‘Staycation’ surge of visitors to the Highland capital

HOTELS in Inverness are making up at least some of the lost ground – and money – after their extended period of closure.

Following on from a few slow days after reopening on July 15, the number of visitors to the Highland capital has risen upward at what some would consider a remarkable rate in these uncertain times.

Inverness hotels are now seeing high occupancy rates with a ‘staycation’ surge in visitors.

This week one riverside hotel will hit occupancy levels of 90 per cent, and the pattern seems to be similar in other city hotels.

Tourist chiefs have initiated what they call a “bounceback” campaign.

The bounce is happening and the visitors are flooding back.

This time last year virtually every hotel in Inverness was fully booked and rooms for latecomers or those who decided to come here on the spur of the moment were nearly impossible to find. Late night calls to find rooms in other hotels for visitors who had just arrived almost invariably drew a blank.

And obviously the mass influx of visitors from America, Australia and across Europe – with many older people on extended coach tours – isn’t happening and it may be quite some time before it happens again. (American visitors to Inverness, by the way, in contrast to the loud and demanding stereotype of US citizens abroad, are considered by hotel staff in general to be the most courteous and appreciative guests of all).

But with foreign travel an uncertain prospect due to ever shifting quarantine restrictions and the risk of virus flare-ups potentially leaving people stranded abroad, the “staycation” holiday has become the choice of many who want a trauma free change of scene.

The influx has been bolstered by the bargain-basement prices on offer. The golden summers  – for hoteliers at least – of the £200-300 room charge, and in some cases even more, are over for the time being.

One top city hotel was offering a double room with breakfast over the weekend for £62 a night.

One guest from Aberdeen, in the city for a break with his wife, said: “After all that’s happened, we were just really keen to get a few days away. Inverness seemed an obvious choice, and at the very reasonable prices being charged, it’s a no-brainer.”

With hotels having to adapt rapidly to a wide-range of new hygiene and sanitising rules, much has changed. Most guests go straight to and from their rooms. Requests for late-night drinks have fallen away. Hand sanitisers and requests to use them are everywhere. Framed information and illustrations of meals and drinks available have been replaced by a plethora of covid-19 warnings and the need for personal hygiene at all times. Even ballpoint pens for signing in, where necessary, at reception desks are individually sanitised after being used.

But guests are understanding and tolerant of new restrictions which have to be imposed to ensure safety and it doesn’t seem to have impeded their “get away from it all” enjoyment of the Highland capital. The range of external entertainment available in Inverness has been seriously curtailed but that has been outweighed by the change of scenery and a period of release from the restrictions of life at home.

Many of those who have arrived are from England. Nicola Sturgeon’s empty threat of quarantine at the border may well have been seen as just that – an empty threat – which has been dismissed and ignored.

With the season stretching into August and September the influx of what may have seemed, even a few weeks ago, as an unexpectedly large number of visitors is one highly positive element after months when it seemed the tourist industry could have been the victim of widespread closures and mass redundancies.

Difficulties still abound, but after five long, empty months, tourism in Inverness is up and running again.

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