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What will Scottish Golf Tourism Week ever do for us? Businesses and hospitality groups share their thoughts

More hotel rooms, tee times and international flights are needed to capitalise on overseas demand.

A visitor boom is predicted following Scottish Golf Tourism Week being held in Inverness. Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson
A visitor boom is predicted following Scottish Golf Tourism Week being held in Inverness. Image Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

The Highlands is still basking in the success of Scottish Golf Tourism Week and preparing to reap benefits for “generations to come”.

Inverness hosted the prestigious event for the first time last month.

It has been predicted the event, created with VisitScotland in partnership with the Press and Journal, will lead to a golfing boom for the area.

Overseas tour operators were full of praise for the Highlands as a golf destination.

So what now? Is the positive feedback turning into inquiries and bookings?

And what needs to happen before the area can capitalise more on the highly lucrative golf market?

Significant rewards from golf tourisms

According to VisitScotland, the North American market is particularly interested, with tour operators seeking ‘immersive experiences’.

This is due to an increase in groups who are travelling with non-players.

The rewards can be significant. Golf tour groups usually stay from five to 10 nights and take in two locations across the country.

Figures from 2017, show overseas golfing visitors spend on average £338 per night, more than four times the daily spend of an average Scottish visitor (£78.90).

Some of the tour operators and golf businesses meeting at Scottish Golf Business Week. Image<br />Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Rona Wallace, senior manager for business growth and development at VisitScotland, said: “Scotland is a massive draw for international golfers.

“And events such as Scottish Golf Tourism Week are an opportunity to spread the benefits across the regions.”

She said links courses are a particular draw for golfers from key international markets.

“Combine that with the region’s whisky heritage, which is hugely popular with the market, and you have a package that engages with golf tour operators and can help drive international visitors to the region.”

A proud moment for the Highlands

Hosting Scottish Golf Tourism Week was a proud moment for the Highlands says Yvonne Crook, chair of Highland Tourism CIC co-owner of the week’s main sponsor Good Highland Food.

“We look forward to reaping the rewards from the success of this event and to many more opportunities in the future to stage similar events in the Highlands.”

Don Johnstone, CEO of Visit Inverness Loch Ness, says there will be “undoubtable” long-term benefit for the region from Scottish Golf Tourism Week.

Scottish Golf Tourism Week was held in Inverness for the first time

“Aside from the £3 million of economic benefit estimated over the next three years, the exposure garnered during the event will help cement the region as a premier golfing destination on the worldwide stage for generations to come.

“Having had the opportunity to showcase what is on offer, the stage is now set for sustained growth in golf tourism, bolstering the local economy and further cementing Inverness and the Highlands status as a must-visit destination for golf enthusiasts worldwide.”

Impact will be seen from next summer

Ann Liddle, event sales manager for DC Thomson, said feedback from Scottish Golf Tourism Week has been “incredible”.

She added: “The average time between booking a golf trip and travel is between 13-18 months.

“So the biggest impact will be seen next summer and the years following that.”

To grasp the opportunity, many believe more hotel rooms and tee times are needed for visiting golfers in peak times.

Ensuring international flights are maintained or increased is also a priority.

The under-construction Old Petty course at Cabot Highlands will provide more availability for visiting golfers

Craig Ewan, vice chairman of the Highland Hotels Association, said: “Golf is already a really important segment to the Highland Hotel Associations business segmentation.

“From speaking to the tour operators there is clearly more demand for the Highlands.

“One of the challenges is availability in our peak season.

“However, maybe we should be looking at making more availability for this sector as these golfers are very discerning travellers who clearly do not come to the Highlands to window shop.”

Can the season be extended?

Mr Ewan, operations director at the Kingsmills Hotel Group, said there is an opportunity to extend the tourist season from March to the end of October.

“Ensuring we have the double daily flights from Heathrow would help this.

“At present this happens in the summer schedule, but usually flips to just one connection a day in the winter schedule.

“The link to Schiphol is another great link which I believe is still under-utilised in terms of connections to the US.”

Links golf is popular with overseas visitors Image Eve Conroy/DC Thomson

Increasing playing capacity on high-profile courses like Royal Dornoch, Nairn and Cabot Highlands, will be difficult.

But new attractions, including the Old Petty course being built at Cabot Highlands, and the planned but controversial Coul Links, could help.

Tony Story, CEO at the Kingsmills Hotel Group, said: “The golf tourist is one the highest, if not, the highest economically beneficial by sector to the Highlands.

“Tee times are in very high demand and will be significantly enhanced with the new Old Petty course.

“Given consent, the proposed new Coul Links would also be a significant contributor to maximising the economic benefits of Highland golf.”

More international flights ‘a priority’

Stuart McColm, general manager at Cabot Highlands, said hosting Scottish Golf Tourism Week in the Highlands will bring economic benefits to the region “for years to come”.

“Maximising the true economic opportunity for the region will come through continuing to enhance the golfer’s visitor experience, while the development of international flights which must be a priority.”

Colin Marr says transport issues were raised by tour operators

Colin Marr, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said a golfing boom would not add pressure on other tourism attractions.

“The long-term benefit of more golf tourism is enormous as a lot of golf tourists are high spenders.

“But they are attending different venues form the normal tourist.

“So we can see a good increase in economic impact without necessarily putting pressure on other attractions that are already busy.”

Working to improve transport links

Mr Marr said transport was an issue raised by tour operators during Scottish Golf Tourism Week.

“As with so many aspects of doing business in the Highlands, there were some questions around our transport links, which we are all working to improve.

“But this was balanced out to some extent by how many of or top golf courses are within a short drive of the airport.”