ADDITIONAL air connections to the Highlands of Scotland have helped tee up record breaking visitor numbers to Castle Stuart Golf Links.
The club, which has hosted the European Tour’s Scottish Open four times in the last seven years, says the number of players visiting the course near Inverness is up 18 per cent this year compared to 2016.
Advance bookings for 2018 are also showing a 26 per cent increase on the same time last year.
Since last year, visitor numbers from Canada have risen by 79 per cent, from Benelux by 60 per cent and South Africa by 47 per cent, while Scandinavian visitors have increased by 45 per cent, US by 17 per cent and Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Lichtenstein all by 14 per cent.
The Moray Firth course attributes much of its increased business to recently-introduced air services connecting the Highland capital with Heathrow and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
Last year’s restoration of daily British Airways ights between Inverness and Heathrow, added to existing ights by other operators to Gatwick and Luton, greatly increased options for business and leisure passengers.
BA has also announced capacity on the route will increase from seven to 10 ights a week, beginning in March next year.
KLM’s Inverness-Amsterdam service, introduced last year and is now twice daily, has further enhanced the Highland capital’s access to international connections.
Stuart McColm, Castle Stuart’s general manager, said: “There is no doubt the BA and KLM ights, added to what we already had serving Inverness, have opened up huge opportunities for incoming travellers.
“These direct connections to the international hubs at Heathrow and Schiphol, and the networks they serve across the world, make it much easier to come to the Highlands and even use Inverness as a smart way to begin their stay in Scotland.
“Our figures for this year, and for 2018, demonstrate that improved accessibility can have enormous rewards for the Highlands and beyond.”
Inverness Airport manager Graeme Bell said “These new visitor figures for Castle Stuart are a tremendous endorsement of the major impact the course has had on the golf world, as well as the positive impact it continues to have on the Highland economy.
“They also further emphasise the support that facilities like Inverness Airport can deliver on behalf of our leading sport and tourism businesses and are another key example of everyone coming together to bring visitors, investment and world-wide ‘visibility’ to Inverness and the Highlands.”
The latest figures from Inverness Airport operator Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial) confirm that passenger numbers at Inverness and group wide are continuing to rise.
Between July and September 2017, 522,476 customers used Hial’s 11 airports, an increase of 36,038 passengers compared to the same quarter in 2016 – up by 7.4 per cent.
Almost half that number was accounted for by Inverness Airport with 268,468 customers.
Up by 21,703 more passengers on the previous years, the almost nine per cent increase is attributed to growth on the Heathrow, Amsterdam, Gatwick and Manchester routes.
Inverness Airport is on target to deliver record inbound passenger figures estimated to be worth millions to the Highland and Islands economy.
Hial managing director Inglis Lyon said: “We are pleased to report that the overall passenger numbers continue to rise, illustrating the strong demand for ever greater connectivity to and from the Highlands and Islands.
“The figures are robust and if our airports are witnessing sustained growth in passenger numbers that is almost certainly having a positive eect on the communities across the Highlands and Islands.
“The role of regional airports is to support and enhance the local economy and there is now substantial evidence that enhanced air connectivity, whether for passengers or freight, has a major impact on trade and the opportunities for local businesses. Increased passengers’ means more tourism and business spend which in itself can support jobs.
“Our commitment is to continue to invest in our airports, and develop our passenger experience to help ensure we all benefit from these levels of growth.”
SCDI regional director, Fraser Grieve, said the new figures were significant for the Highland region.
“Continued growth through Inverness Airport shows the impact that their improved connections and increased routes are having on the Highlands, with many hotels and visitor attractions reporting bumper trade,” he said.
“Businesses are finding it easier to access new and existing customers through the airport and I hope that with these positive numbers we’ll see the continued sustainability growth of passengers.”
It was not all good news for Hial, however, with visitor numbers at Dundee falling by almost 10,000 following the withdrawal of Flybe’s Amsterdam service in December.