Moray represents a hidden opportunity. The location is highly accessible and has a tremendously varied tourism offer that is yet to be fully exploited. Mountains, coast, forestry, National Park and market towns offer outdoor and indoor pursuits.
The area is also a base for international and national businesses with a requirement for hotel accommodation.
386,000 bed nights were spent in the area in 2010. Space for a big name budget offering - competitively costed chain prices for a mid week room rate is £72 for Elgin. The few (small) 4* operators seek to achieve a room rate of over £100.
Tourism contributes approximately £5.2bn to Scotland's economy. In 2009 around 15 million tourists took overnight trips to Scotland and in 2008 a survey discovered a 99% satisfaction rating with 73% likely to recommend Scotland as a tourism destination. Repeat visits are high with regular visitors averaging at least six visits over a 10-year period.
Moray has much to offer the visitor and has considerable untapped potential. There is an opportunity for investment in the sector and competition is limited.
General visitor attractions include the market towns. Many have traditional centres and the independent retail offer remains an important aspect of their High Streets. Forres is a regular contender for Britain in Bloom; Elgin is the largest centre with its historic cathedral; Johnston's Woolen Mill in Elgin; Fochabers and the Baxters Food Highland Village development.
Moray is home to 40 whisky distilleries and many have visitor centres with Glenfiddich, Glen Grant, Dallas Dhu and Macallan particularly well visited. There is also a Spey whisky festival each autumn.
There are sites of historic interest such as Brodie Castle (1576), and the vitrified Pictish fort at Burghead which is thought to be the largest in Europe. Forres features a large and important Pictish stone - Suenos Stone - as well as Nelsons Tower.
Moray is famous for hunting and fishing. The River Spey is one of the 'big four' Scottish salmon fishing rivers but there are also trout and salmon fishing opportunities on the rivers Findhorn, Avon and Dulnain. Hunting and fishing estates such as the Ballindalloch Estate; the Knockando Estate; Gordon Castle; and the Rannas Estate provide opportunities for shooting and fishing.
There are opportunities for other outdoor pursuits with 17 golf courses in Moray including the championship course at the Moray Golf Club at Lossiemouth. There is surfing and kite-boarding at Lossiemouth; kayaking in the River Dulnain and mountain biking on the 'Moray Monster Trails' which are three long and interlinked trails covering the area. IN the mountains there is winter skiing at the Lecht. The coastline also offers opportunities for sailing and sea-kayaking amongst other pursuits.
Way-marked trails include the Moray Coastal Trail, the Speyside Way and the Malt Whisky Trail as well as a number of single day or shorter trails.
The world famous Findhorn Foundation operates an ecovillage visitor centre attracting 9,000 visitors per annum. The Findhorn Foundation is a spiritual community, ecovillage and an international centre for holistic education, aiming to unfold a new human consciousness and create a positive and sustainable future.
It is estimated that there are 2,641 serviced bed spaces in Moray and in 2010 there were 386,000 days spent in Moray involving an overnight stay. The level of bed spaces and overnight visitors suggest that average occupancy levels are approximately 40%.
Whilst occupancy rates are relatively low there are development opportunities around price and quality for hotel and tourism businesses and in particular within the administrative and geographic centre of Moray in Elgin.