TOURIST groups are calling for more toilets to be built now – or lose out on lucrative trade.
They have backed Highland Council’s move to introduce a comfort scheme where businesses can cash in by allowing tourists and the public to spend a penny in their amenities.
The idea means pubs, shops, restaurants and cafes pocket up to £200 a month, or more, for allowing people to use their rest rooms.
But with another surge in TV tourism expected following the successful detective series The Loch, which has included spectacular scenery of the region, visitor groups are urging the local authority to open more facilities.
Graeme Ambrose, chief executive of Visit Inverness Loch Ness, said: “We have to wake up to the fact we need more infrastructure if we want to maintain the look of the area.
“When you have to go, you have to go. And if there are no toilets around then people will just start going out into the woods which is just disgusting.”
He added: “This is certainly on the radar and the problem of a lack of toilets has been talked about a lot, especially the problems and issues surrounding it with how busy it is here and in surrounding areas. It’s very frustrating.
“Facilities for visitors is a concern.”
However, Mr Ambrose expressed sympathy for the cash-strapped council, adding: “We understand completely the pressure on the public purse and cuts have to be made and tourism is not always the highest priority.
“It is the biggest industry here, but how do you measure up tourism with health care and education?
“We know where we come in the pecking order.
“But, perhaps it has not been appreciated how important it is for visitors to know there are facilities at their next stop, town or whatever.
“It’s a tourism infrastructure and with various movies and TV programmes being filmed in and about the region, we need to ensure as far as possible that it is being maintained and even additional facilities being created.
“It’s a bit galling.
“The council’s comfort scheme is a good idea, but ideally you want more facilities.”
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, backed the comments and said: “We understand the public sector are under pressure, but having an appropriate number of high-quality toilets is critical to our biggest industry which is tourism.
“We’re seeing a quite significant challenge around NC 500 (North Coast 500 – a scenic route of 516 miles promoting north coast starting and ending at Inverness Castle) in terms of every kind of infrastructure and the toilet issue is one of those we have to get right.
“Inverness is an iconic tourist attraction and we have to ensure we have adequate facilities to protect that asset.
“It’s a significant challenge, but we have to go see this in a different light than just cost.
“There’s a lot going on around here (with films and TV shows) which is bringing a significant number of tourists to the region and that’s what drives a large part of the economy allowing us to pay taxes for services we need.
“And the comfort scheme of the council is absolutely brilliant.”
The comfort scheme has been praised by Highlands and Islands regional MSP Rhoda Grant who is pushing for more toilets to be made available this summer.
She has written to council chief executive Steve Barron plus VisitScotland boss Malcolm Roughead asking what the latest situation is with toilet facilities following the recent budget cuts.
Meanwhile, Tom Campbell, managing director of NC 500, insisted: “The infrastructure to support NC 500 is recognised as being important by the public sector and the working group is looking at challenges and opportunities around the development and support of the route.
“However, infrastructure is not about single issues, it is about a whole range of things from roads to training, supporting business growth to connectivity.”
A council spokeswoman said: “The chief executive will be responding to Rhoda Grant MSP in due course to address the issues raised.
“Where we receive requests for additional facilities in an area, we will assess existing provision there.
“If we believe we need to provide additional facilities, we’ll ask local businesses, or community facilities to participate in our comfort scheme.”