THE ROAD TRIP FRENZY
A mad scramble is underway to emulate the NC500’s success, discovers
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’.
The Snow Route through the Cairngorms. The village of Rockcliffe, part of the South West Coastal 300. Above: