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Far north Highland tourism group make new board appointments

By Niall Harkiss

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(L-R): David Watson (Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust), Scott Morrison (Managing Director of Dunrobin Castle & Gardens), and Jo Wke (Owner, Melvich Hotel). Photo: Trevor Martin
(L-R): David Watson (Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust), Scott Morrison (Managing Director of Dunrobin Castle & Gardens), and Jo Wke (Owner, Melvich Hotel). Photo: Trevor Martin

Venture North, a destination management organisation designed to promote responsible tourism in the far north Highlands of Scotland have announced two appointments to their board.

David Watson (49) manager of the Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust, and Jo Wyke (43) owner of Melvich Hotel on the north coast of Sutherland, have both joined the board of Venture North, bringing 35 years of local community support and tourism industry experience and expertise between them.

David has more than 20 years of experience working in economic and community development across the Highlands and Islands after working as a senior development manager for Highlands and Islands Enterprise in Inverness and Shetland, as well as the economic development manager for the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

A native of Sutherland, David's family have been living in the same crofting community since the 1880s. He is passionate about the sustainability of the north Highlands and has a keen interest in the social and natural heritage of Sutherland. David initiated and chaired the Sutherland Community Planning Partnership Sustainable Tourism sub-group and is the chair of the Far North Line Community Rail Partnership.

Jo Wyke from Melvich Hotel joins David and the rest of the Venture North board, having been a founder member of the organisation back in 2013 and was instrumental in the success of the Venture North Discovery Series marketing campaign in 2015.

Jo brings forward a vast skill set with direct industry experience, having owned and successfully operated the Melvich Hotel for nearly 15 years. She also has experience as a freelance writer and marketeer, creating content for blogs, social media and websites.

As part of their new roles, David and Jo will be joining the Venture North board to support local communities and encourage visitors to discover, explore and enjoy Sutherland and Caithness responsibly.

The new Venture North campaign is geared towards promoting reasons to visit and stay around the Caithness and Sutherland area, helping extend the season and bring business to local visitor economies all year-round, including winter and spring.

The initiative is also focussing on an audience that have spent large periods of the pandemic at home and will promote the long-established relationship between tourism and wellbeing.

Following local community consultation, the Venture North campaign is highlighting areas that are less impacted by over-tourism and can accommodate visitors in the quieter season.

Commenting on his appointment to the Venture North board, David Watson, said: “My family has been living in Sutherland for well over a century, so I’m extremely proud to be joining the Venture North board and taking a key role in the sustainable development of the north Highlands for the benefit of local communities, as well as visitors to our beautiful far north region.

“There are real opportunities for local communities to benefit from the visitor economy as the region begins to recover from the damaging impact of the pandemic. My aim is to continue supporting community groups as they welcome back to visitors once again and working together to respond to the many opportunities and challenges ahead.”

Jo Wyke said: “I’m delighted to re-join the Venture North board and participate in shaping the future of tourism for Caithness and Sutherland. Venture North has been prolific in raising the profile of our beautiful area and in supporting and representing businesses who work within the industry here in these counties.

“I look forward to joining the conversation and playing a part again in helping our local businesses navigate the current landscape and to shine the spotlight on our spectacular doorstep.”

Scott Morrison, managing director of Dunrobin Castle and Gardens, near Golspie, joined the board of Venture North in 2021 and is the third Sutherland business member to become a member of the group in the last 12 months.

Scott has been managing director of Dunrobin Castle for over 25 years. Throughout his career, he has been a part of many tourism-marketing groups that have helped encourage and build the tourism offer of Sutherland and Caithness. Scott is passionate about bringing Caithness and Sutherland to front of the line when visitors and tour operators are looking to plan holidays in the Far North. His wealth of experience is invaluable in supporting Venture North to create a sustainable and extended tourism offer.

Venture North was established in 2013 as a cooperative body of tourism businesses and entrepreneurs primarily from Caithness and North Sutherland who sought to increase the tourism footfall to the area. The organisation also supports member businesses and communities across the region through effective collaboration to maximise the benefits of the visitor economy.

Venture North has now been tasked to lead the development and delivery of the Tourism Destination Recovery Strategy, alongside core funding support provided by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd and other funding partners over the next three years.

The destination management organisation will now continue to work in partnership with the Local Development Trusts, communities and representative bodies and tourism businesses from across the region, to ensure a collective ownership and delivery of the Strategy at regional level.

For more information about Venture North, visit: venture-north.co.uk or follow on social media, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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