TOURISM chiefs have hit out at “ill-advised” moves to charge motorhome drivers a levy to travel on ferries amid concerns that a 10-fold increase in traffic is causing major problems for island communities.

Figures show the number of motorhomes travelling to the Western Isles has risen over the past decade, with nearly 2,000 heading to Harris alone.

Some ferry services and other infrastructure are struggling to handle the extra traffic and the additional visitors.

Herald View: Hinterlands are groaning under the weight of popularity

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has written to Transport Minister Humza Yousaf asking him to consider a “motorhome levy”, with the proceeds being used to improve the roads.

But Outer Hebrides Tourism said it was “wholly unacceptable to suggest we want to tax any of our visitors before they come here on holiday”.

A study by the body has revealed motorhomes are worth £2 million per year to the local economy.

Motorhome visitors spent an average of just under £500 per trip on food, drink, fuel, goods, arts, crafts and meals with businesses in the Outer Hebrides.

Ian Fordham, chairman of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said: “We have sought an urgent meeting with Dr Allan to appraise him of the full facts of the situation, and to seek withdrawal of this proposal.

“The root cause of the issue is a lack of adequate ferry capacity and a lack of funds for the local authority to invest in suitable facilities and infrastructure.”

Herald View: Hinterlands are groaning under the weight of popularity

The huge rise in tourists follows the introduction of a Scottish Government scheme to make island ferry fares more affordable.

The Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) was introduced to boost remote economies – and worked so well the number of cars on one route is up by more than 80 per cent.

Dr Allan said: “There is a lack of suitable sites for them, a lack of waste disposal units and the extra space [motorhomes] require on the ferries has contributed to the capacity problems we have seen over the summer.

“This is about recognising the pressures created on infrastructure by such a rapid growth in tourism and providing communities with a new source of funding that they can direct as they see fit.”

Herald View: Hinterlands are groaning under the weight of popularity

RET bases fares on the cost of travelling the equivalent distance by road and was introduced on the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree in October 2008, cutting fares by up to 55 per cent.

It was extended to Islay, Colonsay and Gigha in October 2012, to Arran in October 2014 and now covers every route.

But across the network, car traffic has increased by just over 25 per cent which is causing severe problems as islanders struggle to book ferries and increased traffic contends with mainly single track roads.

However, Outer Hebrides Tourism warned imposing a tax on motorhome visitors risks losing £2 million annually to the islands.

Herald View: Hinterlands are groaning under the weight of popularity

A spokesman said: “It is completely ill-advised for our MSP to suggest we impose a tax on these visitors – his proposal, although it might raise £80,000 per annum, would put at risk an annual spend of £2m and the financial stability of our islands.”  Leader of Western Isles Council Roddie Mackay, said: “The council has no particular policy on a motorhome levy, although the local industry is firmly opposed to such a move. The council is exploring all options that could increase investment in infrastructure required as a result of the undoubted success of RET and tourism.”