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North Coast 500 boosts north Highland economy by £22m

By Calum MacLeod

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The NC500 at Glen Docherty.
The NC500 at Glen Docherty.

RESEARCHERS have found that the North Coast 500 (NC500) has boosted the north Highland economy by more than £22 million over 12 months.

The study, conducted by the Moffat Centre for Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University, found that the driving route generated £22.89 million in gross value added throughout 2018.

The report, which was commissioned by the North Highland Initiative and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, also found that the route had created 180 full-time equivalent jobs in the northern Highlands within the same time period and highlights an additional £13.46 million in sales for accommodation, attraction, activity and retail businesses on or near the route generated by the success of the NC500 brand.

Tourism businesses throughout the region, including activity providers, tour operators, retailers, car and camper van rental firms and hospitality venues, reported a year-on-year growth of 16 per cent over the four-year period from 2014-2018.

The Moffat Centre report also found an increase in footfall to the north Highland area had resulted in a significant boost for the visitor attraction sector over the same time period, with a 19.9 per cent increase in visitors to free admission attractions and a 41.7 per cent boost in visitor numbers at paid attractions.

Room occupancy throughout the areas was also found to have increased from 52 per cent in 2014, to 78 per cent in 2018.

Similar growth was evident in average room rates, increasing from £46 in 2014 to £82 in 2018. The quality of accommodation has also increased significantly, which suggests increased investment in hospitality and accommodation provision over the period 2014-2018.

David Whiteford, chairman of the North Highland Initiative which created the NC500 concept, said: “From the very beginning, the North Highland Initiative’s aim in creating the North Coast 500 was to market the area’s wonderful tourism offerings in a way that would stimulate economic growth.

“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 North Coast 500 has been the subject of a number of studies and surveys over the years, but none as comprehensive as The Moffat Centre’s official North Coast 500 evaluation report. The findings within this report are so encouraging to see, with businesses throughout the north Highlands succeeding, developing and growing with the NC500 brand.

“Moving forward, we are very aware that the significant growth reflected here must be managed and not be at the expense of any community. Instead we want to see people and businesses across the North Highlands benefitting from the investment in the area and the increased attention brought by the North Coast 500. It is a once in a generation chance to boost the area if we all work together and make the most of this opportunity.

“It is the North Highland Initiative’s ambition to continue working with the Scottish Government, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and other external agencies in order to support communities throughout the north Highlands, and to ensure the ongoing growth of the NC500 route is sustainable.”

Report author Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre, 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. The innovative operating model for the route and the commitment of the North Coast 500 team has made a major contribution to this success.”

NC500 managing director Tom Campbell 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.”

Businesses and attractions on the route confirmed the difference the route had made.

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, said the route had undoubtedly had a very positive impact on business, especially in increasing profitability within the shoulder months of the year.

“The NC500 route has been enormously successful in signposting tourism throughout the north Highlands,” he said.

“Tourism north of Inverness is really thriving now, and this has given business owners throughout the region the confidence to invest in their enterprises. This extra investment has allowed for an increase in permanent positions, rather than temporary or seasonal roles. In turn, this results in increased training and investment, benefitting job prospects throughout the whole region for years to come.”

On the opposite coast, Dan Rose-Bristow, co-owner at The Torridon, said: “We’ve benefited from a five per cent rise in occupancy all year round since the route opened. While revealing our spectacular coastline to the world, the NC500 has simultaneously brought together a local community of hotels, restaurants, distilleries, artists and tour guides. There is a sense of pride and ownership amongst all the partners who are keen for the popularity of the NC500 to evolve in a sustainable way. I’m delighted to see more people using The Torridon’s electric charging points to facilitate environmentally-friendly exploration of the route.”

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