North Coast 500 tourists drive £10m Highlands boost

It has already been hailed as 'possibly the world's best road trip', and now it has emerged that the North Coast 500 has helped to deliver a £10 million boost for the Highlands economy.

The North Coast 500 route is boosting the Highlands economy. Picture: Contributed
The North Coast 500 route is boosting the Highlands economy. Picture: Contributed

A study by the University of Glasgow’s training and employment research unit has shown that an extra 29,000 visitors were attracted to the region in 2016 by the North Coast 500, described as “Scotland’s answer to Route 66.”

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The route – which actually covers 516 miles – begins at Inverness Castle before heading north on the A862 through Dingwall and on to the Black Isle. From there, it skirts the coastlines of Sutherland and Caithness before coming down into Wester Ross and the Applecross peninsula before turning inland back towards Inverness.

Those who have been drawn to the roads generated some £9m for the local economy last year, according to research commissioned by Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE), and business chiefs believe the total for this year could be more than 10 per cent higher.

The HIE report, published in June, showed there has been an average 26 per cent increase in visitor numbers since the route opened, compared with a 6 per cent average increase across the Highlands. Traffic data also revealed that volumes along the route were up by about 10 per cent.

But the study also highlighted challenges to ensure the long-term success of the North Coast 500. These include maintaining road conditions, encouraging better driving and making sure there are enough parking spots, waste facilities and public toilets.

At the time of the publication, tourism secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “The route is already delivering for the north of Scotland and has tremendous potential to further benefit the communities it serves, encourage more investment in tourism facilities, stimulate jobs and expand the tourism season.”