Record numbers of music fans helped make last week’s Hebridean Celtic Festival the most successful in its 18-year history.
Ticket sales for the award-winning festival this year were 34 per cent up on 2012 as fans from across the world enjoyed the event during the hottest days of the year in Stornoway.
With figures still to be finalised, an estimated 15,000 people attended concerts and events in the two festival tents in the grounds of Lews Castle, An Lanntair arts centre in the town centre and other venues in rural areas.
Organisers also reported all festival merchandise sold out and bar sales in the main arena were up 50 per cent on last year.
The four-day HebCelt, which was headlined by Van Morrison, Dougie MacLean, Capercaillie, Battlefield Band and the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, brought a huge influx of visitors to Stornoway with over half the audience (51 per cent) coming from outside the Hebrides.
Passenger numbers on ferries taking fans back to the mainland from Lewis on Sunday and Monday were up 18 per cent on last year and the number of people calling in at VisitScotland’s information centre in Stornoway showed an increase of over 50 per cent on 2012.
Numbers using the Laxdale Holiday Park in Lewis were also double those of 12 months ago.
Festival director Caroline MacLennan is already looking forward to 2014 when the island festival will be held from July 16th to 19th.
She said: “This year’s festival was our best ever in all aspects, with great crowds and a brilliant atmosphere.
“We knew ticket sales had surpassed last year’s total before the festival started, and even before the local sales had been added. But to achieve our best ever ticket sales in a tough economic climate is wonderful.
“We had a superb line-up again, our setting is special and, while the glorious weather was not a major factor in attendance figures, it helped the general mood and meant there was no better place to be.”
The success of HebCelt brought a huge economic boost to the island’s businesses with the £900,000 the event generates annually also believed to have been surpassed.
An appeal for local people to make available accommodation to the influx of visitors had to be made in April – two months earlier than normal – due to demand.
Alastair Lockett, VisitScotland’s visitor services team leader for the Outer Hebrides, said: “HebCelt 2013 was a resounding success, helped once again by the famous Hebridean hospitality and also by the great weather.
“It was wonderful to see so many visitors and locals enjoying the street entertainment in the centre of Stornoway and creating such a friendly and family atmosphere.
“Once again, local people came out in force to help provide extra beds and the campsites benefitted from the exceptional weather and increase in festival goers.
“Figures also suggest that more visitors are coming for the whole week - taking the opportunity to experience the Isle of Lewis as a great holiday destination - and many said they were already looking forward to returning next year.”
A spokesman for ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne added: “We are delighted this year’s HebCelt festival was a success and once again were pleased to be able to play our part in helping festival-goers get to and from Stornoway.
“We would hope that many of those who enjoyed the festival and the good weather will return to the Western Isles another time to see what else the area has to offer.”
Another plus for the festival was its pioneering use of machines which saw thousands of drinks containers recycled rather than going to landfill.
HebCelt was one of 12 venues to host the pilot recycle and reward units as part of the Scottish Government’s Zero Waste Scotland programme.
As well as helping the environment, festival goers had the chance to be randomly selected to win prizes by returning their drinks containers.
Marina Fraser from Zero Waste Scotland said: “The festival’s green team volunteers had less work to do this year due to the success of the recycle and rewards machines and that is very encouraging.
“Their success has been remarkable and people definitely noticed the difference the made to the festival environment.”
The project was the latest green initiative by HebCelt which is committed to decreasing its carbon emissions by 14 per cent by 2017 which will reduce its environmental impact and cut costs.
This year the festival also graduated from the Carbon Trust Scotland’s Carbon Management programme and has a series of long-term aims to help minimise the event’s impact on the environment. It has also applied for A Greener Festival Award.
Caroline MacLennan added: “The high attendances, the influx of visitors, the success of the recycling projects and our promotion of traditional, Celtic music means HebCelt continues to make an economic, environmental and cultural impact in our community.”
Meanwhile, HebCelt, which this year was selected for the third year in succession as one of the top ten UK summer festivals by music magazine Songlines, is in line for another accolade.
It is one of the events in the running for Best Independent Festival and the chance to win the Golden Welly Award in the AIM Independent Music Awards 2013.
Fans will have until July 29th to register a vote by using the link – www.thisisfakediy.co.uk
A shortlist of five festivals will be announced on August 6th and the winner will receive the award at a ceremony on September 3rd.