POOR wi-fi, broadband and mobile phone access is the biggest area of concern for visitors to Scotland, a new survey has found.
VisitScotland’s survey of more than 3300 people who took holidays in Scotland found there were complaints about large swathes of the country.
Just over half of those surveyed were happy with the availability of wi-fi and broadband, with only 66 per cent satisfied with the level of mobile phone access during their trip.
Tourism leaders say the issue of poor mobile, wi-fi and broadband access is one of the biggest issues facing the industry, with large parts of the country still being treated as a “backwater” by operators.
The Scottish Government insisted work is ongoing to extend “superfast broadband” to the Highlands and Islands, thanks to a £120 million initiative announced last summer, however full connectivity is not likely to be delivered until 2020.
The VisitScotland report said there was a “clear opportunity” to encourage more visitors to share their trip online by improving mobile phone and wi-fi access.
Less than a third (29 per cent) of visitors to Scotland told researchers that they went online to talk about their trip or to upload photos to social media sites during their holiday.
But the figure rose to almost half (47 per cent) of those who visited Scotland when they returned home.
Just 19 per cent of visitors to Scotland uploaded pictures during their trip, while only three per cent posted messages on Twitter.
The VisitScotland report, which found the use of tablets had more than doubled over the last year, said: “Around one in three visitors are sharing their trip experiences while they are in Scotland, while a higher proportion do so after their trip.
“This is most likely through uploading trip photos to the internet and updating their Facebook status. With the increasing use of technology during the trip, it offers a clear opportunity to encourage more visitors to share their trip as it happens.
“Lack of 3G connections in some areas may limit their ability to share trip experiences at the moment, but wi-fi availability should become the norm in tourist accommodation, visitor information centres and attractions.”
Among the areas criticised for poor wi-fi or phone access were Stirling, Falkirk, Aberdeen, Dundee and Dumfries and Galloway.
One visitor who took part in the survey said: “There was probably more information that we would have found interesting about where we were travelling, but did not know because we were self-guided.
“Wish we had better wi-fi quality at our accommodation.”
Another visitor said: “As a lone traveller, I place high importance on mobile networks and wi-fi availability. These were good on the east coast but not in the Highlands, where reception was very variable.”
Stephen Leckie, chair of the Scottish Tourism Alliance and chief executive of Crieff Hydro, said: “It is certainly a big issue for the industry, not just for visitors, but for people trying to run businesses.
“You only have to drive from here in Perthshire to Aviemore or Inverness to see how poor the mobile phone signal is. We have to get these areas properly connected and it shouldn’t have to take several years for that to happen. They are being treated like backwaters at the moment.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Highlands and Islands Enterprise is very close to awarding the contract for a multi-million pound project that will bring next generation broadband to seven local authority areas. This forms part of the Scottish Government’s wider programme to tackle the digital divide and to ensure that rural areas are not left behind.
“In June last year we allocated £120 million to the Highlands and Islands project in recognition of the importance of digital connectivity for communities, the economy and tourism in this area. Detailed roll out plans will be available in the coming months.”
A spokeswoman for VisitScotland said: “Two thirds of the people we interviewed were satisfied with the mobile reception they received in Scotland.
“However, we are also finding that many people really do embrace the remoteness of areas of Scotland and we have had visitors commenting that having limited mobile phone reception can allow them to switch off and relax all the more.”
Meanwhile the VisitScotland survey found that 80 per cent of visitors to Scotland said they were made to feel very welcome by local people.
Around 88 per cent of those surveyed said they would “definitely” recommend a visit to Scotland, with 70 per cent of visitors said they were planning a return within the next five years.
Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “The warm Scottish welcome is renowned across the world, but our survey shows the hugely positive impact local people have on the overall visitor experience.
“Scots, of course, are used to hosting visitors from all over the world, but the bar will be set even higher as the country heads into the global spotlight in 2014 with the Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and Year of Homecoming.
“Research such as this is hugely important to VisitScotland and the industry to ensure we know who our visitors are, where they want to get their information from and what they like doing when they arrive here on Scottish shores.”