SCOTLAND’s new minister for small business says he discussed “many of the challenges” facing the tourism sector during a visit to Inverness this week.

However, Richard Lochhead also flagged the “dedication, quality and excellence of businesses operating in Inverness and the wider region” following his meeting with tourism leaders, at which staffing challenges, inflation and rising energy costs were discussed.

Mr Lochhead was hosted by Visit Inverness Loch Ness (VILN), which noted that short-term let licensing, housing and planning issues, changes in rateable values and the Scottish Government’s proposed restrictions on alcohol advertising were among other issues discussed.

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The minister for small business said: “It was great to visit Inverness to meet local business leaders and hear first-hand about the opportunities for the sector as we strive to become a world leader in 21st-century tourism.”

He added: “Our discussion touched on many of the challenges currently facing the sector but also highlighted the dedication, quality and excellence of businesses operating in Inverness and the wider region. The tourism and hospitality sector plays a crucial role in our everyday lives and contributes to a wellbeing economy by creating jobs and sustaining communities.”

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Freda Newton, managing director of cruise operator Loch Ness by Jacobite, said: “Tourism businesses are facing a lot of challenges at the moment, and I welcomed the opportunity to share our experience with the minister. At Loch Ness by Jacobite, we are looking forward to what we hope will be a busy season for our cruises and we have also made significant investment in other areas of the business such as [café and retail destination] An Talla to give people a reason to visit all year round. “ She added: “However, new legislation such as the deposit return scheme, combined with inflation and the rising costs of doing business, means that everything is being squeezed when many tourism businesses are still recovering from the pandemic. Ultimately, we all want the same thing - which is to promote Scotland and in doing so grow the economy and create employment opportunities. I hope that the minister takes our feedback on board and that his door remains open.”

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Michael Golding, chief executive of VILN, said: “We all know how important tourism is to Inverness and Loch Ness and we were delighted to bring together business leaders from a cross section of the industry to discuss the challenges and opportunities we are facing now. For the newly appointed minister to choose Inverness and Loch Ness for his first tourism meeting in this role speaks volumes about our region’s contribution to Scotland’s tourism economy as a whole. “