A DIFFERENT crowd of tourists and seasonal workers is flocking to the Highlands this year.

Staycationers are taking rooms for one night that would usually be booked for several nights months in advance by German walking groups, French whisky tasters, Americans on the heritage trail or global “athletourists”.

The visitors may be back next year. But seasonal EU staff, many of whom return year after year, can no longer return due to Brexit, causing issues for many venues. Most won’t be able to come back, unless a seasonal visa is introduced for hospitality. Some are concerned what the effect of this sea change might be on the area.

Geordies Jay Tait and Jamie Robinson, on the NC500 with Saltires flying from their vehicles, normally prefer to go on all-inclusive holidays in Turkey. “We have spent much more this holiday. It is something different and we are making the best of it, but the weather has been a bit rubbish. We haven’t been able to find a single Italian restaurant. Back home, it doesn’t matter what night of the week you go to the pub – it’s always lively. But here, John o’ Groats was dead, Thurso – dead, Dornoch – dead. Our Airbnbs have been the best bit.”

In a normal summer, the Highlands is a popular destination for athletourists. There are several ironmen and half ironman races, and even a nocturnal one in August, attracting an international field.

But many competitors can’t attend this year. The annual Celtman extreme triathlon – which includes a two-mile swim in Loch Shieldaig and a 120-mile cycle followed by a marathon-length run over Beinn Eighe – was missing 50, mostly European competitors, from the usual 250-strong field due to travel restrictions. However, despite the reduced field, Ewan Brown, of Edinburgh’s Corstorphine Athletics Club, completed the event in the record time of just under 11 hours.

At the award-winning Gairloch museum, volunteer Mike Inos said: “The NC500 is still busy. But our takings in the museum are way down. Brits are less likely to come into the museum, and when they do, they don’t stay as long or buy as much. We miss the Americans and Canadians. They love the museum and they tend to buy armfuls of souvenirs.”

Filling vacancies in hotels and restaurants is also a struggle this season, mainly due to Brexit.

At the Old Inn at Gairloch, lunches have been off for two months because of a lack of staff.

“At times we have had five people instead of 30 – we are doing 80 to 100 covers a night,” said manager Kirk Williams. He has now managed to find people from down south, mostly without experience.

“It is not ideal to retrain someone in the middle of a busy season,” he added, calling for a visa system for seasonal workers.

AT the nearby Gale Centre cafe, Emily Doidge said: “There are loads of unfilled vacancies across the Highlands this season. EU workers who come over every summer and live in their workplaces can’t come anymore.

“If there was more affordable accommodation in the Highlands there would be more locals available to work.”

David Black, on holiday in the Highlands from Glasgow, voiced concerns about the effect Brexit was having on the tourism industry in the area.

He said: “I miss meeting all the Europeans working here in the summer.

“They bring their culture and language and they contribute so much.”