THE successful North Coast 500 (NC500) tourist route will need strongly co-ordinated support from the public sector to ensure its long-term sustainability.
And experiences of the initiative, Scotland’s answer to America’s world famous Route 66, should also be shared with groups around the country looking to develop similar projects.
These were the feelings expressed by Scotland’s cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs Fiona Hyslop, during a visit to Inverness.
Ms Hyslop was attending a meeting of the NC500 working group, which includes officials from public sector bodies across the north who have joined forces to develop a co-ordinated support plan for the route.
The NC500 was launched in 2015 by the North Highland Initiative.
A report commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) estimated it attracted 29,000 visitors and £9 million additional spend in its first year.
The study also highlighted challenges to ensure long-term success of the route. These include maintaining the condition of the roads, ensuring sufficient parking, waste facilities and public toilets, and continued efforts to encourage better driving.
Anticipated increased demand for labour will be another challenge, with earlier reports suggesting the NC500 could create upwards of 200 jobs.
Ms Hyslop said: “The NC500 is an excellent example of an innovative project, driven by industry, that is boosting the tourism economy in the Highlands.
“The role of public sector bodies in ensuring the longer-term sustainability of the route is crucial. We need to make sure the benefits are shared by communities and business across the north and that the high-quality experience for those travelling the route is maintained.”
She added: “I am pleased that Highlands and Islands Enterprise is actively sharing its experiences of the NC500 route with other interested groups around the country.”
The NC500 working group is chaired by Roy Kirk, Caithness and Sutherland area manager with HIE, who said: “We have already had interest from other parts of the country, notably the south west, Arran and north Ayrshire. It would be great if the success of the route could be replicated in other areas.
“We’re all very keen to share our experiences of the route, the benefits and the challenges, and will continue to meet with interested groups around the country.”
The tourist route, however, while proving to be a big hit with motoring groups and motorcyclists, has come under fire from some smaller communities along the way, particularly on the west coast, where locals feel the roads are not capable of coping with the huge volume of increased traffic it has generated.
* What do you think? Do you support the MSP's call for the public sector to step in to support the long term sustainibility of this route?