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Tourists To Give Their Views On Highland Hospitality

13th May 2002

The biggest ever visitor survey in the Highlands - to find out what visitors really think of the area's tourist experience - is just getting underway. Almost 5,000 interviews are set to be carried out over the next twelve months with the results expected to give invaluable information to both tourism businesses and the industry's planners.

Across the UK the tourism industry is still grappling with the residual effects of the foot and mouth crisis as well as having to deal with the aftermath of September 11th. Making sure that the 'product' on offer is closely matched with visitors' expectations is vitally important and means that the type of data being gathered by the Highlands Visitor Survey will be crucial in helping to set out an agenda for the years ahead and in allowing individual businesses to tailor the services they provide.

The research, which will cover the Highland Council area and Moray, is being co-ordinated by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) on behalf of a partnership of different agencies and will cost more than 62,000 with the HIE Network funding amounting to 36,695. The other funding partners are: The Highland Council; Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board (HOST); VisitScotland; Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH); and Forest Enterprise.

The survey forms part of a wider series of such studies which are carried out across the HIE area on a rolling basis. The last survey in the Highlands and Moray took place in 1997 and much of the data gathered then will be directly comparable to the 2002 findings - giving an indication of how visitor characteristics and perceptions have changed. One important difference between the two studies is that in 1997 interviews were only carried out during the peak season; the 2002 study will run throughout the year, which will help with efforts to extend the tourist season and bring in more visitors during the off-peak months.

The study is being carried out by Edinburgh-based George Street Research and visitor interviews began on 1st May. The volume of interviews will reach a peak at the height of the tourist season and in all 4,850 interviews will be carried out, by a team of over 40 interviewers at 71 locations throughout the Highlands and Moray. The locations, ranging from John O'Groats to Glencoe, have been chosen to give an accurate reflection of visitor numbers across the area. Each interview will last between 15 to 20 minutes - and as an incentive to take part those questioned will be able to have their names entered in a monthly prize draw for a bottle of Clynelish Single Malt Whisky, kindly donated by the Brora-based distillery of that name.

The range of questions being asked include: where do visitors come from; why did they choose to come to the Highlands; how did they get to, and travel throughout the area; how long will their visit last; how much will they spend during their trip; what type of accommodation have they used; which activities have they undertaken; and what are their opinions of the standards of provision, service and value for money.

HIE's senior tourism manager John Ward said: "It would be impossible to over-estimate the value of this type of market information. Unless we have an accurate picture of what our visitors do and what they think of our products it is much more difficult to put in place the right kind of properly-tailored development programmes.

"In fact the results of these surveys are acknowledged to be the best snapshot of the visitor experience in the Highlands and Islands and the data is sought after by the industry itself and by agencies such as HIE, the area tourist boards and the local authorities."

HOST chief executive David Noble said: "The results of this survey will be instrumental in developing our future marketing strategy. We need to increase our knowledge of what motivates visitors to come to the area, what they do when they get here, and whether their expectations are being met. Before we invest in marketing campaigns such as the highly regarded Walking Wild, we want to ensure that our funding is being spent on soundly researched projects."

Chairman of The Highland Council's Planning, Development, European and Tourism Committee, Councillor Duncan Allan, said: "Tourism is the biggest industry in the Highlands and it is vital that businesses and public agencies have a clear understanding of changing visitor patterns and perceptions. This comprehensive visitor survey will provide us with the information we need to continue to develop a customer focussed approach to tourism."

Interim results, for the peak tourist season, will be available by November this year with the full survey findings being published in May next year.

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