Police, council, and enterprise bosses are among those planning a road to recovery for tourism in the north Highlands after travel restrictions are lifted.
The North Coast 500 route has joined with VisitScotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Highland Council, Police Scotland and a range of other groups to prepare for a return to business when visitors are able to holiday in the tier one area.
The group is now investigating measures including investment in further infrastructure to help balance public safety and economic recovery, with hopes that an easing of lockdown will allow a return of the tourism season in early 2021.
A recent survey showed more than three quarters of people who put their travels plans on hold during the pandemic are expected to return to the NC500 when the Scottish Government give the go-ahead for travel.
A Covid-19 impact study also showed more than two thirds of the tourism firms on the route in Inverness-shire, the Black Isle, Easter Ross, Wester Ross, Sutherland and Caithness plan to re-open when it is safe.
The NC500 was last year estimated to have boosted the economy by £22.89 million and created around 179 full-time jobs.
The groups have been holding regular online meetings to discuss the way forward. 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.
“Our recent NC500 visitor survey shows that a significant number of visitors are already rescheduling their plans to visit the NC500 into 2021 and beyond. This really is a positive sign for the re-emergence of the tourism industry in the North Highlands. We look forward to welcoming back visitors from all parts of Scotland and the rest of the UK when the go-ahead is given by the Scottish Government.”
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 plans are being developed on investment in infrastructure by both the public sector and communities.
“We also envisage that this will create some opportunities for business diversification in areas such as the provision of overnight stops for motorhomes which could be a welcome boost to businesses as they emerge from the pressures brought on by the pandemic.”
Anna Miller, head of tourism at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, added: “The North Highlands offers a distinct and exiting product and its popularity is likely to continue over the coming years.
“Making the most of this opportunity, bringing benefits for local businesses and people around the region in a safe and sustainable way, requires collaboration between agencies, industry and communities.”