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Women to Write Home about: Sheila Gilmore

In our latest in our Women to Write Home About series, we caught up with Chief Executive of VisitArran & The Arran Trust, the powerhouse that is Sheila Gilmore.  Sheila is known to many across the tourism industry, and in 2022 was recognised by WIT through our very first Regional Destination Award.

Tell us about your background, your skills and experience

I was born into tourism. My family has run the Ormidale Hotel on Arran since 1935, and growing up we all worked in the business, from sorting used bottles as a child, turning down beds (remember that?), before moving into kitchen, dining room and then the pub.  So I guess tourism is in my blood.  I joined VisitArran in 2012, and my role as CEO involves working with businesses and community groups, to keep Arran an ‘Island in Balance’. All VisitArran’s marketing is grass roots, focussing on localism and authenticity, and all our video and podcasts feature local volunteers.

What are the biggest challenges for your destination just now?

For Arran it has to be the f-word… The reputational damage caused by the cancellations of ferries, poor redeployment of replacement vessels, and the associated media panic, is the key issue for everyone on Arran just now. If you don’t live on an island, you really have no comprehension of the impact this has on business, and the wider community as a whole.  Visitors are put off before they even consider where to holiday. The new legislation on short term lets is also challenging; on Arran the resource is limited when it comes to all the certification required, eg EPCs, Fire Safety, and this is causing added stress for businesses.

When you look ahead to 2024, what do you feel the biggest opportunities are for your destination, and for Scotland?

Well, hopefully Arran will have a new ferry at some point, and this will offer opportunity for more resilience in the service, and rebuild customer confidence. Another opportunity will be the building of social housing for workers, which is very much needed, and hopefully this will be underway in 2024. This should help with (some of the) staffing shortages across Arran.

For Scotland as a whole, there’s opportunity to have a year without any new legislation – wouldn’t that be great!  I wonder if the politicians will read this though…??

What are your three top leadership tips for women in the industry?

  • Be honest – people will show more respect for you and what you have to say if you’re straight.  People know when you’re ‘networking’ them or being false.
  • Go in with a positive attitude, listen and be heard. Be constructive. You might not always agree, but we should never stop learning. Every day’s a school day.
  • Don’t let anyone undersell you.  What you have to say may be of equal or greater value than anyone else, and could generate a positive outcome.

If you would like to feature in this blog series, and share more about yourself and your business/organisation, please email susan@womenintourism.co.uk.