North Coast 500 route has increased tourist numbers
The North Coast 500 scenic route brought 29,000 more visitors to the Highlands and added £9m to the region's economy, according to a new study.
The research carried out by University of Glasgow Training and Employment Research Unit examined the first year of the route.
The North Coast 500 route, also known as the NC500, stretches for more than 500 miles.
It was launched in 2015 by the North Highland Initiative.
The NC500 features roads in the Black Isle, Caithness, Sutherland and Wester Ross.
It includes several challenging ascents and descents, including the Bealach-na-Ba at Applecross. The unclassified road rises to about 626m (2,053ft) over about four miles (8km).
The research commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) suggests:
- A 26% average rise in visitor numbers to the areas of the Highlands involved, compared to a 6% increase across the rest of the region
- Volume of traffic on the route rose by 10%
- Accommodation providers and visitor attractions along the NC500 had an average 15-20% increase in trade
Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: "I welcome the very positive impact the North Coast 500 has had on the tourism economy in the Highlands.
"Today's report shows the route is already delivering for the north of Scotland and has tremendous potential to further benefit the communities it serves, encourage more investment in tourism facilities, stimulate jobs and expand the tourism season."
HIE has established a partnership including Police Scotland, Transport Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Highland Council, VisitScotland and other interests to "ensure the route is developed in a sustainable way".
David Oxley, HIE's director of business and sector development, said: "This study suggests the NC500 has very quickly had a positive impact in the north Highlands.
"Through working collectively with businesses and communities along the route, North Highland Initiative have created a distinct and exciting tourism product.
"It's a product that has helped promote some of Scotland's most stunning scenery to a global audience, whilst also providing a further boost for the Highlands and Islands' growing tourism sector."