North Coast 500 business group plan road to recovery – Scottish News

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NORTH COAST 500 (NC500) has teamed up VisitScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Highland Council, Police Scotland and a range of other key stakeholders to plan the road to recovery for North Highland tourism in 2021 and beyond.

At the latest business group webinar led by NC500 earlier this week, tourism and community leaders discussed plans for the re-emergence of tourism from early 2021 in response to the ongoing global pandemic.

The group is now 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.

Scottish tourism industry leaders - Scottish News
 Left – Craig Mills, Head of Operations at North Coast 500 Ltd,  (Top right) Anna Miller, Head of Tourism at Highlands & Islands Enterprise, (Middle) Chris Taylor, Regional Leadership Director, VisitScotland, (bottom) Councillor Maxine Smith, Chair of Highland Council’s Tourism Committee

Over three quarters of people who put their travels plans on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic are expected to return to the iconic North Coast 500 in the year ahead after travel restrictions are lifted by the Scottish Government, according to NC500’s most recent visitor survey.

Scotland’s world-leading NC500 tourist 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, but all this is now at risk.

Over two thirds of the tourism firms on the NC500 are also set to re-open and welcome visitors back when it is safe to travel in response to NC500’s most recent coronavirus business impact survey.

A record 185 tourism businesses from across Inverness-shire, the Black Isle, Easter Ross, Wester Ross, Sutherland and Caithness responded to the survey.

Accommodation providers, food and drink outlets, retail operators, outdoor and visitor attractions hope that the eventual easing of lockdown measures in Scotland will mean that the North Highlands could see a return of the tourism season in early 2021.

Craig Mills, Head of Operations at North Coast 500 Ltd, said:

“It’s vitally important that we continue to work with our business partners and key stakeholders across the North Highlands to help deliver a balance between public safety and economic recovery in the region in the short and longer term.

“As part of this process, we’re continuing to follow the advice and guidance issued by the Scottish Government during the pandemic.

“We will only encourage people to travel from different parts of Scotland when it is safe to do so.

VisitScotland Regional Leadership Director, Chris Taylor, added:

“Due to Covid-19, there is evidence that a new, homegrown audience is discovering and enjoying Scotland’s more remote wild areas and locations, such as the NC500, which is fantastic.

“It is encouraging to hear of strong demand into 2021 with consumers continuing to seek out the stunning scenery and landscapes for which the North of Scotland is famous.”

Chair of Highland Council’s Tourism Committee, Councillor Maxine Smith, said:

“Although we’re very aware that things are difficult for many businesses at present, there is also a need for us to look forward to and prepare for a future when things improve.

“Part of this is the provision of new infrastructure which was a subject covered in detail at the Council’s last tourism committee meeting.

Anna Miller, Head of Tourism at Highlands & Islands Enterprise, added:

“Tourism has been hit heavily this year, but it will also be key to our region’s economic recovery. The resilience and commitment shown by tourism and hospitality businesses in the past months has been incredible.

“They have continued to face new and evolving challenges as varying levels of restrictions and operating guidelines have been introduced.

“Despite these challenges we have seen a determination from our region’s businesses to continue to adapt, innovate and provide memorable and enjoyable experiences for visitors.