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Video: 'Breathing Space’ is major asset for Caithness and Sutherland as North Highland group launches tourism campaign

By Calum MacLeod

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The Kyle of Tongue at night. Picture: Maciej Winiarczyk
The Kyle of Tongue at night. Picture: Maciej Winiarczyk

Visitors from across the UK are being encouraged to find some breathing space in the far north Highlands with the launch of a new campaign from the destination management organisation responsible for promoting responsible tourism in Caithness and Sutherland.

Venture North's Breathing Space campaign is aimed at helping promote businesses and attractions in the region as the country begins to emerge from the catastrophic impact of the global pandemic.

Independent research for Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) estimates that visitor spend is likely to have declined across the Highlands and Islands region by between £370 million and £584 million in the financial year 2020-2021.

The negative impact of the pandemic has been felt particularly hard across the Caithness and Sutherland visitor and wider economy over the last year and a half. It is estimated that around the Highland Council area, turnover in the accommodation and food services sector decreased by £160.7 million over 2020, disproportionately impacting on Caithness and Sutherland as 15.6 per cent of jobs in the area are reliant on accommodation and food services, compared to 11.8 per cent at the Highland region level.

The Venture North campaign now hopes to take advantage of the domestic market and promote reasons to visit and stay around the Caithness and Sutherland area, helping extend the season and bring business to local visitor economies year-round.

Old read sandstone cliffs. Picture: Ken Crossan
Old read sandstone cliffs. Picture: Ken Crossan

Following local community consultation, the campaign will highlight areas that are less impacted by over-tourism and can accommodate visitors in the quieter season.

The campaign also hopes to enable businesses within the area to enhance their targeting reach and attract visitors from across the UK with a coordinated marketing approach.

The initiative will focus on an audience that have spent large periods of the pandemic at home and will promote the long-established relationship between tourism and wellbeing.

Venture North was established in 2013 as a cooperative body of tourism businesses and entrepreneurs primarily from Caithness and North Sutherland who sought to increase the tourism footfall to the area. The organisation also supports member businesses and communities across the region through effective collaboration to maximise the benefits of the visitor economy.

Venture North has now been tasked to lead the development and delivery of the Tourism Destination Recovery Strategy, alongside core funding support provided by HIE, Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd and other funding partners over the next three years.

The destination management organisation will now continue to work in partnership with the Local Development Trusts, communities and representative bodies and tourism businesses from across the region, to ensure a collective ownership and delivery of the Strategy at regional level.

Grey seal pup. Picture: Ken Crossan
Grey seal pup. Picture: Ken Crossan

Cathy Earnshaw, destination strategy manager for Venture North, said: “We’re really excited to have launched our new Breathing Space campaign in 2022 and to be supporting our local communities and businesses in Caithness and Sutherland.

“The past two years have been a huge challenge for all of us across Scotland’s tourism and hospitality industry, so we’re now delivering a forward-looking sustainable and responsible tourism strategy for our area with our local partner organisations.

“Everyone needs to escape the stresses and strains of everyday life. As travel begins to open up again, Venture North believes it's more important than ever that everyone has 'breathing space' from these challenges, helping our mental wellbeing and health for the future.

“Wellbeing can mean different things to different people. From calm yoga retreats to adrenaline mountain bike trails, a mountain top view after a hard climb or sitting, people-watching in a coffee shop with homemade cake.... The Campaign is Space to ...Adventure, Discover, Explore or Just Be.

“Our ‘Breathing Space’ campaign will showcase the stunning scenery in Caithness and Sutherland, the wonderful breadth of space, sense of freedom and variety of activities open to locals and visitors all year round.

“We look forward to welcoming visitors to the far north Highlands in 2022 and beyond as people look for wellbeing experiences away from urban areas, where they can enjoy wide open spaces; clean, fresh air; and miles of unspoilt coastline and countryside.”

The Kyle of Tongue. Picture: Anguis Mackay
The Kyle of Tongue. Picture: Anguis Mackay

Angela Johnson, owner of Oldshoremore Retreats near Kinlochbervie in Sutherland, commented: “Being part of this campaign is so inspiring. ‘Breathing Space’ says it all because when you arrive in the far north Highlands and you experience the peace and tranquillity, you really appreciate what the region has to offer. It offers you the pause so many people need to recover from their busy lives.

“We only started Oldshoremore Retreats as a new business in May 2021, so we’re incredibly grateful that Venture North has given us the platform to bring that important message to so many people.”

Rhoda Kennedy is an outdoor instructor for North Coast Wet n Wild at Melness in Sutherland, which provides water-based adventure activities in the lochs and sea of the far north coast of Scotland. She added: “We’re very fortunate that we have been able to look after our health and wellbeing by immersing ourselves in the beautiful and calming coastline we have in the far north.

“As part of Venture North’s ‘Breathing Space’ campaign, our aim is to give this experience to other people through our activities, including open water swimming, coasteering and paddle boarding so that they leave here feeling rejuvenated and re-energised.”

Eann Sinclair from HIE said: “The importance of tourism to the Caithness and Sutherland region cannot be overstated as it is central to our local economy and provides a vital source of employment. Unfortunately, it is also one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.

“We recognise that bringing about recovery in the tourism industry will be challenging but look forward to working with Venture North as part of its Breathing Space campaign, as well as our partners and tourism businesses across Caithness and Sutherland achieve a sustainable future for the sector.”

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