A brilliant piece of marketing christened a road which had existed for decades as Scotland’s answer to Route 66, and it has attracted 29,000 additional visitors and £9 million additional spending in its first year.

A new report shows that the North Coast 500 (NC500) tourist route, launched in 2015, has had a positive impact on both visitor numbers and Highland businesses.

Earlier research estimated more than 200 jobs could be created, but its success raises challenges for public authorities.

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The 516-mile route starts and ends at Inverness Castle, and takes in some of the most stunning scenery in the land up the west coast, along the north of the mainland and down the east.

The study commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), was carried out by the Glasgow University's Training and Employment Research Unit. It showed an average 26 per cent increase in visitor numbers since the route opened.

This compares with a 6 per cent average increase across the Highlands.

Traffic data also reveals that volumes along the route were up by some 10 per cent.

The study included interviews with accommodation providers and visitor attractions along the route, which identified an average 15 to 20 per cent increase in trade.

It is recognised that other factors would have contributed to this growth, given it was a generally strong year for tourism in Scotland and the Highlands.

However, according to HIE the findings from the study, coupled with the results from a previous survey of businesses on the route, indicate that the NC500 has been a major driver of recent increases.

But the challenges include maintaining the condition of the route, ensuring sufficient parking, waste facilities and public toilets, and continued efforts to encourage better driving.

The report also highlighted the increased demand for labour.

Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop said:

“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. I look forward to continuing to work with HIE and other partners to strengthen the growth we’re seeing as a result of the NC500’s introduction.”

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.

"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.

“With the NC500’s popularity set to be sustained over the coming years, it is crucial that we understand the impact it has on communities and businesses."

NC 500 was the brainchild of the North Highland Initiative (NHI), which followed efforts by Prince Charles to bring together the farming community, local businesses and the tourism industry in Caithness. He used to regularly visit the county to see his grandmother in the Castle of Mey.