Fergus Ewing, Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism

The tourism sector is of vital importance to Scotland and it is the lifeblood of the economy in the Highlands and Islands.

Figures in a revised VisitScotland report issued in January this year show domestic and overseas visitor spend in the Highlands and Islands is more than £800 million, with the industry supporting 20,100 jobs in the region.

Continued investment in tourism is needed to keep pace with growing demand from increasingly discerning visitors to ensure we offer quality facilities and service.

I recently met with local tourism business operators at a workshop I co-chaired with The Highland Council to discuss a new tourist attraction for Inverness Castle.

Breathing new life into the castle will produce a quality offering to encourage tourists to both visit and stay longer in the city and I am determined that, recognising this will take time and careful work by many partners, this historic landmark finds a role that benefits the Highlands and Scotland as a whole.

This is something representatives of the tourism sector support, as do the members of the public who responded to a recent consultation on the castle’s future.

Ministers will continue their supportive role through a recently established development group which aims to have the attraction opening in the early 2020s.

Inverness will also play a part this year in further enhancing our international profile as a world class events destination following success in hosting major global competition like the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.

Castle Stuart Golf Links will host the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open this summer for the fourth time in six years, bringing some of the world’s best players to the Moray Firth course.

The event is worth millions of pounds directly to the wider Highland and Scottish economy, but the worldwide television coverage, beaming pictures of our spectacular scenery, will have a legacy effect for years to come.

With Royal Dornoch Golf Club also hosting the Northern Open during celebrations to mark 400 years of golf being played in the town, and Nairn Golf Club staging the Home Internationals, not to mention countless other sporting and cultural events, 2016 will be a big year for the Highlands in terms of attracting visitors.

In this, the year of Innovation, Architecture, and Design, there is the perfect opportunity for those who push the boundaries of excellence to come to the fore.

The Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards are respected across the industry for showcasing best practice and talent and I’m sure they will again this year help inspire businesses and individuals to greater things.

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