THE Highlands and Islands were recently named by Lonely Planet as one of the Top 10 destinations to visit in 2019, and Aviemore is consistently rated as providing one of the best visitor experiences in the region, which should make the town a magnet for visitors.

Yet it’s fair to say that the recent closure of the Cairngorm funicular railway has cast a shadow over the area ahead of the skiing season, which is yet to get into full swing.

A poor snow season can really damage the economy of Aviemore and its environs, which is why local businesses are increasingly turning their attention to ways of attracting visitors and tourists to Aviemore all the year round.

Leading the way is one of the men who is credited with revolutionising the self-catering industry in the Highlands. Ian Forrester, proprietor of the Great North Lodge agency, is convinced that Aviemore has plenty to offer visitors all the year round. He is adamant that customers need to be listened to and something he heard many years ago convinced him to add the ‘must have’ ingredient for any self-respecting lodge these days – hot tubs.

They have become much more popular in the last few years, but Forrester was preaching the virtues of hot tubs as long ago as the 1990s. His flagship Beaver Creek Lodge has one that accommodates eight people, and he insists that the owners of the Great North Lodges instal them, with the vast majority of the 30-plus lodges able to accommodate them.

Forrester built Beaver Creek Lodge from scratch. The basic log cabin was imported from Finland and for more than 20 years Forrester and his wife Myra have added all sorts of luxurious touches – including an internal sauna and Jacuzzi bath in the five-star quality accommodation.

“But you can’t beat the natural assets we have such as the stream that runs through the bottom of the garden,” says Forrester.

“Beaver Creek Lodge is set in its own grounds and backs on to the forests and hills that surround Aviemore, and to me the natural beauty of our surroundings is the key to Aviemore’s future.

“We need to get the message out that this area is open all the year round and there is always plenty to see and do around here. Our lodges make ideal holiday homes for families and groups and of course we have hot tubs.”

Scott Fleming, who runs a number of businesses near Cairngorm Mountain, including Snowbadgers snowsports rentals, launched his own business with partner Katie in November.

He said: “At the moment we are just trying to get through our first year. We don’t have the railway but people have shifted to being positive and trying to make the most of what we’ve got and do the best that we can all the year round.”

Fleming’s base on the shores of Loch Morlich also does bike rentals and glamping pods. Diversity is the key to success, he says. “There is plenty to do and see around here all the time and we need to let people know that.”

Owen Caldwell, owner of the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore, has made his pub on the banks of the River Spey into a hub attraction since taking over in 2009.

He introduced regular music gigs to the The dog-friendly pub. “They have been well-attended and there is a really vibrant crowd here for music and events in this friendly community,” he says.

“Our aim has been to have no airs or graces but have a touch of class. We have been described as a Highland pub with international standards, set in this most beautiful place.

“People talk about the snow, but even without the snow this is an area of incredible natural beauty and people just keep coming back here. We need to get that message out.”