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VisitScotland Regional Partnerships Director looks back on a busy year for tourism in the Highlands.
A number of successful events, including the Etape Loch Ness, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup and Loch Ness Knit Fest all helped cement the Highlands’ reputation as a perfect stage for events in 2017.
The region has seen a positive tourism year with a host of returning and new events, all whilst celebrating Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.
Chris Taylor (pictured), VisitScotland Regional Partnerships Director for the Highlands, said:
“Tourism has been on everyone’s lips across the Highlands in 2017 – and that is a great place to be.
“There has never been such a high interest in tourism from residents, communities, businesses, visitors, media, politicians and every public-sector body.
“That really demonstrates that tourism is truly everyone’s businesses and that tourism in an industry like no other – capable of creating jobs and growth in every part of Scotland and reaching the parts that other industries can’t.
“In part, the current interest in tourism comes on the back of several years of sustained growth in visitor numbers, drawn by the continued appeal of our Highland scenery and landscapes, our culture and heritage.
“It’s all about the people, and the place. But we’ve also seen a boost from film and TV exposure, most notably from the hugely-popular Outlander books and TV series, which have provided a welcome boost and prompted new products and tours to cater for this market.”
In April, thousands of cyclists descended on the Highlands to participate in the Etape Loch Ness, giving them the rare opportunity to cycle of traffic-free roads for the 66-mile circuit of Loch Ness.
“This is just one example of a successful event that demonstrates the work across lots of partners to showcase the Highlands as the perfect stage for events.
“In June, around 20,000 spectators gathered at Nevis Range to witness the thrills and spills of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup.
“Confirmation of the event returning the 2018 shows a continued vote of confidence in everyone involved in delivering this event.
“But the appeal of our region is not limited to outdoor activities – in June 2,300 delegates packed into Inverness for Xpo North, the global creative industries gathering spread across 15 venues, while in October, Loch Ness Knit fest brought 1,500 knitting enthusiasts to Inverness, along with a fantastic boost to the local visitor economy through these visitors staying in our local accommodation, eating in restaurants and spending their money in local shops.”
The growth in events has been helped by much improved access to the Highland region, which is better connected than ever before.
“Inverness Airport is nudging ever closer the one million visitors mark, which is a great success story.
“In March, KLM increased connectivity with Schiphol from one to two flights daily.
“The reinstated Heathrow link has proved hugely important for the city and the news that this will be moving to double-daily, three days a week from March 2018, has been widely welcomed, with a 10% uplift in inbound numbers predicted.
“We hope that investment in key routes such as the A9 will lead to improvements for visitors and locals alike, as anyone who has driven the recently-upgraded sections of this major road now has a glimpse of the benefits this vital route will bring once it is fully dualled.
“Digital and mobile connectivity also continues to improve in the Highlands and although there is still work to do, the region is better connected than ever.
“The roll out of free public access WiFi to Inverness and 14 other towns across Highland will be a great boost to our visitor economy.”
In April, almost 40 of the Highland’s top tourism businesses headed to VisitScotland expo in Glasgow.
“Amongst them were the Highland Folk Museum, Achnagairn Castle and Tour Skye Ltd, who all showcased their products and services to more than 600 tour operators and travel agents from all over the world.
“A number of expo-related familiarisation (fam) trips also visited the Highlands, including a Set in Scotland trip, in which buyers explored Scottish locations that have inspired films and shows, such as Harry Potter and Skyfall.
June saw the very welcome move of the Inverness iCentre to new more accessible premises on the High Street which are closer to key transport links.
VisitScotland’s iCentre in Portree, Skye, underwent a similar refurbishment and feedback has been positive from both local residents and visitors.
Included in the new iCentres are products sold as part of new retail initiative ‘Shop Local’ offering the opportunity for communities, local businesses, craft makers, artists, designers and others to promote and sell their products to visitors via the VisitScotland iCentre network.
“We all need to work together if we are really to grow our vital tourism industry and this year VisitScotland’s partnership has continued apace.
“In Lochaber, we worked closely with the team at Lochaber Chamber of Commerce to integrate the search and booking on the Outdoor Capital of the UK website with the national portal, www.Visitscotland.com.
“That perfectly combines fantastic, rich local content from OCUK with the reach and audience which visitscotland.com can access – 20 million users worldwide.
“In the North Highlands too, partnership is at the heart of our work.
“A priority for Visitscotland is to inspire visitor to see new places, stay longer and spend more and our partnership with the team at North Coast 500 (NC500) for example, will support around 260 NC500 members to help provide excellent information and inspiration to visitors along the route.
In November, success was celebrated at the Highlands & Islands Tourism Awards, when 232 businesses and individuals vied for the top spot in 16 categories, recognising the very best places to eat, drink and enjoy the area’s scenery, hospitality and culture.
The Highland Tourism Conference returned to the Kingsmills Hotel in November, where 190 delegates heard from international and local speakers on the business opportunities in doing more with digital as well as getting to network and build those all-important relationships.
“Continued growth in tourism is great news and testament to the thousands of tourism businesses across Highland who do such a fantastic job in looking after our visitors.
“But it also brings challenges and this year we have, probably for the first time in the Highlands, witnessed calls to limit tourism numbers, particularly in some of our honeypot sites such as those on Skye.
“Visitor pressure can be very real and adds to already strained budgets in parts of the public sector.
“We must remember however that tourism has helped encourage buzzing, thriving town centres, created jobs for our young people, made transport and other services more viable and helped attract in more people who want to live, work, study and invest in the Highlands.
“We do need to invest in our infrastructure, we do need to provide a quality experience for everyone who comes here, but we also need to keep on talking up tourism to make sure we all get the most benefit from the fantastic industry.
“A we head into 2018, Scotland’s Year of Young People, I look forward to seeing the spotlight being shone on the nation’s young people, celebrating their talents, contributions and creating new opportunities for them to express themselves through culture, sport and a wide range of other activities.”
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