New owner for scenic route
North Coast 500 acquired by Danish billionaire landowner
Challenging: the route takes in some spectacular scenery (pic: VisitScotland)
A 500 mile circuit through the Highlands, regarded as Scotland’s answer to America’s Route 66, has been acquired by the country’s biggest private landowner.
Anders Holch Povlsen. the Danish billionaire behind the online fashion retailer Asos, has added the North Coast 500 to his existing estates.
The route was opened in 2015 by the North Highland Initiative, set up by Prince Charles in his capacity as Duke of Rothesay to help boost the local economy.
It runs through Mr Povlsen’s estates and the route is now in the ownership of Wildland Ventures, which invests in projects that enhance the area’s beauty and economic viability.
It describes the North Coast 500, actually a 516 mile circular route, as “the number one touring route in the world,” and says it has brought “very significant economic benefits to the North Highlands since its launch”
On its website it states: “Wildland would wish to build on the opportunities that have been created for communities and businesses. NC500 is an outstanding example of what can be achieved with ambition and entrepreneurial drive and Wildland Ventures support.”
The initiative has been deemed a great success; in its first year luring 29,000 more people who collectively spent £9 million. However, there have been complaints that it has encouraged too much traffic, causes damage to the roads, and that local hostelries not directly on the route are losing business.
The NC500 route
A Highland councillor said earlier this year that visitors tended to stay in the area for only one night when using the route, in contrast with stays of several nights before it opened. Some critics say that encouraging motorists is inconsistent with policies designed to promote clean air.
Mr Povlsen owns more than 221,000 acres of the Highlands, which saw him eclipse the 217,000 acres controlled by the Duke Buccleuch last year. Only public bodies and charities, such as the National Trust, own more land in the UK.
The Dane, who also owns the Bestseller clothing brand, was hit by tragedy in April when three of his four children were killed in the terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka which claimed the lives of 290 people.
Route adds value
Update (4 October): The North Coast 500 boosted the North Highland economy by £22.89 million in gross added value last year, according to new research.
The North Coast 500 evaluation report by the Moffat Centre for Tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University was commissioned by the North Highland Initiative and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
It also found that the iconic touring route had created 180 full-time equivalent jobs in the North Highlands within the same period.
The North Coast 500 has been Scotland’s most successful route development since its launch in 2015.
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.
Glen Docherty, Wester Ross
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, chairman 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.
“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.”