Local News for Thursday 19th October 2017

Re-think on tourism info needed
Outer Hebrides Tourism is calling for a re-think on information for visitors to the islands, after VisitScotland announced that Visitor Information Centres (VICs) in Barra and Lochmaddy will close at the end of this month. Lochboisdale VIC closed last year and VisitScotland is still to decide whether Tarbert or Stornoway information centre will survive as the last remaining tourist office in the whole of the Outer Hebrides. Outer Hebrides Tourism says that physical information centres in the Western Isles remain popular, and could be replaced by an alternative network of centres if VisitScotland closes them down. In a statement yesterday OHT said: “A single ‘hub’ may not be the right solution for a 150-mile chain of distinct islands with unreliable mobile signal coverage. This does not mean we cannot have a thriving and attractive network of information centres across the Outer Hebrides, helping visitors understand our islands, its heritage, get the most from their stay and put something back into the local economy. These could be co-located with existing tourism businesses, run by the industry or by adapting Visit Scotland’s proposals to better suit local circumstances.”

Passenger numbers up
Passenger numbers are up once again at Western Isles airports, according to airport operator Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd, giving their last report before the start of Loganair’s solo operation out of island airports. The figures for July to September this year show Barra with an increase of 19.2% on the iconic beach-landing service, while Stornoway and Benbecula showed more conservative increases against the same period last year, at 4.2% and 6.9% respectively. The next set of figures are likely to show the impact of increased competition and a price war between two airlines on the Stornoway Glasgow route. HIAL Managing Director Inglis Lyon said: “We are pleased to report that the overall passenger numbers continue to rise, illustrating the strong demand for ever greater connectivity to and from the Highlands and Islands. The figures are robust and our airports are witnessing sustained growth in passenger numbers that is almost certainly having a positive effect on the communities across the Highlands and Islands.

Island choirs take on Mòd
It’s rural choirs day today at the Royal National Mòd, with island choirs hoping to bring home the honours at competitions throughout the day. They’re following on the heels of the junior choirs, which excelled in Tuesday’s competitions. Choirs from the Nicolson Institute, Sgoil Lionacleit and Sir E Scott school in Tarbert took cups and badges in all of the 13-18 age group competitions, with accolades for both their musicality and the quality of their Gaelic. In the under-13 age groups the Sir E Scott choir and Coisir Eilean an Fhraoich both featured as winners. Yesterday qualifying classes for the Gold Medal competitions were held, Isabel Nicleoid from Carloway and Clare Macaulay from Ness, and John Joe MacNeil from Barra all going through to the final competition. Tong’s Eileen Duncan and Campbell Mackenzie from Stornoway scored high in early qualifying competitions for the Silver Pendant.

Ferries ‘doing well’ – Audit Scotland
Audit Scotland reports today on its findings about Scotland’s ferry networks, and Scottish Minister for Transport and the Islands Humza Yousaf is happy with what they have to say. Mr Yousaf said: “This Audit Scotland report confirms that ferry services are performing well and it underlines the Scottish Government’s commitment to our ferry networks and the vital services they perform for our remote and island communities. Since 2007, we have invested over £1 billion in our ferry services. We are proud of that investment, which has brought the introduction of new routes, the procurement of new vessels and the roll out of cheaper fares for ferry users. All of our investment is subject to strict financial control and management, and we will continue to support our ferry networks and the communities that depend on them.”