Those of us fortunate enough to live in the Outer Hebrides are beginning to know what it is like to be “discovered” as another mighty organ defines these islands as “top global destinations”.
Lonely Planet, Airbnb and CNN are recent recruits. Remoteness is a marketable commodity particularly when linked to stunning images of landscape, beaches and wildlife. Stand by for the invasion?
Well, probably not. While tourism has increased, it is far from the scale of Skye or other “must-see” destinations. That gives time for the Outer Isles to get it right, while interest in these places will only increase.
There is also the matter of accessibility. Ferries are already at peak capacity in the summer months and the debacle over new ones being built on the Clyde will ensure it stays that way for a few years to come.
A conference this week heard about the islands’ “hero assets” (if the jargon has arrived, we really must be on the map!). These include St Kilda, Callanish Stones, Lewis Chessmen, Machair, Beaches, Wildlife, Music and Festivals, Harris Tweed, Seafood, Barra Beach Landing ... Come to think of it, that’s an impressive list by any standards.
The trick will be to secure the benefits by creating an infrastructure that matches demand but without losing the characteristics which make the place special.
Already, property prices in the most attractive locations have soared, as the defences of crofting regulation are allowed to crumble. So the focus should not only be on increasing visitor numbers. There is also an unusual opportunity to do it in a way that strengthens and respects peripheral communities, language and culture, rather than undermines them. That’s a good challenge to have.