Stuart McColm, general manager, Castle Stuart Golf Links
As our season draws to a close, it was wonderful for everyone at Castle Stuart to be recognised in the Scottish Golf Tourism Awards to cap a record-breaking year.
Castle Stuart was shortlisted in five categories and ultimately was rewarded in the best value (over £100) category, underlining our value for money.
It means a lot to us to be recognised as the whole team here works tirelessly on a day to day basis to achieve great service on and off the course.
That service has helped us achieve our best visitor numbers ever this year. Our 2017 bookings are up 18 per cent on 2016, and advance reservations for 2018 are already showing a 26 per cent increase on the same time last year.
There is no doubt that the re-introduction of the daily Inverness-Heathrow connection by British Airways last year, along with KLM adding an Inverness-Amsterdam service, greatly improved choice and accessibility for the business and leisure market into the Highlands.
And it gets better, with BA recently confirming it will increase the frequency of flights between Inverness and Heathrow, from seven to ten flights per week, from March. The additional services will further enhance our access to global connections and opportunities to grow the golf tourism market by making Inverness the smart place to begin a visit to the Home of Golf.
This news came at an ideal time as we were able to underline our location and accessibility to customers during the second Scottish Golf Tourism Week, which is organised by PSP Media in conjunction with VisitScotland and Scottish Enterprise. With 65 countries spanning five continents represented and 85 Scottish businesses in attendance, it is an ideal opportunity to promote not just Castle Stuart but the whole Highlands as a must-see-and-play golfing destination.
We could hardly be any better placed for golfing visitors as Castle Stuart is less than a five-minute drive from Inverness Airport, meaning they can be on the tee in less time than it takes other arriving passengers to get to the city centre.
Indeed, we recently carried out a fun challenge to see if I could drive from the airport to the course in less time than it took our director of golf Jeremy Matte to play the 9th hole.
The result can be seen in this video
Our proximity to an international airport has meant we are increasingly seeing more overseas players on the course. In the last year, our visitor numbers from Canada have risen by 79 per cent, those from Benelux by 60 per cent and South Africa by 47 per cent. At the same time, Scandinavian visitors have increased by 45 per cent, US by 17 per cent and Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein all by 14 per cent.
These figures, and the feedback we receive, shows our customers recognise the efforts we go to in order to provide them with the best possible experience. That is reward enough for us, but it is always nice to pick up a trophy too!