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Case Studies > Skye High

Dunvegan Castle & Gardens

Case Study Skye High Dunvegan Castle & Gardens
Case Study Skye High Over the past 20 years, visitor numbers to Dunvegan Castle & Gardens have followed a peak and trough pattern. Estate Director Hugh MacLeod believes this reflects external geopolitical and economic factors, from currency fluctuations to foreign wars that have reduced the number of safe international tourism destinations.

He said: “In 1997, we welcomed around 130,000 visitors, which fell to a low of 89,000 in 2008 when I assumed responsibility for the estate. However, we rebranded and introduced an effective marketing strategy along with major capital investments to upgrade visitor facilities and transform the visitor experience. This resulted in us being awarded a 5* grading by VisitScotland last year, during which we attracted a record-breaking 168,000 visitors.”

Over the past four years, visitor numbers to Skye in general have grown steadily. Hugh added: “The natural beauty and diversity of the island has captured people’s imagination and they are sharing their experiences in increasing numbers on social media and by word of mouth.”

The Isle of Skye has become a brand recognised across the world and this success has its roots in the 1950s when a few notable local families, including Hugh MacLeod’s, started Skye Week to put Skye on the tourist map, create more jobs for local people and arrest the declining population.

Dunvegan Castle & Gardens, which is at the heart of the MacLeod Estate on Skye, is vital to the island’s economy. As the ancestral home of the Chiefs of clan MacLeod for 800 years, it is a major heritage attraction and key driver of economic growth.

Hugh said: “Last year, Dunvegan was ranked 18th out of the Top 20 Paid Attractions in Scotland. We are one of the island’s largest private sector employers with about 50 employees, 17 of whom are permanent. Our total capital expenditure and repairs from 2009 to April 2017 was £2.98 million. Annually, the estate contributes an average of £690,000 to the Skye economy, and since 2008, it has contributed in excess of £5.2m to the Skye economy and more than £9m to Scotland’s economy.”

As Hugh outlined, delivering a gold standard service to visitors involves a number of challenges: “The estate’s mission is to preserve the heritage of the MacLeod Estate by being commercially successful in all we do to enable continuous reinvestment and develop and share Dunvegan Castle & Gardens’ unique history with our visitors.

“Our remote island location is a challenging place to run a business from a logistical and staffing point of view, especially when it is only commercially viable for us to be open between Easter and mid-October. However, Skye’s remoteness is part of its USP and we do our best to capitalise on this during the season in order to reinvest the proceeds and further enhance the visitor experience.”

Despite many challenges, Hugh remains optimistic. He said: “Having been continuously inhabited by my family for 800 years, the clan MacLeod motto is ‘Hold Fast’. I hope that in 2037, Dunvegan Castle and the MacLeod Estate will continue to Hold Fast to its vision of becoming an even larger private sector business offering greater employment opportunities to local people in what has been a fragile economic area historically.”
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