Tourism bosses in Moray are confident the region can continue to beat the national trend and create a jobs boom.
With 2017 dedicated to heritage, Moray Speyside Tourism’s operations manager, Laurie Piper, believes the area has the requisite assets and ingredients to blossom.
Latest figures revealed by Visit Scotland show the flourishing industry employed more than 600 extra people from 2014 to 2015.
That marked a surge of 19%, meaning 3,200 workers are dedicated to tourists in a Moray – a rise well above the Scottish increase of 11% and British total of 4%.
Holiday accommodation and bars and restaurants have been pinpointed as the main drivers for the increases.
Moray has historically relied upon its Speyside whisky industry to attract overseas tourists.
But Mr Piper believes 2017 could be a golden opportunity to grow the thriving industry even more in the coming years.
He said: “The number of people employed in the visitor economy has a significantly positive effect upon the local economy – and reinforces the importance of tourism for the region.
“This year marks a year of history, heritage and archaeology, which we are very confident gives a spectacular opportunity to promote the region.
“It’s also a fantastic platform to engage with visitors from near and far, so they too can experience the warmth and wonder of Moray and Speyside, while supporting continued growth in tourism employment.”
Moray MSP, Richard Lochhead, echoed Mr Piper’s belief that the region’s “exceptional historical attractions” are an asset to the region.
Re-enactments of the burning of Elgin Cathedral drew thousands to the town’s Cooper Park in the summer while visitors flock to the fascinating ruins.
In October, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £2.85million to promote projects which celebrate the history of the Glenlivet and Tomintoul – including the refurbishment of the latter’s museum and restorations of Blairfindy Castle and the 18th-century Catholic seminary, Scalan.
Plans were also approved last month to create holiday accommodation at the hill where Macbeth is reputed to have had his encounter with the meddlesome witches.
Tourism Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, added: “Our tourism industry is going from strength to strength and these figures serve to highlight the vital role that tourism plays in Scotland’s economy.
“They also show how important the industry is to our rural and coastal communities.”