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North Coast 500 boosts Scottish economy by £22m

A major new evaluation report has found that the North Coast 500 has boosted the North Highland economy by more than £22million over 12 months.

The study, conducted by the Moffat Centre for Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University, found that the North Coast 500 generated more than £22.89m in Gross Value Added (GVA) throughout 2018.

The Moffat Centre’s official North Coast 500 evaluation report, which was commissioned by the North Highland Initiative and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, also found that the iconic touring route had created 180 full time equivalent jobs in the North Highlands within the same time period.

The North Coast 500 has been Scotland’s most successful route development since its launch in 2015, generating significant destination awareness and major economic benefits throughout the North Highlands. 

Authored by Professor John Lennon, the official North Coast 500 evaluation report also highlights an additional £13.46million in sales for accommodation, attraction, activity and retail businesses on or near the route in 2018, generated by the success of the NC500 brand.

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

The Moffat Centre’s North Coast 500 evaluation 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.   

A 19.9% increase in visitors to free admission attractions was found, while paid admission attractions benefitted from a 41.7% boost in visitor numbers.

Room occupancy throughout the North Highlands was also found to have increased from 52% in 2014, to 78% in 2018.

Similar growth was evident in average room rates, increasing from £46 (2014) to £82 (2018) as a result of the North Coast 500’s success. The quality of accommodation has also increased significantly, which suggests increased investment in hospitality and accommodation provision over the period 2014-2018. This tangible quality improvement is also reflected in the positive movement in accommodation rates achieved.

David Whiteford, Chair of the North Highland Initiative, said:

“From the very beginning, the North Highland Initiative’s aim in creating the North Coast 500 was to market the North Highland 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 Moffat Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University has many years of experience and a proven track record of effective and practical industry research. 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.”

Professor John Lennon, director of the Moffat Centre for Travel and Tourism Business Development at Glasgow Caledonian University, commented:

“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.”

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.

“The NC500 route has been enormously successful in signposting tourism throughout the North Highlands. 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.”

Dan Rose-Bristow, co-owner at The Torridon, said:

“The Torridon is on the NC500 route and 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. 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.”

Over the past four years, the North Coast 500 has been hailed as the number one road trip in the world, and one of the top reasons for people to travel to Scotland. The route has been credited with boosting business by 20-25% each year, extending the season to 10 months, and increasing visitor spend by an additional £10million in 2016-2017 alone.

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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