More than two-thirds of tourism businesses on the North Coast 500 say they are ready for a “cautious” reopening as soon as they are allowed.
A coronavirus business impact survey of 185 businesses responded to the survey for NC500, the business body that promotes the scenic route that passes through Inverness, Easter and Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness and the Black Isle.
While 67% said they could open right away, 18% of respondents hope to reopen in 2021.
NC500 marks its fifth anniversary this summer. Organisers say it has boosted the economy by £22.89 million and created around 179 full-time jobs, while detractors say the volume of cars, camper vans and motorcycles has put intolerable pressure on the road infrastructure, much of it single track. Restricted schedules for flights abroad could prompt an even greater number to head for the Highlands this summer.
Ullapool Community Trust is bringing together residents and business in an effort to deliver a ‘Safe Tourism Charter’ that enables visitors to be welcomed whilst ensuring residents feel and remain safe. The Black Isle Partnership is asking locals to fill in a survey to gauge any concerns they have about re-opening tourism in the area, so it can be addressed in advance.
Quinton Stevens is the owner of The Storehouse at Dingwall, a NC500 business member. He said: “Life is unquestionably different on our section of the North Coast 500. Business as we have known it for the last 15 years has stopped and we have rapidly reinvented ourselves to continue trading and employing.
“The NC500 not only has been a fantastic support mechanism for all business across the Highlands but they have made it their business to support us individually, delivering opportunities, information and trade.
“Our main hope for the future is that we stay safe, look after each other and create a new normal which delivers stability, economic growth and most importantly happiness amongst us all. Every business on the NC500 now has an opportunity to review and remodel itself to meet the expectations of visitors after lockdown. We should take this positively and react accordingly. Never before have we been given this chance.”
NC500 is to host a series of webinars to actively engage local community groups and businesses to address their concerns.
Tom Campbell, chairman of NC500, said: “It’s clear from the NC500 Covid-19 business impact survey results that the majority of our members want to see a cautious reopening of North Highland tourism this summer and are looking forward to welcoming back visitors from across Scotland and the rest of the UK.
“With international tourism shredded and the thoughts of many turning to post-lockdown travel, there is every likelihood more Scots than ever before may well follow the lead of tens of thousands of visitors who have already explored the 516-mile route.
“Seismic change in how Scots and other UK nations holiday as a result of Covid-19 could result in a staycation boom, helping to ensure the success of the NC500, businesses and communities along the route continues through difficult times.
“We’re expecting to see more UK visitors heading to Scotland and driving and cycling will be the way people will want to take their holidays. As we all begin to think about what life might look like beyond the coronavirus pandemic, we know that the stunning natural landscape of 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.”