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North Highland Initiative - the body behind the North Coast 500 – responds to release of Scottish Government’s tourism and hospitality guidance as coronavirus lockdown restrictions eased; Two-metre social distancing review welcomed as essential for tourist trade

By Ian Duncan

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David Whiteford.
David Whiteford.

A leading Highland tourism organisation has welcomed the latest Scottish Government guidance covering the sector during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Businesses are working towards the conditional reopening of the tourism and hospitality sector in Scotland on July 15.

David Whiteford, the chairman of the North Highland Initiative (NHI), said they welcomed the release of the latest Scottish Government guidelines this week.

He said: "We hope this will give north Highland businesses a practical and workable target to plan and adapt their premises so that they can be in a position to provide visitors with a hearty, but safe welcome.

"As part of this process, NHI will continue working to help deliver a responsible balance between economic recovery and public safety.

“We’re also grateful to the First Minister for listening to our calls to review the appropriateness of the two-metre social distancing guidelines in hospitality settings.

"Our famous Highland Welcome now needs to be quickly rekindled to help secure the future of tourism long term."

"For many businesses it will not be possible to reopen if it is not reduced. We need to look at what other countries have done with social distancing by reducing it from two metres to one metre. It’s the only way that many tourism and hospitality businesses will be viable.

“One of the key things that makes North Highland communities so unique is that a larger majority of businesses in remote areas like ours are independent, family-run or self-employed, making them an integral part of rural community life and heavily reliant on income from tourism to sustain their livelihoods.

“We believe that the next essential step is for the Scottish Government to adopt more nuanced messaging to ease anxieties across the country – especially in Highlands.

"The ‘stay home and save lives’ message has been very effective, but for many people, especially those living and working in more remote and rural communities, there is a fear that changing this behaviour may pose a risk to public health and wellbeing.

“Our famous ‘Highland Welcome’ now needs to be quickly rekindled to help secure the future of tourism long term. We’re now looking to the Scottish Government and VisitScotland to implement national and local campaigns to allay anxiety amongst local Highland communities and deliver a positive, uplifting message as we take safe, measured steps to emerge from lockdown."

Mr Whiteford said and the tourism sector emerged from lockdown the initiative would be relaunching its Highland Time campaign with a focus on responsible and sustainable tourism.

He added: "The campaign aims to encourage visitors to spend more time exploring the region by showcasing the wild, rugged and varied landscapes of the North Highlands as ‘the ultimate natural remedy to modern life’.

"We hope to entice visitors to slow down, explore away from the beaten track and focus on wellbeing experiences as part of their travels, such as walking, hiking and swimming, as well as getting a taste for our world-renowned Highland food and drink.

"Highland Time also champions the north Highland region as a prime destination for eco-travel, encouraging travellers to be mindful of their environmental impact.”

The North Highland Initiative (NHI) was established in 2005 as a direct result of His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay’s involvement in bringing together the farming community, local businesses and the tourism industry to try to address some of the challenges facing rural communities in the far north of Scotland by creating a powerful regional identity for the area.

As part of the overall objective of the charity, NHI operates across the counties of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross and Cromarty to assist in making this amazing part of the UK a place where businesses and communities are sustainable.

The three key areas of activity for the NHI are food and farming, tourism, and community support and leadership.

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