THE first closed-road bike race around Loch Ness is being predicted to bring a massive economic boost to the Highlands.
Over 1,200 riders will take on the Etape Loch Ness, along a 67-mile, closed-course route around the shores of the loch.
A fifth of the riders participating live outwith Scotland, and more than half of those who are based north of the border are from outside the Inverness area.
An economic impact assessment will be carried out after next month’s event, but organisers hope it can be as successful as the Loch Ness marathon which has grown over the years and generates £1.6 million for the local economy.
The organisers claim hotels, guest houses, restaurants, shops and cafes all stand to gain from the influx of cyclists and spectators for the event.
Event director Malcolm Sutherland believes that it has the potential to grow and emulate the results of other mass participation sports events.
He adds, “When we came up with the concept of having a closed-road cycling event around Loch Ness, we hoped that it would strike a chord with cyclists in much the same way as the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon has with runners.
“We believe that Etape Loch Ness has significant growth potential. But more than that we want to establish the Highlands as a cycling destination, and encourage more cyclists to come here year-round to enjoy truly stunning routes that we are so lucky to have right here on our doorstep.”
An insight report prepared earlier this year by VisitScotland highlights that mass participation events are big business in tourism terms. It pointed towards a growing trend for people to take holidays based around an event, and to combine it with sightseeing.
The report – entitled Tourism Benefits of Mass Participation Sporting Events – adds, “Sports events can enhance the image of a place. As well as showcasing an area’s natural or built attractions, they can promote healthy, active lifestyles and community involvement.
“Accommodation providers, restaurants and local producers can all benefit from events and the visitors they bring, while community groups can get involved in organising and volunteering.
That view is shared by Graeme Ambrose from the newly-formed Inverness Tourism BID – a business-led initiative which will drive forward tourism in Inverness and Loch Ness.
“We’ve come to realise the benefit the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon brings to the local economy, and we see Etape Loch Ness doing exactly the same thing,” he says.
“It’s important that we don’t just think about this as being 1,250 cyclists: it’s 1,250 cyclists who are coming with friends and relatives and who will draw local people out onto the streets to spectate.”
The Etape Loch Ness takes place on Sunday 4 May.