey to provide robust and up-to-date estimates of visitor and volume, information on their experiences, motivations, behaviours and perceptions.
Ian Fordham, who chairs Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT), said: “Tourism in the Outer Hebrides is growing faster than for Scotland as a whole – a true testament to the quality of the tourism industry and our local tourism businesses right across the Outer Hebrides, reflected in our exceptional product and warm Hebridean welcome!
“We are delighted that this 2017 Visitor Survey shows that our industry-led Tourism Outer Hebrides 2020 strategy is delivering well ahead of our targets. “We are proud of our collaboration with partners HIE, CnES and VisitScotland and believe that these results show the real value of industry leadership for our local tourism sector.”
The survey reveals an increase in visits to the Outer Hebrides in 2017, with the total value of those nearly 219,000 visits as £65m, a great boost to the local economy.
The average spend per visitor last year was £309, up from £245 in 2013. Crucially, the islands' most important segment, leisure visitors, grew by 16% to 68%, over 148,000 visitors, as did their average spend.
Total visitor spend in 2017 was valued at £65 million – £2m more than the target set by the Tourism Outer Hebrides 2020 strategy – putting the Outer Hebrides on track to exceed its ambitious tourism industry growth target of £74m by 2020.
Visitors generally head first to online resources such as OHT's destination website, www.visitouterhebrides.co.uk (44%), Google search and online reviews as they plan their trip 3-12 months in advance (57%), then prefer face-to-face sources of information such as visitor centres and locals whilst on the islands. Almost half (43%) of leisure visitors, mainly couples and families who travelled to the islands by car (81%), were from Scotland, a third from the rest of the UK and a quarter from abroad.
For just over half, it was their first trip to the Outer Hebrides and they stayed an average of nearly six nights. Lewis and Harris were the most popular areas visited.
The scenery and landscape (71%) was the predominant factor for influencing leisure visitors to travel to the Outer Hebrides, with its history and culture (32%) also important.
Two thirds of leisure visitors saw the islands as a place “to get away from it all”. Some were also inspired by TV programmes, books and travel features.
The quality of local food and drink was also rated highly, with 70% giving it a score of at least eight out of ten.
Almost all visitors were convinced it is a place worth returning to and 95% felt they were made to feel welcome.