Scotland is a land of mountainous wilderness, accented by sweeping glacially formed glens and deep shimmering lochs. It is a bastion of clean, unspoilt beauty with a complex history and a diaspora of millions spread round the world. Scotland is a land that inspires a sense of wanderlust in almost everyone and because of this tourism has become a vital part of the Scottish economy, responsible for almost 220-thousand jobs. In 2014 – a Year of Homecoming, some 15.7 million people visited Scotland, that’s triple the country’s resident population.
Without question, one of the most successful tourism initiatives in all of Scotland recently has been the development of the North Coast 500 – a circular road trip of adventure and discovery around Scotland’s northernmost region.
Whether through sheer marketing genius or sheer coincidence seems to be unknown but Scotland's North Coast 500 is widely likened to another classic road trip, from America, Route 66.
Route 66 was a 2,000 mile stretch of road launched in 1926 from Chicago to Los Angeles that ultimately became dubbed by author John Steinbeck as “The Mother Road.” Once a main east-west migratory artery across the USA, the original Route 66 has been all but lost to the era of the superhighway. It is however, steeped in Americana – representing the spirit that kept Americans moving ever westward in search of adventure and well, kicks. Over the decades leading into the 1960s it became as much a holiday destination as vital traffic artery. Roadside attractions, small town diners and motor hotels dotted the roadway jammed with families taking kids on what were often their first adventurous journeys away from home.
It is a desire to capture much the same spirit of adventure and discovery that led to a tourism initiative that has become the North Coast 500. In simplest of terms. A scheme to draw visitors, both domestic and international, with cash to spend in local shops, cafes, distilleries and such north of Inverness, to an otherwise often under appreciated part of Scotland where few visitors ventured. Established only a year ago, in 2015, a new economic study has revealed “absolutely incredible results” realized by the region with decades old tourism records being smashed and demand already exceeding capacity.
While Scotland's iconic destinations, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Loch Ness, the Highlands and Islands, still command the majority of tourist attentions and dollars, pounds, euros, etc., proponents of the North Coast 500 argue that this road trip offers all that Scotland is famous for including scenery, castle ruins, quaint visitor friendly villages, world class seafood, distilleries and more.
Whatever the mechanism, the promotion of the North Coast 500 as Scotland's "Route 66" has apparently struck a note. A recent economic impact study revealed some amazing statistics as reported by the "Press and Journal" and others revealed significant results:
•87% of users interviewed (800) were "very satisfied" with the experience and 92% would recommend it to others.
•73% said they "definitely will" and 23% said they "probably will" make the journey again.
•Visitors to Dunnet Bay Distillers, makers of one of Scotland's craft gins, Rock Rose Gin, have increased 5 fold over their year of operations prior to the opening of the NC500, from 20 a week to 100 and sales are 10 times thir projections.. The distillery is now fast tracking plans to expand
•Visitor numbers at Dunrobin Castle in Golspie smashed a 20 year record with operators giving direct credit to the North Coast 500.
Though barely over a year old, there can be little doubt that the North Coast 500 is finding favor with tourists, both domestic and international. Project Manager Kenneth McElroy said it was rewarding in fact to see that the largest number of website inquiries to www.northcoast500.com were from people in Scotland, apparently wanting to learn more about a previously lesser traveled road in their own country.
Now the challenge will be to capitalize and expand on this initial success for the region, to create a sustainable tourism base, while not spoiling the very elements that are calling to people the world over to make the ultimate Scottish road trip on the North Coast 500.
(Note: The song "North Coast Highway" is used with permission from Dave Sheriff. 'North Coast Highway words and music by Dave Sheriff Stomp Music and Publishing')
For more information...
•North Coast 500 (Facebook page)
•Funky Ellas Travel (4-part NC500 travel blog)
•North Coast Highway (song from album "A Good Old Country Song" by Dave Sheriff