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Golf drives a boost in business for Highland bus firm eyeing a return from coronavirus crisis

By Staff Reporter

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Golf is fuelling a growth in business for one of the region’s leading coach companies.

D & E Coaches, the largest private hire company in the Highlands, is seeing a cautious return in the market, thanks to golfers, after six months of virtually no hire activity.

The Inverness-based firm has now recalled its 80 staff from furlough.

Managing director Donald Mathieson, who founded the business with his wife Elizabeth 24 years ago, admitted: “The fallout from the pandemic has been easily the biggest challenge of our time.

“Many coach hire businesses have been collapsing, particularly in the central belt. If the furlough is not extended, then I anticipate a lot more firms in our sector going into liquidation over the coming months.

“The sector hasn’t yet had the Scottish Government support which had been expected on the basis that coach hire is a key part of the tourism industry.”

He added: “Fortunately, our business has been built on good foundations and we’ve managed to come through. But there are clearly difficult times ahead for the sector this winter.”

D & E is now busy delivering 35 school run contracts for Highland Council, who Mr Mathieson praised for their support.

Private hires, which vanished during lockdown, are now beginning to return.

“Golf coach bookings to venues such as Royal Dornoch, Castle Stuart, Brora and Boat of Garten have picked up, which is encouraging, and other private hires are in the pipeline,” he explained.

“It’s a far cry from up to 10,000 private hire bookings, for cruise line passengers and tourist developments, which we had lined up before the virus struck.

“But it’s a move in the right direction, as is getting our staff back.

“All our coaches are deep cleaned and treated with our sanitising fog machine. We also have a camera which takes people’s temperatures

daily, which should ensure all staff are Covid compliant.”

Mr Mathieson concluded: “The key question is whether we’ll have a tourist season in the Highlands next year. And no-one knows the answer yet."

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