North Coast 500 survey signals ‘staycation boom’

Two thirds of north Highland businesses ready to reopen as soon as Scottish Government gives green light

TWO thirds of tourism businesses on the North Coast 500 (NC500) route are set to reopen as soon as the go-ahead is given by the Scottish Government, according to a new report.

And the NC500 COVID-19 Business Impact Survey, which polled 185 businesses in Inverness-shire, the Black Isle, Easter Ross, Wester Ross, Sutherland and Caithness between May 14 and May 26, found operators hopeful that the easing of lockdown measures in Scotland in the coming weeks could bring a ‘staycation boom’ for the north Highlands before the end of the summer season.

The report, which comes as operators in the Highlands have issued a fresh plea to the Scottish Government for a reopening timeline fearing they may ‘miss the boat’ for bookings, showed 67% of business owners said they are ready to open for business as soon as the green light is given by the Scottish Government. A further 18% said they plan to resume trading next year.

Factors such as Scotland’s ability to attract a domestic market, positive marketing campaigns and welcoming messages from businesses and the reputation of north Highlands tourism are crucial for the rebuilding of the sector, the survey found. It also highlighted measures businesses intend to implement for staff and guest safety, including contact-free methods of check-in and payment, changing access arrangements for customers and suppliers, in-room dining and personal protective equipment (PPE) for all staff; NC500 is also planning to hold a series of webinars for local community groups and businesses in the coming weeks to address any concerns surrounding reopening the north Highlands to visitors.

Tom Campbell, chairman of NC500, 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 continue through difficult times.”

The NC500 report comes after a study by accommodation website Stay In A Pub found 41% of consumers polled would feel ‘completely comfortable’ staying in a pub overnight when restrictions are eased and 80% said they would feel ‘pretty comfortable.’

Paul Nunny, director of Stay In A Pub, said: “Support for our pubs continues with 69% of respondents saying that they would be willing to book and pay now to secure future stays if these included totally flexible cancellations, date changes and refund policies.

“With the general feeling of uncertainty around when lockdown will ease and the likelihood of an ‘ultra-last minute’ demand this consumer confidence and commitment to future stays presents an opportunity for pubs to promote now through online booking offers and listings on accommodation sites.”