THE enduring appeal of hit TV series Outlander coupled with improved access with direct flights has been credited with a boost in tourism to a Scottish city, once thought of as remote.

Inverness is ranked above Montego Bay in Jamaica and Bologna in Italy in a list of the top 15 destinations for European travellers in 2017.

The city is ranked eighth, in a survey based on growth in forward bookings compared to last year.

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Top of the pile is Turin in Italy which is seeing booking more than treble following by Astana in Kazakhstan which has seen 176 per cent rise.

According to the travel firm eDreams Odigeo, there was an 80 percent increase in demand for Inverness boosted by the fall in the value of the pound which has made it cheaper for overseas visitors to come to Scotland.

Inverness provost Helen Carmichael said believed the 'Outlander effect' couple with improved flights to Inverness has played a huge part.

The series has seen tourists flock to north of Scotland to catch a glimpse of Culloden Battlefield, the Clootie Well and Clava Cairns, all places which have inspired the hit series which is set in the Highlands in the 1740s in the run- up to the Jacobite rebellion.

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A third series, which centres around 20th century nurse, Claire Randall, who time travels to 18th century Scotland and finds romance with Highland warrior Jamie Fraser, this October is expected to air next year.

Inverness-based Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) has just hada record summer with more than 900,000 passengers using its airports for the first time in a six-month period.

In the first half of the financial year from April, 908,116 people used HIAL’s 11 airports in the Highlands and Northern and Western Isles – an increase of 111,750 on last year.

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The group’s managing director, Inglis Lyon, said that new services – British Airways between Heathrow and Inverness, flights to and from Amsterdam with KLM, and EasyJet increasing capacity to its London routes – had contributed to the figures.

BA flights between Inverness and Heathrow began operating for the first time in almost 20 years from May. The daily service between the two airports, which resumed after BA ended the service in 1997, was expected to give a major boost to the area's economy and tourism industry.

Ms Carmichael said: "We are delighted with this. The Outlander effect is still happening. "People have read and seen the romantic stories, as they always have about the Highlands, it is quite a romantic place and want to come.

"And people can, and I think the connectivity we have has made a difference. We were always seen as being 'away up there' and now people can go and see what it is all about. It is more accessible for European visitors.

"There is obviously people coming to see the beautiful sights all round the whole of the north of Scotland.

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"Although Inverness is the capital of the Highlands it is also the gateway to the Highlands, it is a base so that if they want to go further north, to John O'Groats or off to Culloden or Fort William, they can.

"I think also think we may be seen as a safe place to come to. There is little crime and there is a welcome and friendliness, and when you get that you feel quite safe."

A Visit Scotland spokesman said: "Inverness and the Highlands are one of the top destinations for international and domestic visitors coming to Scotland so it's no surprise that we are seeing growth in this area.

"Direct flights and easier access along with continued promotion of the area and investment in quality accommodation and food all make the city more and more attractive to would-be visitors. The exchange rates will have an impact in the short-term but we must also ensure sustainable growth in the long term."

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Dana Dunne, chief executive of eDreams Odigeo, said: "Increased accessibility has offered a boost to many destinations.

"Furthermore, it's particularly interesting to see Inverness make the top ten for 2017, with European travellers perhaps drawn to explore new UK destinations following the fall of the pound."