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Customers responding well to reopening of Inverness bars, restaurants and hotels

By Ian Duncan

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Aidon Marshall and Jack Davidson at the Heathmount hotel. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Aidon Marshall and Jack Davidson at the Heathmount hotel. Picture: Callum Mackay.

TOURISTS and visitors are currently able to take advantage of discounted rooms at the Heathmount Hotel in Inverness.

Director Fiona Newton said they have been busy and added: "People were desperate to get out and they just wanted to meet up with other people.

"The restaurant has been busy and the hotel was full last night – the rooms are discounted."

She said they were getting a lot of late bookings and people were travelling to the city from the south.

She said: "They are leaving it to the last minute – we picked up five online bookings yesterday."

Ms Newton said the business was closed throughout the coronavirus lockdown and staff had been furloughed.

But, since reopening, things are starting to pick up. The business, which is based in Kingsmills Road close to the city centre, was initially able to reopen its heated terrace from July 6 and the bars, restaurant and hotel have been operating since July 15.

Customers are expected to observe 1m social distancing, to stay at their tables during their time there and are not allowed to stand at the bar.

She said: "August is going to be a great month. I haven't reduced my prices for August but if my rooms are empty I will probably reduce the prices at the last minute."

The Heathmount normally relies on overseas visitors but numbers are down on what they would normally expect to see – however a lot of American tourists have deferred their trips until next year.

Ms Newton said: "I'd say we have a lot of Scottish and UK guests but we had people from France last night.

"I think it's very safe and we are very safe in the Highlands. We've got procedures in place, like everyone else, and we are following what Nicola [Sturgeon] tells us. She has been quite reticent, by not giving us too much rope, but I think she is right."

She said there were definitely more people in the city centre and added: "It's nice to see movement in the area as well."

Ally Mackay, manager at Hootenanny. Picture: Callum Mackay.
Ally Mackay, manager at Hootenanny. Picture: Callum Mackay.

WITH three floors available, bosses at Hootenanny have decided to open the two upper storeys to customers through the week to make social distancing easier.

The Church Street bar opened a couple of hours late at 7pm on the first day they reopened – it is normally open between 5pm and midnight.

The bar was voted the best Scottish music venue in the country in 2005 and manager Ally Mackay said it had been a slow start, but added: "It's got better over the past couple of weeks."

He said he did not know what to expect, unlike those with beer gardens who were allowed to reopen outside areas sooner, and they were learning as they went along.

"Last night we did in the region of 50 dinners. Between the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario we are quite pleased with how it's gone."

Mr Mackay said they have followed the guidelines, with a range of safety measures in place including: a one-way system; more space between tables; hand sanitisers; table service; and the upper floors able to accommodate any overflow.

The three floors have distinctly different characters – the ground floor is renowned for its live trad Scottish music sessions, Mad Hatters boasts more of a rock soundtrack and the Glow Bar has cool tunes and delicious cocktails.

He said the response from customers had been amazing and some customers were confused that there was no music.

He said: "Ninety-nine per cent of the customers have been absolutely fantastic and the atmosphere has been really good."

Mr Mackay felt things would further improve as more businesses reopened.

He said: "Once everywhere else is open we will have more competition. We are well established for the music. It's a scary period but with what we are doing, we will do okay."

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