Here’s a reason for licensees to be cheerful in what might be an otherwise challenging month, well those in the far north of Scotland at any rate, because pubs in the Highlands appear to be bucking a UK-wide pub and bar closure trend.
Analysis by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that despite a quarter of all pubs shutting in the UK, there are 14% more pubs in the Highlands than there were 10 years ago.
The ONS says that more than 11,000 pubs have closed in the UK in the last decade – a fall of 23%. Yet tourism, the Highland region’s most important industry supporting 25,000 jobs, was boosted by 6.5 million visitors to the area last year.
Owner of Inverness-shire’s Applecross Inn, Judith Fish, has just been decorated with an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours list 2019. She puts the Highlands outperforming the rest of the UK down to a ‘drastic’ rise in quality and standards. She told DRAM, “I’ll be celebrating 30 years at The Applecross Inn on the 14th of January and in that time things have improved drastically, both in my own business and other businesses too, so I’m not surprised pubs in the Highlands are faring so well. I moved up from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, coming from a business where I was used to couples who came out for dinner once or twice per week. But in Applecross, people had a pan of soup on the stove at home so it was our job to encourage them out with a quality food and drink offering.”
She continued, “Frankly the food that was on offer in the Highlands was often atrocious, but that’s no longer the case now provenance is king. Scotland has the best fresh produce in the UK and that’s its strength. In terms of what we’re doing, and now that we have our own brewery, customers know where their beer’s come from compared to the days the dray cart pulled up with what could’ve been ‘any old’ beer. In a wider sense, similar types of entrepreneurship are in evidence all over the Highland region, although there’s still room for improvement.”
Martin Donnelly is co-owner of The Craigdarroch Inn on the banks of Loch Ness (pictured). He puts the stats down to tourism and beefed-up investment in the area. Speaking to DRAM, he said, “New investment and tourism and the opening of a new campsite near to us encouraged us to add a bar onto the hotel five years ago because the nearest one at the time was over four miles away and we haven’t looked back since.”
He continued, “Destination Loch Ness has now grown to become VisitInvernessLochNess, the Tourism Business Improvement District (BID) for Inverness and Loch Ness, after an injection of funding from the government. There are also been more events in the region, like the Beast Race, the Etape Loch Ness Bike Race and Loch Ness marathon. I’ve also noticed more tearooms and cafes being renovated as well as more businesses opening in the area in general.”
East Dunbartonshire also experienced growth, with an increase of 20% or more in pubs.
East Renfewshire and East Ayrshire saw the largest decline in pub numbers. Both areas have 40% fewer pubs than 10 years ago.
Other areas of Scotland have also seen declines, including Moray, Angus, Fife and the Scottish Borders where there the numbers have fallen by 20% or more.