North Coast 500 'boosted Highland economy by £22m'
The North Coast 500 generated £22.8m for the north Highlands' economy last year, according to new research.
Also known as the NC500, the 516 mile-long (830km) touring route takes in a network of roads around the region's north, east and west coasts.
The study by Glasgow Caledonian University's Moffat Centre for Tourism also reported 180 new jobs were created in 2018 linked to the route.
The NC500 was launched as a tourism concept in 2015.
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According to the study, north Highlands tourism businesses such as tour operators and camper van rental firms reported year-on-year growth of 16% from 2014-2018.
An additional £13.4m in sales was also generated for accommodation, attraction and retail businesses on or near the route in 2018.
Other findings from the study included a 19.9% increase in visitors to free admission attractions, while paid admission attractions benefitted from a 41.7% boost in visitor numbers.
The route was also credited with a rise in room occupancy throughout the north Highlands - going up from 52% in 2014 to 78% in 2018.
Prof John Lennon, the report's lead author, is an unpaid director at North Coast 500 Ltd, a company that promotes the route.
£22.8mMoney generated for the north Highlands economy in 2018
180new jobs created
19.9%more visitors to free attractions
David Whiteford, chairman of the North Highland Initiative, said one of the aims of setting up the route was to stimulate economic growth.
He said: "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."
'Also a warning'
The study was commissioned by North Highland Initiative and development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Since 2015, concerns have been raised about increased traffic on its roads, particularly stretches of single-track.
Three years ago, Highlands Labour MSP David Stewart said the route was an important economic driver but added that there were road safety and maintenance issues to be considered.
He said the route needed a 10 year-long strategic plan to ensure the roads involved could cope with increased traffic.
Following the latest research, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone said: "The NC500 has provided a brilliant boost to the far north, benefitting local hotels and businesses, creating jobs and showcasing the beautiful part of the world we live in.
"However, this report is also a warning. The significant growth we are seeing must be well managed and not be at the expense of local communities."