Tourism firms on the iconic North Coast 500 (NC500) have scored the organisation over 90 per cent for satisfaction and its benefit to the North Highlands as a whole in a new business members survey.
In what has been a catastrophic year for tourism in the North Highlands, tourism businesses stated that they continue to feel fully supported by NC500 during the global pandemic in response to the organisation’s latest business survey conducted earlier this month.
An overwhelming majority of firms from across Inverness-shire, the Black Isle, Easter Ross, Wester Ross, Sutherland and Caithness also believe that NC500 is continuing to have a positive benefit on the wider North Highlands region, despite the pandemic.
NC500 has continued to stage a series of webinars to actively engage its business members, local community groups and other key stakeholders this year to address any concerns surrounding re-opening the North Highlands to visitors when the green light is given by the Scottish Government.
VisitScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Highland Council, Police Scotland and NC500 business members are working together to plan the road to recovery for North Highland tourism in 2021 and beyond.
The organisations are looking into the practical measures and solutions needed to help deliver a balance between public safety and economic recovery in the North Highlands, including further investment in infrastructure.
Over 53 per cent of businesses surveyed by NC500 this month believe that more information for visitors and more positive marketing and public relations to help build consumer confidence will help the region recover from the impact of the pandemic in 2021 and beyond.
When it is safe to travel, NC500 is already planning to reach out it its global audience once again to promote responsible and sustainable tourism in the North Highlands, including over 23 million social media followers, one million annual web users, a mailing list of over 37,000 people and 3,700 personal NC500 members, up 1,000 over the same period last year.
The breath-taking natural scenery, wide-open green spaces, majestic mountain ranges, sandy beaches and rugged coastline of the NC500 are seen to be the key factors that will draw visitors back to the region and away from larger towns and cities after lockdown restrictions have been eased.
Scotland’s ability to attract a domestic market, the world-class reputation of North Highlands tourism, adventure travel and a social move to wellness and health have been cited by NC500 business members as some of the key drivers to re-building the sector post-lockdown.
Scotland’s world-leading NC500 tourist tourism route marks its fifth anniversary this year.
What began as an initiative to bring some fresh opportunities to the area was last year estimated to have boosted the economy by £22.89 million and created around 179 full-time jobs.
Now, with at least half the North Highland tourism workforce in furlough and businesses unsure of the future, NC500 business members are rallying to safeguard jobs, protect the hospitality sector and rebuild public confidence before it is too late.
Craig Mills (pictured), Head of Operations at North Coast 500 Ltd, said:
“Clear communication and consistent business support is vitally important during a crisis like the global coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re continuing to work hard with our partners to help deliver a balance between public safety and economic recovery.
“It’s reassuring to learn from our latest business survey that an overwhelming majority of our members continue to feel supported by us and see the value of NC500 to the wider North Highlands region.
“We’ve made it our top priority during the pandemic to actively engage with our business members, local community groups and other key stakeholders to share key information and address any concerns surrounding public health and safety.
“It’s clear that the majority of our members want to see a cautious re-opening of North Highland tourism in 2021 and are looking forward to welcoming back visitors from across Scotland and the rest of the UK.
“A positive marketing campaign and a consistent welcoming message are also seen to be vital to regaining consumer confidence.
“As we all begin to think about what life might look like beyond the pandemic, we know that the stunning natural landscape of the NC500 remains reassuringly unchanged and will continue to inspire people from around Scotland, the rest of the UK and beyond when it’s safe travel in 2021.”
Joanna Macpherson from Attadale Gardens in Wester Ross, said:
“We really appreciate the efforts made by the North Coast 500 to support us throughout this period of uncertainty, which has been reassuring and gives us confidence for the future.
“The North Coast 500 has been so supportive about encouraging improvements to local infrastructure that will benefit both locals and visitors.”
Maureen Ross, Director of the Seaboard Centre at Balintore, said:
“The Seaboard Centre recognises that tourism is going to be vital to the Highland economy and there is now an opportunity to get it right through a well-managed tourism strategy.
“Taking part in the NC500 webinars has been a way of not only voicing concerns, but constructively looking at solutions to addressing such.
“I hope this platform continues as it is valuable tool for us grass route businesses in hospitality here in the Highlands.”
Murray Lamont, proud owner of Mackays Hotel in Wick, added:
“NC500 has been cautious in its approach to promoting the area, which is good, and we’ve welcomed the zoom calls organised by NC500.
“The calls were useful as a means to find what was happening in other areas of the Highlands and also with other business.”