READING Rhoda Meek’s Sunday National article, “Sustainable tourism must be rooted in community”, I found myself completely in agreement – the idea of incentivising local residents and community organisations to take the lead in tourism is something we already do in the Small Isles.

On Rùm, where I live, we have a 20-bed community-owned bunkhouse, glamping cabins and campsite, all run and managed by our trading company Rùm Enterprise. We also provide 10 moorings for visiting yachts.

Alex, our visitor services manager, is keen to expand into holiday experiences and next year there will be foraging, bushcraft and dark sky breaks, canoe and mountain bike hire – all community run.

The International Dark Sky Places status we have applied for is particularly exciting and we hope we can get the rest of the Small Isles on board too. All profits from Rùm Enterprise go back into community projects, ongoing costs and expanding what we offer.

Our successful community ranger programme, which for years took visitors on walks and talks, is currently on hold due to an accommodation crisis with nowhere to house the ranger. The rest of the holiday accommodation on the island is owned and run by local people.

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Eigg’s thriving community tourism industry includes their camping pods and An Laimhrig – the newly developed community building which houses the shop, café/bar, craft shop and adventure sports hire. It generates income through rent for premises.

Taigh Nighe is the Wash House – toilets, showers, laundry and drying room for visitors, another income generator. It should be noted that the new development at An Laimhrig has been given an A+ EPC rating, and not many public buildings gain such a high status. Full-time islanders own 90% of Eigg’s holiday accommodation.

On Canna, the community-owned honesty shop has won awards and provides an essential service to the many self-catering visitors and yachts. Canna community is also building a new visitor hub and converting an old barn into a new community space and bunkhouse.

Muck Community Enterprise owns and operates a hall which acts as a hub for visitors where all funds raised go back to the community fund. Their Green shed is a space for the community to sell local produce and crafts on an honesty system. All of the visitor accommodation is owned and managed by those living on Muck.

All four islands are powered by renewable energy schemes, providing green energy to all and supporting Small Isles sustainable tourism. Three of them are community owned – Rùm is not yet but the local trust is working on it.

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One of the major elements of tourism is effective marketing. In realising the potential of marketing all four islands as one destination, Visit Small Isles was created. As another community operation, we had little capacity for any more voluntary time, but through some funding, we are able to employ someone to do the work for us, but more than that, to develop a future-proof strategy and small income stream for us to continue once the funding runs out.

Part of what Visit Small Isles does is to try to look more holistically at tourism – one element of this is encouraging visitors to come out of the traditional season.

There is still a lot to see and do in the autumn and winter with the red deer rut on Rùm and the dark skies all around. Walks and mountains take on new colours and challenges in the darker months and of course there is plenty of cold-water swimming to try, with local swimming coaches and enthusiasts on each island. Working with the Small Isles Community Council, we will be launching a Small Isles Snorkel Trail next year.

As a four-island destination, promoting a visit to more than one Small Isle is a priority and in that respect we have become travel agents.

As anyone familiar with CalMac will know, inter-island travel has its challenges. We help interpret the ferry timetable into something understandable (it’s a dark art and should be offered somewhere as a qualification). Accommodation providers on each island, rather than competing with each other, often work together for joined up inter-island holiday experiences.

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We have also been experimenting with different ways for visitors to engage with the local communities. With the increasing number of repetitive questions we get about living here, we thought about how we could capitalise on this.

School and university groups often ask for a talk about life on the islands, so we offer them a snapshot of life here. Eigg found a growing interest in their innovative Eigg Electric scheme – meaning they could offer paid guided tours and the same thing has happened at their tree nursery.

And then there is voluntourism; at Canna Campsite, the booking form asks what skills you have and if you’d be willing to share them if the opportunity arose on your holiday. The results have been positive; accommodation providers on the other islands are also going to do this. It’s all part of the greater connection we’re trying to establish.

All four islands have a thriving community volunteering programme – we have found people are willing to share their professional skills with us – web designers, graphic designers, builders, electricians, joiners, the list goes on.

It seems people really do want to know how we live and are more than willing to help us too.

What we don’t want is for there to be a disconnect between tourist and destination – something we see too frequently elsewhere. While accommodation provision is still the key visitor service, in the Small Isles, visitors have the opportunity to engage meaningfully with our way of life.

It’s a bit different, a bit quirky but there are models here in community ownership, tourism and renewable energy creation for other places to learn from.