THE Highland capital of Inverness has been hailed one of the top holiday destinations in the world for European travellers and is set for a major tourist boom in 2017 based on bookings so far.

The city was named eighth on a list of top places to visit after leading online travel firm eDreams Odigeo recorded an 80 per cent rise in bookings in 2016 compared to last year.

Its European Traveller Insights report revealed that Inverness is set for a larger tourism boost than locations such as Fez, Morocco (75 per cent) and Hanoi, Vietnam (67 per cent).

The company believes this demand could be fuelled by the fall in the value of sterling following the EU referendum, and British Airways reinstating its daily Heathrow-Inverness flights in May for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Kasia Jankowska, a spokesperson from eDreams, said: “It’s very encouraging for Scottish tourism to see Inverness make the list of top destinations for 2017, demonstrating the ‘capital of the Highlands’ can hold its own alongside such globally acclaimed cities as Havana and Mumbai.”

Turin in northern Italy came top of the list with a 316 per cent rise in forward bookings next year, followed by Astana, Kazakhstan (176 per cent), Rotterdam, the Netherlands (174 per cent), Havana, Cuba (134 per cent), Jeddah and Medina in Saudi Arabia came fifth and six, followed by Mumbai in India with 91 per cent and Scotland was equal eighth with Stuttgart in Germany.

Inverness-based Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) managing director, Inglis Lyon, said: “To be eighth equal with Stuttgart in Germany is absolutely brilliant.

“I don’t think it is any coincidence that the ranking has come out as we’ve put it in the new service to Heathrow and Amsterdam operated by KLM and British Airways.

“What we have seen with both of these services is that over 40 per cent of business is connecting to the rest of the world.

“Not only have you got these folk coming into the Highlands but you’ve also got the ability now of the Highlands and Islands being able to do business with the rest of the world without having to undertake that very long drive down to Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen. It is very good news.”

Inverness MSP Fergus Ewing and MP Drew Hendry both welcomed the findings of the report.

Ewing said: “Inverness is growing in popularity as a visitor destination. It is the gateway to the Highlands and it offers a range of attractions including our fine food and drink and of course the mystery of Loch Ness and its shy resident. We will welcome visitors from Europe as we welcome EU citizens to continue to live and work here.

“The re-established link with Heathrow helps but so too does our link with Amsterdam.

“Inverness is also at the start of the NC 500, one of the most spectacular long distance tourism routes in the world. And with world-class golf courses near at hand in Castle Stuart and Royal Dornoch we are seeing more visitors enjoy our splendid fairways and greens and challenging tough. In a few years’ time we hope to open up Inverness Castle as a fantastic visitor attraction.”

Hendry added: “There is no doubt that the increased connectivity with the new flights is making a difference and looks set to make an even bigger difference in the future. The attractiveness of Inverness and the Highlands is clearly the major influence here and it is only set to get better with the opening of Inverness Castle to the public. The way that tourism is handled in the Highlands is a credit to the people who operate our hotels and attractions.”

A VisitScotland spokesperson said: “It’s fantastic to see that Inverness is proving a huge draw for our European visitors in 2017, no doubt fuelled by better air connectivity, the breathtaking landscapes of the Highlands and new experiences such as the North Coast 500.”

Ten reasons why Inverness is buzzing...

HERE is a list of the top 10 places to visit while in Inverness.

1. Culloden Moor Battlefield: One of the top attractions in the Highlands. The last battle on British soil was fought at Culloden Moor in 1746 between the Jacobites and British armies. Culloden has been preserved to emulate exactly how it looked on the day of the battle, allowing visitors to connect with the past and be immersed in a piece of Scottish history.

2. Urquhart Castle: The castle was once one of Scotland’s largest castles, the remaining tower now provides fantastic panoramic views of Loch Ness and the Great Glen.

3. Loch Ness and the Loch Ness Monster: Loch Ness is the largest body of fresh water by volume in Britain. It holds more water than all the lakes and reservoirs in England and Wales put together. Cruises galore.

4. The Caledonian Canal: A Thomas Telford engineering masterpiece considered by many to be one of the greatest waterways of the world, slicing through the length of the Great Glen.

5. The Highlanders’ Museum: It tells the story of the Highland Regiments from just after the Battle of Culloden and is home to 20,000 artefacts, the largest collection of military artefacts outside London.

6. Eden Court Theatre: The biggest arts centre in Scotland offering all types of performing arts from opera to popular music, concerts, ballet, modern dance, drama and it has two film studios for cinema.

7. The Tomatin and Glen Ord distilleries: Learn how their award-winning whiskies are produced.

8. The John Cobb Memorial Cairn: The monument commemorates his attempt to break the world water speed record at Loch Ness reaching a speed in excess of 200mph during which he lost his life on September 29, 1952.

9. Dolphin Watching at Chanonry Point: The point is without doubt the best place to watch the bottlenose dolphins.

10. Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition: A five-star visitor attraction opened by explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. It takes visitors through seven themed areas exploring Loch Ness from its beginnings to the third millennium.