Record breaking HebCelt worth £2.2 million to islands

Photo credit: Colin Cameron

UK: The Hebridean Celtic Festival’s coming of age event this year generated more than £2.2 million for the islands’ economy and helped safeguard 40 tourism-related jobs. A visitor survey and economic impact report on this year’s HebCelt shows the event continues to play an important role in attracting new people to visit the islands and encourage repeat trips.

Managed and produced almost entirely by volunteers, the festival makes a significant contribution to island life and its ongoing success brought praise from a wide range of community, political, artistic and tourism organisations.

The 21st festival, headlined by Runrig, was held from July 13 – 16 in Stornoway and was the most successful in its history. A total of 7,553 paying guests visited the festival during its four days and overall attendances reached 17,830.

The survey, commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), found that 63% of festivalgoers came from outside Lewis and Harris, with almost three quarters saying they were in the area to attend HebCelt.

The festival audience was drawn from across the UK and also abroad, including Europe, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Non-locals spent an average of £500 during their stay, with the bulk of it (78%) helping the islands’ economy.

Overall, the festival directly generated £1.4 million, but its wider knock-on impact on local businesses meant a net economic effect of £2.2 million.

Expenditure related to the event meant increased sales for local businesses and more jobs being created or salaries rising for existing employees.

The festival received a public subsidy of £120,000, meaning it showed a return of £18 for every £1 of investment from the public sector.

In addition, standard spend v employment assumptions – where one tourism related job is safeguarded for every £54,000 of visitor spend – meant HebCelt helped keep 41 tourism jobs in the area.

Rachel Mackenzie, area manager for HIE in the Outer Hebrides, said: “HebCelt is a huge draw for tourism and is a vital economic generator for restaurants, accommodation providers and local businesses as well as transport companies which all benefit from the festival.

“The growth of HebCelt has been remarkable and helps double the population during the biggest annual festival in the Outer Hebrides.”

The 21st HebCelt was the highest grossing festival in terms of sales, with tickets selling faster than at any time before and most shows were fully booked weeks in advance.

The festival also staged more than 70 hours of performances in the main arena, at An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway and in rural venues in Lewis and Harris – making it the biggest programme ever, while onsite trading hugely increased on last year.

Councillor Alasdair Macleod, Chair of Sustainable Development at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, said: “I would like to congratulate the Hebridean Celtic Festival for their ongoing success as they marked their 21st anniversary at this year’s event.

“The success the festival has enjoyed and the reputation it has earned over the years really demonstrates what can be achieved through hard work and dedication.

“The Comhairle is, of course, pleased to support the festival which brings significant economic and cultural benefits to these islands with £2.2 million added to the islands’ economy this year and we look forward to welcoming visitors to the Western Isles again next year.”

Over the four days Stornoway and the surrounding villages were crammed with visitors, filling hotels, guest houses and campsites in the area. The local VisitScotland office made an appeal for locals to house festivalgoers with accommodation at a premium.

Malcolm Roughead, Chief Executive of VisitScotland, said: “Tourism is the heartbeat of the Scottish economy – supporting communities and creating jobs throughout the year in every corner of the country.

“Events such as the Hebridean Celtic Festival don’t just provide fantastic entertainment, they represent a multi-billion pound benefit to Scotland all year round.

“These new figures show the enormous value of HebCelt, not only in terms of its economic impact and creation of jobs, but in helping to raise the profile of Scotland’s islands worldwide.”

HebCelt has grown from a small event attracting less than 1,000 fans, to an international showpiece for roots, Celtic and traditional music. It is estimated it has generated more than £20 million for the local economy over two decades.

This year, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Hayseed Dixie, Astrid, Julie Fowlis, King Creosote, Eddi Reader, John McCusker and Breabach were also among the line-up of stars that thrilled the international audience.

Siobhan Anderson, Music Officer at Creative Scotland, said: “It is great to see HebCelt grow year after year as a platform to showcase the best in traditional music while bringing a boost to the economy of the Outer Hebrides.

“HebCelt 2016 showed that the traditional music scene in Scotland has a wealth of talent to offer which can impress and delight audiences at a home-grown international festival. Traditional music is benefitting from an increasing number of successful festivals where artists from this scene are pitched alongside more mainstream acts, encouraging larger audiences to engage with different types of music.”

HebCelt is held in a spectacular setting owned by the Stornoway Trust in the grounds of Lews Castle in Stornoway.

Trust Estate Factor Iain Maciver said: “The Stornoway Trust is very proud to have worked in partnership with the HebCelt organisers over the last 21 years to stage this wonderful festival which has become so important to the islands.

“The festival’s growth has been remarkable and it is a truly international event which brings significant benefits to this area as this report has highlighted.”

The tourist survey and economic report was carried out by Stirling-based MKA Economics and is based on responses of 382 attendees who completed the online survey. This provides a level of accuracy at the 90% confidence level of +/- 4.1 per cent.