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Inverness hospitality businesses left reeling after winter events cancellation


By Val Sweeney

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The Christmas lights switch on and torchlight procession always brings crowds to the city centre.
The Christmas lights switch on and torchlight procession always brings crowds to the city centre.

Inverness businesses trying to salvage the remnants of the tourist season have been dealt a bitter blow with the cancellation of crowd-pulling winter events.

Tourists have started to make a tentative return to the area following the easing of coronavirus restrictions, but hopes of extending the season into winter to help the local economy appear to have been dashed.

Highland Council has cancelled major civic events including the free Hogmanay party, Christmas lights switch-on and Winter Wonderland at Whin Park, citing the risk to public health.

The Winter Wonderland event traditionally sees Whin Park transformed.
The Winter Wonderland event traditionally sees Whin Park transformed.

Business and tourism leaders say it is understandable, but the call-off will hamper efforts to claw back profits lost during the lockdown.

One hotelier said he felt the decision had been made too early.

The Red Hot Highland Fling at Hogmanay, alone, generates an estimated £350,000 for the city economy and last year was attended by a record 15,000 people from around the world.

It was expected to cost Inverness Common Good Fund £115,000 to stage.

The plug has also been pulled on Halloween and Bonfire Night celebrations.

Families also turned out for Bonfire Night fun last year.
Families also turned out for Bonfire Night fun last year.

The tearing up of the winter events programme comes on the heels of a long list of other high-profile events cancelled since March including the Loch Ness Marathon, Etape Loch Ness and Piping Inverness, incorporating the European Pipe Band Championships.

The Royal National Mod had also been due to return to Inverness this October, for the first time in six years.

Its staging in the Highland capital in 2014 was said to have generated an additional £3.5 million for the city economy.

Emmanuel Moine, chairman of the Inverness Hotel Association, said he understood the cancellation decision, but was unsure it was the right one.

“I think it is still very early to take such a decision,” he said.

“Everything which is related to tourism and hospitality will be hit and it means people will not come. We will not sell hotel bedrooms and it means restaurants will be less busy.

“I hope they will change their decision and I hope the situation will get better.

“The whole coronavirus situation is a disaster.”

Guesthouse owner David Shayer, who runs Aye Stay in Bishops Road, previously called for the city to market itself as a winter destination but felt efforts should now focus on next year.

“The ‘staycation’ is not materialising in Inverness – not many people are staying overnight,” he said.

“They are coming in their motor homes and passing through, or self-catering, so I think this year has to be written off.”

But Tony Story, owner of the Kingsmills and Ness Bank hotels, was more optimistic and felt the city should appeal to visitors looking for a different kind of break, including food and drink experiences.

“We have to put people’s health first and we have to find different ways of doing things,” he said.

“If we don’t recognise that Covid-19 is changing the landscape, we will never get through it.

“The last thing we want is a second spike – we have to maintain the reputation of Inverness and the Highlands as a safe place to come and visit.”

Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said given the cancellation of other events including Edinburgh’s Hogmanay party, it was not a surprise Inverness had done likewise.

“It is indicative of the ongoing impact of this virus and our activities and behaviour,” he said.

A spokesman for Highland Council said the aim was to look after the health and welfare of the community.

“Covid-19 means that we can’t plan for any events that cause gatherings at this time,” he said.

“However, in recognition of the significance of the winter festival programme, consideration will be given to assessing what can be done in place of the regular winter festival events programme should Scottish Government Covid-19 guidelines allow.”

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