More visitors to Harris – can we manage?

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The Isle of Harris, known for its rich traditions and stunning scenery, has seen a marked increase in the number of visitors in recent years. Data from Outer Hebrides Tourism suggests that the number of visitors to Lewis and Harris grew by 10% per annum between 2013 and 2017. In North Harris, our people counters have shown an increase of about 25% in visitor numbers over the past 5 years with significant pressure at certain sites, such as over 40,000 seasonal visitors to the Huisinis Gateway building.

Increased visitor numbers have placed significant pressures on already limited infrastructure and services, with the Coronavirus pandemic highlighting pressure points. Following the 2020 season, we started work with Outer Hebrides Tourism and our neighbours The West Harris Trust to develop a Visitor Management Strategy. With financial assistance from Nature.Scot we engaged a consultant to carry out the initial research both within the community and looking to other areas of Britain for inspiration. Over 130 Harris residents were invited to complete a survey, with a large portion meeting online for one-to-one consultations afterwards. Discussions were also held with key stakeholders like Calmac, Visit Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

This extensive consultation and research has lead to a series of recommendations. It’s acknowledged that physical infrastructure takes time to organise, but there are a number of “quick wins” around messaging and education. The first deliverable is the “Harris is a special PLACE” campaign. This is all about reminding visitors what we, the community, expect of them.

The Harris Visitor Management Strategy will help us to maintain an enjoyable visitor experience, protect the unique Harris environment whilst reassuring the local community that tourism on the island can offer a sustainable future.

See the full report HERE

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