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NEW HEATHROW FLIGHTS TEE UP BOOST FOR HIGHLAND GOLF

Robert Ratcliffe, Director and General Manager, Royal Golf Hotel, Dornoch

From tomorrow (May 3), thousands of leisure and business visitors – from scores of countries on six continents – will be able to fly direct to Inverness from the UK’s biggest and busiest airport.

And, in Highland golfing terms, British Airways could not have picked a better year to launch their daily Heathrow-Inverness flights service.

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For 2016 sees a series of top-class tournaments and events, being played over the three leading courses which are all members of Highland Golf Links, headed by the return of the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open to the region.

Meantime, our visiting leisure golfers will be better able to experience first-hand the Highland region’s nearly 50 courses, set in a variety of spectacular landscapes unmatched in Britain or elsewhere, and enjoy the hospitality of our quality hotels.

Whether jetting in from the south of England or New South Wales, the new Heathrow link will ease their access and boost numbers with London less than 90 minutes from Inverness by air.

Inverness Airport itself is, of course, making ready to welcome its fast-expanding passenger numbers with a major terminal redevelopment – also opening in May – to handle more travellers in comfort, enhance catering and retail facilities and streamline the security process.

The airport’s new dedicated international arrivals hall is itself a response to an eightfold increase to around 40,000 annual overseas passengers in just five years, stemming largely from its attraction of new services to Amsterdam, Dublin, Geneva and Zurich.

Now, the addition of Heathrow to the existing London Gatwick service, run by Easyjet, will take the Highlands to another level of international connectivity. No other UK airport offers more worldwide connections than Heathrow, and no other UK airline offers more international destinations than British Airways.

Headlining the Highland golfing events this summer is the AAM Scottish Open, which returns to Castle Stuart Golf Links in July, for the fourth time in six years. Bringing a selection of elite world players, and attracting a global TV audience, the event is expected to draw in more than 70,000 spectators and pump around £5 million into the local economy.

In June, Royal Dornoch stages the Northern Open, one of the oldest events in professional golf, during a year in which the town is marking 400 years of golf being played on the famous links.

Later, in August, The Nairn Golf Club is the venue for the 2016 Men’s Home Internationals competition.

It’s a great year to be golfing in the Highlands, and the re-introduction of Heathrow flights opens up a bigger, wider world of potential visitors.

It comes at a time when golfing visits to the area are already at record numbers, with take up of HGL’s Play and Stay packages at an all time high.

Bookings at the Royal Golf Hotel for May, June, July and August have increased on this time last year and overall sales are up 15 per cent on 2015. Visitor numbers at Royal Dornoch Golf Club are already up ten per cent on last year and several overseas members have indicated they will be using the new Heathrow flights.

Other HGL members are also enjoying increased business this year – the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness saw its golf market grow nine per cent last year and is 42 per cent ahead of the same time in 2015, which includes growth related to the Scottish Open. Culloden House Hotel saw a 19 per cent growth in golf-related business last year and forecasts are for a 35 per cent rise this year.

Culloden House is also expecting a rise in business from the US due to the new Heathrow service. When Flybe introduced their Amsterdam flight the hotel contacted its 17,000-strong database of US travel agents. In the first year the hotel enjoyed a direct benefit of just over £18,000, and in year two that rose to just over £51,000 all from North America.

The same agents and agencies in the US have been advised of the BA Heathrow link and it is hoped to see at least the a minimum of the same return given the good exchange rates the US dollar is currently experiencing.