Scotland's far north prepares for staycation boom after lockdown
It’s thought the North Coast 500 road trip, which this month celebrates its fifth anniversary, will prove a magnet for visitors when travel around the country is allowed to resume.
The 516-mile route, which winds its way along the coastal edges of the northern Highlands, taking in the regions of Wester Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Easter Ross, the Black Isle and Inverness-Shire, has been a runaway success since its launch in 2015.
It is now considered to be among the world’s greatest road trips and has regularly been voted number one.
Tom Campbell, chairman of North Coast 500, said: “Seismic change in how Scots and other UK nations holiday as a result of Covid-19 could result in a staycation boom, helping to ensure the success of the NC500, businesses and communities along the route continues through difficult times.
“Airline-based holidays look likely to be significantly more expensive if they are even possible.
“I think we’ll see more UK visitors heading to Scotland, and driving and cycling will be the way people will want to take their holidays.
“The NC500 is ideally suited to that. The open spaces, the fresh air and all the things that make the route special haven’t changed – the seascapes are still there, the landscape is still amazing, the food from sea and land, and the infrastructure is still there.
“Covid-19 has meant we have had to hit the pause button, but all the reasons that made NC500 the number one route in the world have not changed.”
What started out as an initiative to bring some fresh opportunities to the area was last year estimated to have boosted the Scottish economy by £22.89 million and created around 179 full-time jobs.
Room occupancy for hotels and bed and breakfasts has soared from around 52 per cent to around 80 per cent, with room rates almost doubling in price.
Attractions from distilleries to museums, restaurants, shops, campsites and castles have all reported large increases in visitor numbers.
People have been warned not to travel to the Highlands during lockdown, but businesses along the route are confident visitors will return as soon as it’s safe to do so.
“Since the lockdown we’ve had no visitors to the garden and no guests staying in our holiday cottages, so life in Wester Ross is very quiet indeed,” said Joanna Macpherson, from Attadale Gardens, on the shores of Loch Carron.
“People will want the wide-open spaces to explore. It’s easier to socially distance here, it really is.
“The gardens are large and beyond the gardens there are miles to walk in without having to encounter others, as well as two Munros to bag up the hill.
“The North Highlands are spectacular, and people will want to escape into the country to explore after having been locked down for so long.”
Martin Murray, from Dunnet Bay Distillery in Caithness, agrees.
He said: “There’s nothing high here, we have wide open skies and the horizon. We’re north of nowhere, right on the north coast, at the most northerly point.”
Campbell added: “Despite the massive upheaval and change happening in our daily lives, the outstanding natural beauty, wide open green spaces and clean fresh air remains a key part of what makes the North Coast 500 so special and attracts so many visitors every year.
“The pandemic has changed the world, but given the opportunity I will always bet on human endeavour. The world will recover. Travel and tourism will reinvent itself, but the future may look drastically different. We will each have the chance to create a much better place.”
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