A mad scram­ble is un­der­way to em­u­late the NC500’s suc­cess, dis­cov­ers

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS - Julie Bain

The suc­cess of the NC500 has her­alded a new breed of driv­ing hol­i­day

The re­mark­able eco­nomic suc­cess of the North Coast 500 looks set to spawn a host of copy­cat ver­sions as other ar­eas of Scot­land try to em­u­late the NC500’s phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess. A re­cent re­port com­mis­sioned by High­lands and Is­lands En­ter­prise, a Uni­ver­sity of Glas­gow study es­ti­mated that af­ter its cre­ation in 2015 the NC500 at­tracted 29,000 ad­di­tional visi­tors and £9 mil­lion ad­di­tional spend in the first year. It led to an in­crease of 15-20% in trade among ac­com­mo­da­tion providers and those run­ning vis­i­tor at­trac­tions. Over 26% more tourists vis­ited the area in the year af­ter the route opened, com­pared with a 6% av­er­age in­crease across the High­lands.

Since then the num­bers flock­ing to the NC500 have risen steeply, prompt­ing other ar­eas to seek to em­u­late its suc­cess. The South-West and North-East are both in the process of fol­low­ing the High­lands’ lead, but it is the Cairn­gorms which seems to be lead­ing the charge with its ‘Snow Roads’ project.

Pro­moted by the Cairn­gorms Busi­ness Part­ner­ship (CBP), it builds on the route through the Cairn­gorms which links Blair­gowrie in Perthshire to Gran­town-on-Spey via Glen­shee, Brae­mar, Bal­later and Tom­intoul. The £315,000 project is be­ing pro­moted both in the UK and in­ter­na­tion­ally as a tourist route run­ning through the heart of the Cairn­gorms Na­tional Park.

Jen­nifer Green, who has been ap­pointed to man­age the project, says it will use dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy to en­hance the ex­pe­ri­ence through Poké­mon Go type ap­pli­ca­tions. Dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy will, she says, add to the ex­pe­ri­ence for driv­ers. ‘There will be three or four films us­ing aug­mented and vir­tual re­al­ity,’ she says. ‘Peo­ple will be able to hold their phones over a view­point and stream videos of lo­cal sto­ries and wildlife.’

This dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ence could see you sur­rounded by wild cats and ca­per­cail­lies or wind­ing your way through the hills. There is also a plan to use Google card­board head­sets, where you place your phone in the head­set and look through the eye holes to see a vir­tual re­al­ity video on your phone.

As well as of­fer­ing a unique tourism ex­pe­ri­ence, the part­ner­ship plans to make the tech­nol­ogy work for the com­mu­nity. ‘We will have more tools as the project goes on,’ says Green of the two-year roll­out. ‘We plan to have dig­i­tal work­shops with lo­cal busi­ness and the com­mu­nity to show them how to use the dig­i­tal tool­kit to pro­mote their busi­nesses and in­ter­ests.’

It has al­ready se­cured a grant of £245,000 from Scot­tish

En­ter­prise, topped up by fund­ing from the CBP, work­ing with the Cairn­gorms Na­tional Park Au­thor­ity. The ini­tia­tive falls un­der the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment’s scenic route ini­tia­tive and in a move to en­hance the at­trac­tion of the ‘Snow Roads’ three art in­stal­la­tions have been placed along the route near the Devil’s El­bow in Glen­shee, at a view­point at Cor­garff and the last in Tom­intoul. So far, the feed­back from lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and landown­ers has been pos­i­tive. CBP chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Tate says the devel­op­ment should bring a ‘ma­jor pos­i­tive eco­nomic im­pact on com­mu­ni­ties and busi­nesses on the route’.

At a re­cent event at Glen Ta­nar Es­tate Scott Mor­ri­son, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Dun­robin Cas­tle in Suther­land, high­lighted the ben­e­fits the NC500 has brought to Dun­robin. ‘Our an­nual vis­i­tor num­bers have gone from 67,000 to 85,000 since the North Coast 500 launched and now we have am­bi­tions for fur­ther ex­pan­sion of the cas­tle,’ he said.

But the Snow Route is not the only road in town. In the North East plans are well ad­vanced for a North East 250, a cir­cuit which heads north along the coast from Aberdeen, then takes in the Banff­shire coast be­fore head­ing south from Fochabers to Tom­intoul be­fore head­ing east through Dee­side as it takes in Crathie, Bal­later, Aboyne and Ban­chory.

At the other end of the coun­try, Visit South West Scot­land, a tourism pro­mo­tional group, has also been in­spired by the buzz around the NC500. It has pack­aged three road trips around Dum­fries and Gal­loway in a move to pro­mote the re­gion as a des­ti­na­tion for driv­ers.

The South West Coastal Route 300, a cir­cu­lar 300-mile route that fol­lows the coast­line, tak­ing in the Sol­way coast from Dum­fries to Kirkcud­bright, then over to Glen­luce across to the Mull of Gal­loway Light­house, up to Port­patrick and then onto Gir­van be­fore head­ing in­land through San­quhar back to Dum­fries.

The Burns Coun­try Run, a route of 162 miles, takes you to the birth­place of Robert Burns in Al­loway, near Ayr and on to Dum­fries where he spent his fi­nal years. Fi­nally, the Scot­tish Cas­tle Route, 250 miles of stun­ning coun­try­side with more than a dozen cas­tles and abbeys to visit en route, in­clud­ing Car­doness Cas­tle, Gate­house of Fleet, and Lochmaben Cas­tle near Locker­bie.

Mal­colm Roug­head, chief ex­ec­u­tive of VisitS­cot­land, said it would help pro­mote these routes, point­ing out that in re­cent years there has been an in­creas­ing in­ter­est in road trip style hol­i­days, not just among North Amer­i­can and Euro­pean con­sumers, both of whom are fa­mil­iar with long-dis­tance driv­ing be­tween neigh­bour­ing states or coun­tries, but amongst do­mes­tic tourists too. In par­tic­u­lar, what VisitS­cot­land call ‘fluid itin­er­ary travel’, where peo­ple aim for more flex­i­bil­ity in trip plan­ning, is driv­ing growth in road trip tourism.

There are yet more scenic routes that are pop­u­lar with road trip tourists but yet to re­ceive the pack­ag­ing and mar­ket­ing treat­ment lav­ished on the NC500. These in­clude trips such as the High­land Tourist Route, which stretches through the North West High­lands ‘Geop­ark’; the Perthshire Tourist Route, which starts just north of Dunblane and takes you to Ballinluig; and the Bor­ders His­toric Route, which starts south of the bor­der and winds its way to Ed­in­burgh call­ing in at pop­u­lar sights such as Sir Wal­ter Scott’s for­mer home, Ab­bots­ford House.

It is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict ex­actly what ben­e­fits the pro­mo­tion and pack­ag­ing of these routes would bring. It is clear, how­ever, that ev­ery area of Scot­land be­lieves it can ben­e­fit from the sort of clever mar­ket­ing that has turned the NC500 into ‘Scot­land’s route 66’.

Pre­vi­ous page: The Snow Route through the Cairn­gorms. The vil­lage of Rock­cliffe, part of the South West Coastal 300. Above:

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