It is known as a place of history and mystery, and each year attracts more than 500,000 tourists who come to explore its dramatic mountain peaks and stunning island vistas.

Skye is second only to Edinburgh in the number of of visitors that it draws in each year.

But tourism has also brought major problems to the island, with a massive surge in the number of tourists over the last five years piling pressure on the island’s infrastructure and eroding its natural beauty.

Now, a new study by Glasgow Caledonian University will assess the impact of tourism on the island’s employment, the wider economy and transport infrastructure by surveying residents, business owners and activity operators.

The study, conducted by the university’s Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism, will speak to thousands of islanders in an attempt to unpick the problems and benefits that tourism brings.

It will also speak to visitors to the island at its most iconic attractions, such as Dunvegan Castle, and in Portree Town Centre.

The results will be showcased at a public event in early 2020.

Skye’s tourism industry has exploded in recent years, with the Fairy Pools alone attracting more than 100,000 annual visitors.

Although hotels traditionally closed for the winter until 1 March, some have re-opened early this year, and are already full.

Deirdre Curley, 29, is the owner of the Sligachan Hotel, around 10 miles from Portree.

The hotel has been in her family for more than 100 years, and she is the fourth in her family to run it.

At the height of the tourist season, she employs 40 staff, 35 of whom live on site.

She says the number of tourists on Skye has increased in the last five years.

“There’s definitely been a huge growth in the number of people that are coming through,” she said.

“The only word I can use for it is crazy. We’re very busy, and we decided this year to open in February, when we usually open in March.

“We’ve only been open for a week, and it’s so busy. Skye at this time of year is usually really quiet." 

Although she has used the profit from Skye’s tourist boom to refurbish parts of her hotel, Ms Curley worries that the island’s historic sense of community might be lost to the commercialisation of every available space.

Almost everyone she knows from her childhood on the island is now working in tourism.

“To an extent, you almost lose your sense of community, because everybody is a business owner in Skye, because so many people are putting their spare room on Airbnb and stuff like that,” she said.

“All my friends have their living rooms as an Airbnb or they put a pod in their garden.”

It is estimated that one in eight properties on Skye are now let out to holidaymakers on Airbnb. In the past, policymakers have suggested that the island charges visitors a tourist tax to pay for repairs to infrastructure or tourist facilities.

Other suggestions included charging for individual tourist sites, or designating the island a Unesco World Heritage site to attract funding.

The Federation for Small Businesses (FSB), which represents some small tourism businesses in Skye, welcomed the report.

David Richardson, the FSB’s development manager for the Highlands and Islands, said: “We’re pleased to hear that GCU is conducting this study, as we’re sure it will reveal that the benefits of tourism far outweigh any notional costs.

“Hopefully the researchers will examine the best means to boost local infrastructure at key pressure points and give local tourism operators the best chance of success.”

A VisitScotland spokeswoman said: “Tourism is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy and is one of its most sustainable and enduring industries.

“We need to continue to work in collaboration to ensure visitors see us at our best throughout the year.

“Due to the continued success of tourism it is crucial that we address those pinch points already identified and futureproof those areas where demand is growing and make sure Scotland remains a must-visit destination for future generations of holidaymakers.”

Marina Martinolli, research project manager at the Moffat Centre, said: “The island was traditionally viewed as a walking or outdoor activity destination, but with the opening of the Skye bridge making the island more accessible, this has changed dramatically.

“Alongside Edinburgh, Skye is now Scotland’s most iconic visitor destination. “A number of local residents have already been in touch to say they want to get involved.

“We hope anyone with an interest in the economy of Skye will assist our researchers in carrying out this important study.”