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Tourism Gets Active

26th June 2005

The second phase of the European-funded 'HIE Activity' scheme is well under way across the Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) network area.

'HIE Activity 2', which was approved by the Highlands and Islands Partnership Programme on the 1st of February this year (2005), runs until the end of June 2006. The scheme, funded by 1.12 million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and 2.08 million from the HIE network is delivered by HIE's 10 local enterprise companies (LECs).

The LECs constructively use ERDF to complement HIE network finance available for tourism businesses, specifically activity and cultural based tourism. This reinforces HIE's distinctive role in tourism development, providing one-to-one support to tourism businesses, whilst contributing to and influencing national strategy and policy on tourism.

The 'HIE Activity' programmes were established to encourage businesses in the activity holiday, visitor attractions and the events sectors to enhance quality, through more targeted, niche tourism product development and marketing.

The original 'HIE Activity' scheme supported 179 cases between 2001 and 2003, injecting 2.567 million into tourism throughout the Highlands and Islands, with 84 per cent of projects assisted out with the Moray Firth area.

'HIE Activity 2' seeks to stimulate further private sector investment inthe expanding activity tourism sector, and accelerate improvements in product quality and overall industry competitiveness. It will also prioritise cases in more remote, fragile areas, or where the project has potential for significant economic impact.

Start-up and existing businesses may be eligible for support with activities ranging from adventure-based to more passive or cultural pursuits such as visual arts, events and festivals.

Maria Peter, HIE's senior development manager of tourism, said: "The HIE area, with its outstanding natural and built environment and heritage, is ideally suited to capitalising upon the increasing popularity of activity-based tourism which has been witnessed throughout Scotland over the last 10-15 years.

"We and our public sector partners have done research which identified scope for product development and market opportunities among a range of different niche activities, including wildlife, walking and mountaineering, cycling, water sports, outdoor culture and heritage, adventure, equestrian, sea angling and snow sports. The 'HIE Activity 2' scheme aims to ensure that businesses and organisations in the area are able to respond efficiently and effectively to such market opportunities."

Tourism is a key contributor to the Highlands and Islands economy, generating almost 950 million per annum in visitor expenditure and supporting c.23,000 jobs. It is a significant economic driver across many sectors in the area, including food and drink, transport, retail, financial services, as well as the core tourism sectors such as hotels, guest houses, B and Bs and restaurants. Tourism also reaches the area's more remote, fragile communities, and is often the main or sometimes the sole employer in such places.

The first phase of 'HIE Activity' supported a number of different projects including the strategically important Aviemore tourism re-development which will re-vitalise Aviemore and also help to ensure spin-off benefits to the wider Highlands and Islands.

Through 'HIE Activity', 32 events and festivals were assisted committing ERDF totalling 179,000 and levering private sector funding of 1.25 million. Major events supported include the Hebridean Celtic Festival generating 1 million of visitor expenditure over a four day period and the Mountain Bike World Cup held in Lochaber.

Projects in Argyll and its islands; Lochaber; the Western Isles and Shetland were prominent with assistance being given to enable businesses to achieve the quality required to exploit niche markets, for example in wildlife tourism and history. The Bute Discovery Centre in Rothesay received 'HIE Activity' funding of 106,500 towards a total cost of 426,000. And in Bressay, Shetland a new tourism vessel costing 204,000 received a 'HIE Activity' grant of 32,000 to enable Jonathan Wills to develop further the specialist market in wildlife cruises, Seabirds and Seals. This investment has increased the number of trips offered to tourists and increased business turnover by an estimated 20 per cent.

'HIE Activity 2' will build on this success, assisting similar types of business. In addition the scheme will allow significant investments to be made in preparation for Highland 2007 by focussing on cultural tourism.

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