The return of events such as the Etape Loch Ness and the Loch Ness Marathon is helping the Highland economy recover, a leading economist has said.
However, Tony Mackay has warned that it will take at least another two years to get back to pre-pandemic levels.
Part of the delayed return is due to arrangements being put in place for home working, hampering trade in busy town centres.
GDP fell by 12.5% in the Highlands in 2020
Mr Mackay estimated that the economic output of the Highlands, measured by gross domestic product (GDP), fell by 12.5% in 2020.
He anticipates a rise of 6% for 2021 with a slightly smaller rise of 5.2% in 2022.
The combination is still some 1.3% lower than 2020 levels, however, delivers some optimism for businesses.
In 2019, the Etape Loch Ness helped boost the local economy by a cool £1.4 million.
Slow but steady recovery
Despite the lower impact, Mr Mackay praised the “very successful event” adding that it will “certainly have been very good for the local tourism and hospitality industry”.
He said: “The economy as a whole seems to be recovering slowly but steadily and most economic forecasts for 2022 are much better than actuality in 2020 and 2021.
“However, a few hoteliers and restaurant owners have told me that foreign visitors are very important for them and there are still uncertainties about them.
“Many shops in Inverness are suffering from the switch to home working by big employers such as the Highland Council, so it will be interesting to see how that changes over the next few months.”
‘This is just the beginning’
Malcolm Sutherland, event director for Etape Loch Ness, said the appetite to get events back on again has “never been stronger”.
Mr Sutherland, who also organises the Loch Ness Marathon, said: “We were delighted to welcome cyclists back for the 2021 Etape Loch Ness.
“The event was a huge success, and it was great to have so many people back at Loch Ness.
“It was clear to see how much they all enjoyed taking part in an event again.”
Participants of the Etape also help raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support.
So far, £62,000 has been raised this year, adding to the £1.2 million raised since 2014.
Mr Sutherland added: “This is just the beginning.
“Our next event is the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon on October 3, 2021.
“The appetite to get out and take part in events like these has never been stronger and we can’t wait to welcome people back to the Highlands again.”