Tripadvisor recently published their 2014 Travellers’ Choice Islands Awards. Three of Europe’s top ten islands were in Scotland. That number increased to six out of the top ten for the United Kingdom.
I didn’t have to read any of the lists to know that the Isle of Bute wouldn’t be one of them.
For some reason Bute, one of Scotland’s most accessible, historic and interesting islands, has fallen from grace and doesn’t seem to get an invite when Scotland puffs out its chest proudly to boast about the beauty and romanticism of its islands.
Why that is the case is a bit of a mystery, especially as it wasn’t always so.
Back in Victorian times, it was the number one Scottish island, with steam ships queueing up to unload passengers. Before that, the island’s location, with one foot in the lowlands and the other firmly entrenched in the Highlands, meant it occupied a unique strategic position.
Rothesay Castle is one of a kind whilst Mount Stuart House is possibly one of the most fascinating stately homes in Britain. Bute is beautiful, easy to get around, boasts wonderful wild beaches and has Victorian toilets. When Prince Charles is in Scotland the title he uses is the Duke of Rothesay, Bute’s main town. This is not some jealous backwater wanting to play with the big boys.
Scottish Tourism Board
Some local fingers point at a lack of promotion by Scotland’s Tourist Board, citing that Bute never appears in material aimed at potential tourists.
A root around Visit Scotland, Scotland’s National Tourism Organisation’s website, reveals local complaints have some justification. There is no mention of Bute at all on the website’s Scotland’s coast and islands home page.
I finally find Bute listed under Scotland’s town and villages even thought it’s neither a town nor a village. There’s also a mention tucked away at the very end of the Atlantic Islands of Argyll page – no link. On searching the same website Bute comes up 1710 times. The figure for neighbouring Arran is 20,700. Bute is in there, but you’d probably have to know about it to find it.
I have no evidence, but I have a sneaking suspicion that snobbery plays a part in Bute not being included with the ‘cool’ islands. After the Victorians, Bute became a popular destination for the working classes from the West of Scotland until they expanded their horizons to Blackpool and then Spain. That sneaking suspicion whispers that Bute may be seen as a wee bit common. I’d like to think I was totally wrong about that as it’s an utterly ridiculous notion… but I’ve yet to see evidence to convince me I’m not.
So, with national promotion apparently not happening, what is the local tourist board doing?
Visit Bute seem to be just getting to grips with the digital revolution and whilst the website looks promising, it’s clear they need guidance with their social media promotion. Their Twitter account is looking bare at the moment; 282 tweets, 341 followers and following 215 people. There are people tweeting good stuff about Bute, but Visit Bute isn’t capitalising on this by retweeting them or building their account. Similarly their facebook page is a wee bit pedestrian. They should be sharing the sort of articles that will help bring in the punters and raise Bute’s profile. Scottish travel writer Robin Mckelvie regularly sings Bute’s praises in his articles, as do travel blogs like Adventures Around Scotland and even visiting writers like us. They should be throwing every enticing photo and glowing review of the island onto their social media sites.
Let’s face it, in this day and age, with social media freely available at everyone’s fingertips, businesses don’t need tourist boards to do all the work to bring in the punters. The tools are all there for them to take the initiative.
Everyone seems to be in agreement that Bute needs to do more to attract visitors and yet in a trendy café in Rothesay when we asked if they had wifi, we were met with a smug ‘No, we prefer our customers to talk to each other.’
The wifi request was so we could put a comment on facebook, twitter etc. to say what a great wee café it was. Another opportunity lost.
There isn’t really much evidence that local businesses are using what’s available to spread the word to an international audience. This is what Buteiful New Beginnings has to say about it. It’s a frustrating state of affairs that has festered for years.
In the end, no-one is completely culpable. It’s a bit like Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. To a greater or lesser extent, there are a lot of fingers on that trigger.
The Commonwealth Games take place in Glasgow in 2014. The Games will bring the masses to the West of Scotland, a hop and a skip (not even a jump) away from Bute and there has never been a better time for being able to showcase your wares to the world.
It’s a great opportunity for Bute to get its name back on the map. But the Bute tourist board and local businesses must realise that nobody else is going to do it for them.
It’s time that lion roared.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+