Scotland’s answer to Route 66 – the North Coast 500 – has boosted the Scottish economy by more than £22 million in the past year.
A study, conducted by the Moffat Centre for Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University, found that the cross-country route popular with camper-vans, motor homes and motorcyclists also created 180 full time equivalent jobs in the North Highlands.
Some residents have criticised the promotion of the route for putting pressure on single track roads at peak times of year, and claimed camper vans stocked up on shopping in Inverness do little for local businesses.
But the Moffat Centre’s evaluation, commissioned by the North Highland Initiative and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said the iconic touring route, launched in 2015, generated £22.89 million in Gross Value Added.
Professor John Lennon’s report also highlights an additional £13.46 million in sales for accommodation, attraction, activity and retail businesses on or near the route in 2018. Tourism businesses throughout the north Highlands reported a year-on-year growth of 16% over the four-year period from 2014-2018.
Room occupancy also increased from 52% in 2014, to 78% in 2018, while the quality of accommodation has also increased significantly.
David Whiteford, chair of the North Highland Initiative, said: “The North Coast 500 is now one of the top reasons for people to travel to Scotland, and with the stunning scenery, unique experiences, exceptional food and drink, the famous Highland hospitality, a wide range of activities and the fascinating history and heritage the north Highlands of Scotland has to offer, this is no surprise.’
“The findings within this report are so encouraging to see, with businesses throughout the North Highlands succeeding, developing and growing with the NC500 brand.”
Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development, said: “It is clear from all of the measures utilised that the impact of the North Coast 500 route has been highly significant for the economy and employment generated in the north Highlands.”
Tom Campbell, managing director at the North Coast 500, said: “This report is another important milestone for the NC500 and we are delighted to see the tangible evidence of the positive impact on the North Highland economy. This has been transformational and has created jobs, new investment and opportunities for Highland communities.”
Scott Morrison, managing director at Dunrobin Castle, said: “Since the launch of the NC500 route, Dunrobin Castle has seen an increase in visitor numbers which we could never have imagined. This has allowed us to create another 15 seasonal jobs and extend our opening times and open season. In the last two years we have invested heavily in our own infrastructure just to be able to cope with the visitors now coming to the area.”
Quintin Stevens, co-owner at The Storehouse at Foulis Ferry, said: “The North Coast 500 has undoubtedly had a very positive impact on business here at The Storehouse – primarily in terms of increasing profitability within the shoulder months of the year.”
Dan Rose-Bristow, co-owner at The Torridon, said: “We’ve benefited from a 5% rise in occupancy all year round since the route opened. Whilst revealing our spectacular coastline to the world, the NC500 has simultaneously brought together a local community of hotels, restaurants, distilleries, artists and tour guides.”