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Demand 'on the rise' along Highlands NC500 route

By Calum MacLeod

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Kylesku Bridge.
Kylesku Bridge.

After months of lockdown, businesses along one of the country’s most popular driving routes are again opening their doors to visitors.

As tourists come back to the area hotels, guests houses, restaurants and campsites along the North Coast 500 are beginning to enjoy some much-needed trade.

Anita Hennessey of Gairloch’s Myrtle Bank Hotel said that although it would be impossible to make up what had been lost earlier in the summer, business was picking up.

“Demand is high. We have been full or nearly full in the last week. It’s been very worthwhile being open and the restaurant has really taken off,” she said.

“The lounge bar and the beer garden have been very busy.”

As with all businesses, new measures are in place to reduce the risk of further coronavirus infection, but Mrs Hennessey added that customers seemed willing to comply with the new rules, with overseas visitors especially aware of the need for masks and good hygiene measures.

“Everybody has been sanitising, everybody has been signing their name in the book and leaving their track [contact] details. Nobody has refused. I thought we might get a few stroppy people, but it’s been fine,” she added.

Further north in Sutherland, Kylesku Hotel owner Tanja Lister said the business has been incredibly busy and has been recruiting new staff to meet demand in the restaurant.

Looking further ahead, prospects are bright for 2021, with advance bookings also substantially busier than at the same time last year. “It is most definitely a chance to salvage something for the season,” she said.

However, she also noted that the extra cleaning and Covid-19 precautions required are taking up considerable extra time. She estimated this was easily the equivalent of one full-time employee extra every day, if not more.

Murray Lamont of Mackays Hotel in Wick is also seeing a rise in demand.

“Business has come back, but it’s not back to the level it was before.

“People are being very cautious,” he said.

“With social distancing, we can’t seat as many as we could do before. There are people here and it is encouraging, but we are just not at the levels we were at before.

“With staycations, there is a chance that people will extend and keep going later into the year and we hope that they will.”

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