THE Highland Military Tattoo has been axed.
Disappointed organisers said they had reluctantly made the decision due to rising costs, low attendance and years of austerity due to a lack of financial backing.
Ex military personnel are among city representatives who have expressed deep regret at the loss of the major event.
In a statement, the tattoo board said despite tremendous praise for this year’s Fort George festivities, its members were unanimous in concluding that “another year of low attendance rates, the likelihood of increased costs for Ministry of Defence (MoD) support and the tattoo’s risky financial situation make it unsustainable.”
The event attracted 6174 visitors this year, which was 843 more than last year but well short of the 8000 target, and “in spite of increased marketing efforts and expenditure”, according to the organisers.
Event director Major General Seymour Monro said: “It’s partly due to the general climate of austerity – but more businesses could have supported us.
“We’ve done four years and we’ve lost, and it’s on our shoulders. And we can’t go on, particularly with the MoD about to raise its prices.
“I don’t think we can market it better than we have. We had the best publicity and marketing we could buy last year. It reached something like 7.5 million people.
“Six thousand is probably what we’re going to get and that’s not enough to pay for a tattoo. We’d have to raise as much from sponsorship as we would get from ticket sales.
“We’re all very frustrated because it was a great show. We just haven’t managed to get enough bums on seats and raise enough sponsorship – and the costs are going up.”
He declined to reveal the extent of losses but confirmed it was more in 2017 than in each of the previous three years, despite public grants and business donations.
“We’re all enormously grateful to the many performers – especially the younger ones – who have produced really professional shows,” said Maj Gen Monro. “And praise too for all our excellent contractors without whom the tattoos would not have happened and huge thanks to our generous supporters.
“We are sure that the Highlands and Moray should have an annual tattoo and that Fort George is the best place to hold it. I hope that in the future it may be possible to hold a tattoo in the Highlands again.”
Were a rescuer to suddenly emerge, he said: “He’d have to be a white knight who’s quite well loaded.”
The commercial arm of the MoD has increased scrutiny of the military resources required for such events.
The board feels that although the tattoo aims to support the armed forces and their charities, MoD charges “are likely to increase significantly in 2018 and beyond”.
Inverness councillor Carolyn Caddick, a retired Army major and honorary colonel of 1st Battalion Highlanders Army Cadet Force, said: “The Highland Military Tattoo has been a great event and very popular with locals and visitors alike.
“Maj Gen Monro and the huge team of volunteers who have made this happen should be congratulated on a really professional production.
“Unfortunately, without the necessary level of support from commercial sponsors and public bodies, the tattoo is not commercially viable going forward, which is very sad.”
Inverness Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stewart Nicol shared the sentiment.
“I’ve been to each tattoo, this is a real blow,” he said. “It’s really frustrating that it hasn’t worked. Seymour and his team could not have done more to make a success of it.”
A spokesman for the MoD said: “All three armed services have proudly supported the Highland Military Tattoo for several years. Had the organisers not decided to cancel the event, we would have continued to do so.”