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MORAY AND SPEYSIDE have enjoyed a bumper year in terms of new initiatives that are driving visitors to the region.
That is the view of Tourism chiefs, who point to the proposed new distillery and heritage centre, launch of a driving route and promotion of the region to tour operators as the highlights of 2017.
The region has seen a positive tourism year with a host of returning and new events, all whilst celebrating Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology (YoHHA).
Jo Robinson, VisitScotland Regional Director for Moray Speyside, said: “This summer, I was able to take the family to Piping at Forres for the first time, where a thoroughly enjoyable show was orchestrated to perfection, to the delight of the local community – and the large numbers of UK and international visitors in attendance.
“Forres recently enjoyed more critical acclaim, with the town being awarded ‘Scotland’s Most Beautiful High Street’.
“Whilst in Moray Speyside, we decided to stay in Aberlour with our trailer tent, and enjoyed walking part of the Speyside Way before a hearty lunch at the Copper Dog at The Craigellachie Hotel.
“The region has such an abundance of fine restaurants and tearooms that we were extremely well-fed, although we didn’t sample any of the region’s whiskies or other famous tipples until September, when I returned with my husband to attend ‘Spirit of Speyside: Distilled’.
“We tried new craft beers, whiskies and gins from all over the region, and marvelled at the rich larder Moray Speyside can boast.”
In May, VisitScotland Chief Executive, Malcolm Roughead, visited Moray Speyside as part of his Listening Tour, meeting industry and cultural leaders, business owners and operators.
His visit included The Macallan Distillery, in Craigellachie, where he learned about the development of a new visitor centre and distillery, due to open in summer 2018, with the ambition to create a world class visitor experience for the whisky brand.
Mr Roughead also visited Ballindalloch Castle, Morayvia in Kinloss, Johnstons of Elgin, Gordon Castle and The Bothy at Burghead.
Jo added: “I was thrilled to visit the site of the Cabrach Heritage Trust’s proposed distillery and heritage centre several times over the summer and I look forward to seeing this project come to fruition.
“This remote part of Moray has seen the rise and fall of a large-scale illicit whisky industry, as well as the devastation of war, and the heritage centre will guide visitors through the Cabrach’s many stories and rich history.”
Gordon Castle Highland Games and Country Fair was also held in May and attracted 9,803 visitors after expanding to a two-day event. Keeping with the YoHHA theme, the Saturday paid homage to the castle’s heyday with a vintage revival, focusing on traditional skills, dress, music and agriculture from 1900s to 1940s. The Sunday remained a traditional Highland Games and country fair.
As a result of its popularity, B&B accommodation in the surrounding area was almost sold out and the organisers consistently referred visitors on to other local establishments. Online tickets were bought by visitors from 17 different nations as diverse as Brazil, Israel, Italy, Lebanon and South Africa.
The strength of Moray’s food and drink offering was showcased to international travel trade professionals last month as VisitScotland jointly hosted an event with Moray Speyside Tourism, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and UKinbound. A group of around 20 tour operators visited a number of Moray Speyside businesses, including Boath House, Glen Grant Distillery, the Speyside Cooperage, The Station Hotel in Rothes and the Mansefield Hotel in Elgin.
Jo concluded: “Moray Speyside is building its reputation as a quality destination and I am delighted that we already have more than 40 VisitScotland information Partners (VIPs) in the region, which gives each and every establishment the ability to provide more and better quality information directly to visitors.
“This includes locations such as Gordon & MacPhail in Elgin, Christies of Fochabers, Dufftown 2000 Ltd, Speyside Gardens Caravan Park and Baxters Highland Village. It will also add value to the services on offer and make it easier than ever before for visitors to connect with local people.
“In November, we saw the launch of a new touring route in Moray Speyside – the North East 250. Interest in touring has never been higher, and the success of similar touring routes demonstrates that visitors are really responding to the packaged experiences that defined driving routes offer.
“As well as the NE250, which takes in the best of the Moray Coast, Glenlivet and the Malt Whisky Trail, we also have the new Snow Roads touring route, which takes visitors on a scenic drive from Perthshire through the Cairngorms to Grantown-on-Spey.
“I regularly find myself on these roads, and there’s no doubt that the North-east offers some of the most attractive views and natural resources. I have every confidence that initiatives such as these will drive significant interest in the region.”
2018 will celebrate Scotland’s Year of Young People (YoYP), where the nation’s young people will be put in the spotlight, celebrating their talents, contributions and creating new opportunities for them to express themselves through culture, sport and a wide range of other activities.
As well as brand new, one off events, there will be special programme strands added to a host of annual events, all celebrating the YoYP, including Findhorn Bay Arts Festival.