More than two-thirds of businesses on the North Coast 500 (NC500) route are ready to reopen as soon as they are given the go-ahead by the Scottish Government, according to a survey.
Around 186 firms from the Highland route covering Inverness-shire, the Black Isle, Easter Ross, Wester Ross, Sutherland and Caithness responded to the survey which found 67% anticipate reopening in 2020.
It also found a further 18% hope to reopen in 2021 while the remaining 15% said they were unlikely to reopen.
The survey comes after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the easing of lockdown measures on Friday, with information to come later on when the tourism industry can kickstart again.
Some businesses on the route – which marks its fifth anniversary this summer – have hopes of a staycation boom once further phases allow accommodation providers, food and drink outlets, retail and visitor attractions to open again.
Quinton Stevens, owner of NC500 business member The Storehouse in Dingwall, said life was “unquestionably different on our section of the North Coast 500” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “Business as we have known it for the last 15 years has stopped and we have rapidly reinvented ourselves to continue trading and employing.
“The NC500 not only has been a fantastic support mechanism for all business across the Highlands but they have made it their business to support us individually, delivering opportunities, information and trade.
“Our main hope for the future is that we stay safe, look after each other and create a new normal which delivers stability, economic growth and, most importantly, happiness amongst us all.”
Last year it was estimated NC500 had boosted the economy by £22.89 million and created around 179 full-time jobs.
Mr Stevens added: “Every business on the NC500 now has an opportunity to review and re-model itself to meet the expectations of visitors after lockdown.”
Early in the lockdown, local representatives including Ian Blackford MP and Kate Forbes MSP criticised people travelling to the area in a bid to get away while still partaking in social distancing.
Tom Campbell, NC500 chairman, said: “It’s clear from the NC500 Covid-19 business impact survey results that the majority of our members want to see a cautious reopening of north Highland tourism this summer and are looking forward to welcoming back visitors from across Scotland and the rest of the UK.
“With international tourism shredded and the thoughts of many turning to post-lockdown travel, there is every likelihood more Scots than ever before may well follow the lead of tens of thousands of visitors who have already explored the 516-mile route.
“Seismic change in how Scots and other UK nations holiday as a result of Covid-19 could result in a staycation boom, helping to ensure the success of the NC500, businesses and communities along the route continues through difficult times.
“As we all begin to think about what life might look like beyond the coronavirus pandemic, we know that the stunning natural landscape of NC500 remains reassuringly unchanged and will continue to inspire people from around Scotland, the rest of the UK and beyond when it’s safe travel.”