HOTELIERS in Inverness have been forced to defend themselves against "rip-off" charges as city prices again soar beyond those of some of the best accommodation in London.
According to the latest figures on popular online site booking.com, a double room in Inverness for the weekend of August 17-19 could cost as much as £839 at the Macdonald Drumossie Hotel in the city’s Old Perth Road.
In comparison, a double at the Elizabeth Hotel Lancaster Terrace by Hyde Park, in the very heart of the UK capital, costs just £460.
Highland News readers recently took to social media to vent their anger at the situation which industry figures have repeatedly warned could lead to tourists voting with their feet and choosing to holiday elsewhere.
Highland Council recently revived talk of a "tourist tax" across the region, leading Chris McEwan to comment that "hotels rip customers off for enough money as it is".
Another, Olive Thomson, called the situation "ridiculous" and added: "A friend was planning visiting me for a week in July. Was quoted £800 for seven nights B&B Premier Inn. Needless to say, she’s going abroad!!"
Further price comparisons show the cost of a room at the Best Western Inverness Palace Hotel in Ness Walk available for £756 for the August weekend, compared to £355 for the same chain’s The Boltons Hotel in Kensington.
The price of two nights at the Mercure Hotel in Church Street, Inverness, is currently £663, compared to £339 at the Mercure Kensington.
Visitor accommodation has been a long-running sore point for Inverness and last year Tony Story, managing director of the Patio Hotels Group which owns the Kingsmills Hotel, warned that charging high prices could be counterproductive.
"You don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs," he said. "If tourists are turned off by prices then they won’t return."
Despite this, this week Emmanuel Moine – chairman of the Inverness Hotel Association – defended city prices.
"We should be delighted because people are going to the hotels," he said.
"Business is going very well.
"From the customer’s point of view, they have choice. They can go to Nairn, or Aviemore which are cheaper.
"We should not be looking at it as trying to rip-off customers – that is very negative.
"People come here because it is a great place to be and we are a great country to visit."
Graeme Ambrose, chief executive of VisitInvernessLochNess Business improvement District said the laws of supply and demand meant it was inevitable that Inverness prices would, in some instances, be higher than in London, but acknowledged the situation was "very detrimental" to the perception of Inverness.
This view was echoed by economist Tony Mackay who hoped the picture was now slowly changing.
"One encouraging feature is that some of the local hotels, notably the Glen Mhor and Kingsmills, are clearly re-investing some of their extra profits in providing more hotel accommodation," he said.
Mr Story is behind the current revamp of the former Maple Court Hotel by the River Ness as well as plans to transform former council offices in Church Street.
The owners of the Glen Mhor have lodged plans to create new holiday apartments in the same street.
More rooms, Mr Mackay said, could bring prices back down to "more sensible" levels.