The north could be set for an influx of visitors from China, according to a senior tourism boss.
Work has been ongoing behind the scenes to promote the Highlands and islands to the growing market of international travellers from China.
Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said the number of Chinese tourists visiting the UK is currently relatively small – but it is growing market.
He said: “Looking forward there are other markets which present opportunities and the Chinese market is a very interesting one.
“It couldn’t fail to be, given the size of it.
“I always look at the Chinese market as dropping a pebble in a pond and creating a ripple effect.
“Once they started travelling they were going intra-Asia and then they started to push the boundaries so took in Australia and New Zealand which are enjoying huge increases in visitors.
“They are now coming into Europe but not yet in the same numbers.
“Paris gets something like three times the number of Chinese visitors that London does.
“But they’re coming and if we’re serious about tapping into that market we have to culturally understand what they are looking for and cater for their needs and demands.”
The biggest market for tourists to the Highlands is currently other parts of the UK – with the USA, Germany, France, Australia and Spain the top overseas markets.
China is seen as a major growing audience.
Highland businessman Willie Cameron – known as Mr Loch Ness – has been recently struck a deal with a Chinese tour operator aimed at bringing around 12,000 tourists a year to the north.
Mr Roughead said: “There has been quite a lot of growth in the Chinese market and in Scotland alone we have a huge amount of Chinese students who then bring their family and friends who then travel around.
“I know guys up here have been particularly active in looking at the Chinese market and working with our colleagues at
VisitBritain who have been out there selling the Highlands and selling what there is to see and do.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll see the benefits of that pretty soon.”