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Highlands and Islands Enterprise seeks new operator for Cairngorm visitor attraction

04 March 2013

Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is the owner of Scotland’s busiest snowsports centre and is looking for a new operator to run visitor facilities at the resort on its behalf.

HIE built and owns Scotland’s only funicular railway at Cairngorm, along with associated facilities including ski lifts, the base station, shop, visitor centre, and the UK’s highest restaurant.

Operations at the site are currently managed by CairnGorm Mountain Ltd (CML), which became a subsidiary of HIE in 2008.  HIE has always been clear, however, that its ownership of the operating company was not intended to be a long-term arrangement.

HIE's decision to advertise for a new operator follows an options appraisal, carried out last year by Ernst and Young.

This established that there was national and international interest from potential operators in this opportunity. Nine organisations came forward, mainly interested in taking over all operations and developing the resort further.

The opportunity to run the facility, which will remain publicly-owned, is being promoted through the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU).

Advertisements are appearing in the journal on March 4, 2013, inviting suitably qualified applicants to complete a pre-qualification questionnaire which can be sent to Ernst and Young as the first step towards registering interest.

Charlotte Wright, HIE’s Director of Business and Sector Development, said the mountain resort presented a great opportunity for the right operator.

“Cairngorm is not only well established as one of the UK’s premier snowsports centres, the funicular railway has helped make it a year-round attraction,” said Mrs Wright.

“It’s important to stress that neither the estate nor the funicular is being put up for sale. HIE will retain public ownership of both the land and the infrastructure.

“What we’re seeking is an operator with innovative ideas and the capacity to invest so that a sustainable future can be secured for this important local business.

“The main challenge for the operator of any outdoor attraction is obviously the unpredictable nature of Scottish weather. We’ve enjoyed two record-breaking winter seasons in the past four years which made a profit for the business, but there can be no guarantees.

“We’re particularly interested in ideas to supplement the snowsports business at Cairngorm and attract a broader range of visitors throughout the year.”

Information submitted by the applicants will enable HIE to draw up a shortlist which will be assessed through a process known as 'competitive dialogue'.

Competitive dialogue is less prescriptive than other procurement models, giving bidders greater scope to put forward innovative and creative ideas of their own. It is a process which is particularly well suited to complex or unique projects which are likely to require bespoke solutions.

HIE will expect the preferred operator to drive forward product, brand and capital development at the visitor attraction, along with achieving a sustainable business model which will provide the best return for the region’s economy.


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