Visitors from nearly 30 countries helped make this year’s Hebridean Celtic Festival one of its most successful and provided a massive economic boost to the islands.
The award-winning event was held from July 16th to 19th in Stornoway with Big Country, Levellers and Donnie Munro headlining its biggest ever programme of 40 acts.
A huge influx of music fans from overseas made up half the estimated 14,000-strong audience that attended shows in the main arena in the grounds of Lews Castle, An Lanntair arts centre in the town centre and other venues in rural areas.
The figure is close to last year’s record-breaking attendance - which was the best in the event’s 19 year history - and almost 17 per cent up on 2012.
Organisers are already planning next year’s landmark 20th event which will be held from July 15th to 18th, 2015.
HebCelt director Caroline Maclennan said: “This year’s festival was another resounding success and the feedback we have received from visitors and local people has been tremendous.
“We are delighted with the audience numbers, bearing in mind the economy is still very difficult. Almost half – 49 per cent – travel from outside the Hebrides to take in the festival and this is hugely positive for local businesses.
“Festival-goers also travel throughout the islands so the effect is felt across a wide area,” she continued.
“It’s really encouraging that the festival still attracts such a large and loyal following and we are excited about next year’s event which will be extra special as we reach the 20 years milestone.”
Music fans travelled by car, ferry and plane from throughout the UK and across Europe as well from the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, South America, China, Canada, the US, and Africa to attend HebCelt.
Over 70 per cent were repeat visitors, demonstrating the loyal following it has amongst both local and visiting fans.
Its popularity with fans of all ages was also shown by the broadly even split across six age groups – under 16s, 16-24 year-olds, 25-34, 35-44, 45-54 and over 55 – at an average of 16.5 per cent each.
Demand for accommodation this year led to an appeal being made to help house visitors three months ahead of the event.
Alastair Lockett, VisitScotland’s visitor services team leader, Outer Hebrides, said: “Yet again, HebCeltFest proves to be a great incentive for visitors from all over the world to come to the Outer Hebrides, especially in the Year of Homecoming Scotland 2014.
“The weather was favourable, with campers enjoying warm sunshine for most of the festival and the friendly atmosphere attracted many families to the event and entertainment in the town centre.
“We are also seeing many more festival-goers extending their stay and enjoying some of the great attractions the islands have to offer.”
Emma Campbell-Macleod, owner of the Good Food Boutique in Stornoway’s Cromwell Street, was one of the businesses that benefited during HebCelt week.
“We were very busy with both local people and visitors all week. I estimate that business was up about 20-25 per cent on the previous week and about 8-10 per cent on last year.
“Everyone benefits from the festival, not just businesses. A lot of people said how busy the town was, with lots of tourists around. There was a real buzz about the place and it makes everyone feel more positive.”
Kenny MacIver, a partner in Stornoway Taxi Service, said he drove people all over Lewis and as far away as the south of Harris: “We were extremely busy the whole week. Even when putting on extra cars to cope with demand we were still stretched.
“Outside Christmas and New Year, HebCelt week is the busiest time of the year for us. The festival gives a real boost to the whole place and everyone gets something from it because it caters for all age groups.”
The 19th HebCelt also featured performances by Cara Dillon, Rachel Sermanni, Duncan Chisholm, Cajun band Magnolia Sisters, from the US, Larkin Poe and Canadian outfit Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys.