Accommodation providers are preparing for the sector to reopen from tomorrow, but reports of advance bookings are mixed despite what is expected to be one of the busiest summers for tourists.
Holidays are set to explode in the UK, with overseas travel still ruled out due to Covid restrictions to all but a small number of countries.
Non-essential travel from England, Wales and Northern Ireland will also be allowed for the first time this year also from tomorrow.
Iain Miller, manager of Macdonald Aviemore Resort, said they were very much looking forward to providing a warm Highland welcome to visitors and guests at the holiday resort which celebrates its 55th anniversary in 2021.
He said: “After four months of closure, we have been working hard to prepare for our reopening and anticipate and forecast a strong staycation market throughout 2021.
“There is also a very good level of interest in conferences and events later in the year and we will continue to work with potential clients in line with government guidelines as the sector moves towards full reopening.
“We are delighted to be playing a part in helping people rediscover Scotland and, in particular, to use our AvieMORE campaign to help what is shaping up to be a badly needed strong season in Aviemore and surrounding areas.”
Ken Lister, owner of Eriskay B&B and Glamping Pods in Aviemore, says it’s fully booked from June to September with 75% occupancy for the next month.
“We’re really, really lucky,” Lister said.
He thinks they’ve also benefited from having glamping pods: “They really make a difference with people’s confidence in booking a stay with us.
“We had a few questions and I sensed a slight hesitation from visitors about being in the house after Covid, but the glamping pods really work as they allow people to be alone and in their own space.”
Like everyone else, Mr Lister hopes Covid doesn’t strike again: “I hope we don’t have to close after a few months – not for us as it’s just me and my beautiful wife but for all the companies that employ a lot of people. It has been very hard for them.
James Montgomery, of Fir Hall B&B in Grantown, said he had noticed people canceling long breaks and instead booking for just one or two nights.
He said: “It means a lot of extra work for my partner and myself – but it will be worth it. We have also reduced our capacity from five bedrooms to four to allow a little more space for guests.
“Normally we are full six months in advance, but that hasn’t happened this year.
“We have only just received government assistance, which will help us over the next few months when things look calmer than normal.
“We have our first booking next Thursday, and May is looking very quiet for us.
“June is good, July is not bad and August is pretty good for reservations.
“We will do everything we can to make our customers feel safe and settled.”
Craig Docherty, Manager of the Cairngorm Hotel in Aviemore, said: “We had a good summer last year but as things turn out I think we’ll have an even better one this year, especially with people who do not go abroad.
“Accommodation reservations are huge until September and October.
“It’s good to get people back to work and the staff are chomping at the bit.”
John England, who runs Clune House in Newtonmore, said: “Bookings are steady but not at the same level as last year when the lockdown ended…
“We are getting a good mix of bookings from those who are returning to our home and those who are newcomers.
“This time around I think there is a lack of confidence in booking due to Covid. That’s totally understandable but I think it will come but we haven’t seen the rush of bookings that we did last year.
“I wouldn’t want the job of Prime Minister and what she’s had to deal with for Covid over the last year.”
Graham Prentice, of Arden House in Kingussie, said there was interest but bookings were slow to take off.
“People are very cautious,” he said.
“We’re hoping for a Scottish market, and we’ve been advertising across Scotland and we think things should start to look up in May.
“I can’t imagine it not being crowded. I thought it would have been more crowded at the weekend, even with day trippers, but it wasn’t.
“We are now trying to branch out and make amenities available to customers, such as a microwave. We are also encouraging people, if they can’t get in to eat somewhere, to buy local takeout and to eat at home.”
Mark Tate, Head of the Cairngorm Business Partnership, said: “For independent businesses, July and August seem busy, although there is capacity in Cairngorms National Park. Hotels and guesthouses generally still have lots of capacity and lots of opportunities to visit in May and June.”