The major economic impact of the Hebridean Celtic Festival and its key role in bringing visitors to the islands is again underlined in a new report.
The 2018 HebCelt, headlined by Deacon Blue, The Fratellis, Eddi Reader, Skipinnish, and Roddy Woomble was held from 18-20 July in Stornoway with all four nights sold out.
Overall attendances reached nearly 18,000 over the four days of the event, its highest ever number, with an estimated total in excess of 7,500 paying festival-goers.
More than half (56 per cent) of the audience came from outside Lewis and Harris, including five per cent from outwith the UK. In all, 66 per cent of visitors from outside Scotland said HebCelt was the sole or main reason for travelling to Lewis and 70 per cent said they were likely to return.
The festival audience was drawn from across the UK and also abroad, including Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
An outstanding 97 per cent of the audience said their overall experience at the event had been excellent or good.
The report by MKA Economics says: “In terms of reasons for visiting the festival, 21 per cent of non-locals were visiting Lewis and Harris for the first time, 79 per cent had visited before. The event can therefore be seen to have played an important role in attracting new visitors to the area, as well as encouraging repeat trips”.
Overall, the festival directly generated net economic effect of £2.1 million, which has helped safeguard 38 tourism-related jobs.
The figures almost exactly mirror those from the 2016 HebCelt, headlined by Runrig, previously the most successful in the event’s history.
Comments on the overall quality of experience were very positive, with festival-goers praising the event programme, pre-event information and overall value for money.
HebCelt Director Caroline Maclennan said: “As these figures clearly illustrate, the festival is a significant economic driver and a major tourism magnet for the Outer Hebrides and beyond.
“After 23 years, HebCelt’s popularity continues to develop and the feedback from festival goers has been tremendous.
“It’s deeply rewarding when capturing these statistics to see that, not only do we get so many return visitors, but the event continues to attract new visitors each year.
“As a charitable event run almost entirely by volunteers, it is enormously satisfying that the hard work that goes into organising the festival helps generate such rewards for our supportive community.”
Rob McKinnon, Chief Executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said: “HebCelt promotes the islands in a way that captures their character, but does so in a contemporary way that is in sync the lifestyles of today's visitors.
“It also does a great job at being both a great tourist attraction and something the islanders love and own.”
David Gibson, Director of Service Delivery for Caledonian MacBrayne, a major festival sponsor, said: “CalMac Ferries has supported HebCelt since its inception and has contributed funding annually to support the festival.
“We recognise that HebCelt is an important contributor to the local economy, generating some £2 million annually and that it brings visitors to the Outer Hebrides, not only from Scotland, but also from the rest of the UK and overseas.
“From the quality of acts on offer over the weekend - which suggested considerable entrepreneurial spirit given their quality - to the planning of the site, it is clear that detailed thinking goes into the planning and execution of the event.”
As well as its three stages in the main festival arena, HebCelt events are held in the centre of Stornoway, including the An Lanntair arts centre, and at smaller community venues in Lewis and Harris.
Alex Macdonald, Head of Performing Arts at An Lanntair, said: “We have worked in partnership with HebCelt from its earliest years and are delighted to have seen it grow to the internationally recognised festival it has become.
“We are also seeing an increasing number of repeat visitors through our doors each July, and are aware that the event plays a huge part in encouraging new visitors to the islands at that time, clearly benefiting the overall economy.
“Importantly, we provide a platform for the Gaelic stage each year and our organisations have collaborated in the promotion of local artists in particular so, whether you are involved in the programme as a volunteer or simply attending, it is an entirely home-grown event that local people can be very proud of.”
Advance weekend tickets for next year’s Hebridean Celtic Festival, to be held from 18-20 July 2019, are available from the festival website.
Day tickets and those for opening shows, late night activities and community events in Lewis and Harris go on sale next year when the full festival programme is finalised.
Package deals for visiting festival-goers, including tickets, travel and accommodation, are being arranged by the Cala Groups via the Hebridean Hopscotch website.
The packages have been put together in response to strong demand from visitors who want to streamline arrangements to enjoy the festival to the full.