The popularity of the North East 250 road trip among both business members and tourists continues to grow, just over 18 months since its launch.
The driving-route venture set up and led by Speyside’s Guy Macpherson-Grant is targeting a big increase in business members in the months ahead.
The North East 250, which kicked off in November 2017, is giving a welcome shot in the arm to the area’s economy by attracting more visitors from home and abroad.
The 250-mile circular route spans Speyside, the Moray Firth Coast, East Coast, Aberdeen, Royal Deeside and the Cairngorms. It takes in castles, wildlife, coastal villages, beaches, golf courses, mountains, forests and distilleries and is attracting all types of visitors from home and abroad, with even runners and cyclists on a tandem tackling it.
Guy said: “Over the winter period we worked very hard behind the scenes to grow the North East 250. We have partner-level investment for a second consecutive year from Chivas/The Glenlivet and Ballindalloch Castle and Gardens.
“Our wide range of supporters now includes Glenglassaugh Distillery, Gray & Adams of Fraserburgh, and entrepreneur and hotelier Charles Milne.
“Walkers Shortbread is a supporter of the North East 250 for a second consecutive year, as are Aberdeen International Airport and the law firm Turcan Connell.
“We are also in discussions with a number of potential new supporters, and expect to make some announcements regarding them soon.
“We currently have 190 business members and we aim to hit 230 over the coming year, but we hope to achieve even more than that.”
Guy said the feedback from business members has been broadly positive to date. He added: “This year should see more and more people on the route, thus giving business members proof of the North East 250 having an impact and raising its profile.
“The offering to supporters has been enhanced significantly over the last six months and we offer a lot more profile now than we did a year ago.
“Business membership has endless potential in terms of joint marketing activities with other supporters under the umbrella of the North East 250.”
Guy was inspired to launch the road trip following the popularity of the North Coast 500 route, which helps tourists discover the best the Highlands has to offer.
The businessman’s family has had roots in Speyside since the 16th Century and owns Ballindalloch Estate on Speyside. He said it is not easy to place an accurate figure on the numbers of people setting out to enjoy the North East 250.
He explained: “Measuring visitor numbers is notoriously difficult in the tourism industry, especially in the context of a road trip.”
In recent months the North East 250 logo and branding have been refreshed and updated, and the website is also being substantially updated.
Guy added that traffic to the website continues to rise steadily. “Our target audience online is the rest of Scotland and the rest of the UK, with the US being our secondary target audience then European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.
“We have more than doubled the amount of visitors we have to the website over the course of the year, and we will look to judge our performance on how we build up the online traffic over the coming season.
“However, we would like to see an even bigger rise, hence our current application to the VisitScotland Growth Fund to support a digital marketing campaign to increase the visibility of the North East 250 online.
“We have a strategic social media marketing plan and a new social media manager. Our social media marketing strategy is of paramount importance. We encourage all our business members to share their posts and images with us and use our hashtag #NE250 when posting on their own social channels.”
Guy also said that the route has been tweaked to include the new Aberdeen bypass.
He added: “Aberdeen city is one of our official sectors and is very much included as part of the North East 250 proposition.
“Whilst the route doesn’t take in the centre of the city itself, we actively promote the city to potential visitors on social media and would encourage more businesses from the city to become business members and so have a presence on our website.”
Guy has no worries about the wider area being able to cope with extra tourists attracted by the North East 250. There have previously been reports of residents along the North Coast 500 route being unhappy at disruption caused by visitors.
But the businessman said: “I am even more confident than before about there being no capacity problems. It is an entirely different road trip with very distinct roads to that of the North Coast 500. There is a lot of choice in terms of accommodation and experiences for travellers here, and the area is ready to deal with the extra visitors.”
Looking to what the future could hold for the North East 250, Guy said it was being continually developed.
He added: “We are still at the early stages, after just 18 or so months, but our aim is to make the North East 250 a sustainable platform from which to tell anyone who will listen about the great experiences on the driving route for travellers, that the area is an attractive and exciting destination for people to visit.
“The quality and efficacy of relationships between service providers around the North East 250 is key to its success, and we believe the future is very bright for the route.
“There is growing interest in touring and road trips as holiday destinations, and so we need to be increasingly competitive and visible online in order to inspire people to visit here. All of our stakeholders share the common goal of developing the North East 250.”
Guy is investigating the possibilities that the cruise ship industry might bring with the opening of the new Aberdeen South Harbour.
He added: “Also, Teca (The Event Complex Aberdeen) has signed up as a business member.
“By following a collaborative approach and by working with organisations like VisitScotland, VisitAberdeenshire, Cairngorms Business Partnership and Moray Speyside Tourism, the North East 250 will become a sustainable enterprise that benefits all of its stakeholders and provides an excellent visitor experience.”
Leading entrepreneur has high hopes North East 250 will propel the area into the spotlight.
Charles Milne, whose interests include hotels in Banff and Cullen, has given his full backing to the driving route, as he can see the many benefits it could bring.
The businessman said that there is an abundance of features in the region which would be a hit with visitors from other parts of the UK and the world – if only they knew about them.
Buckie-based Charles, who is also a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire, added: “These attractions include magnificent scenery and castles, an abundance of wildlife, great golf courses and the whisky industry.
“But we have had a problem up to now – our corner of Scotland seems to have had difficulty getting the message out loud and clear about what we have to offer to all types of tourists.
“I am just back from a trip to Dubai. Not so long ago, it was just a desert. Yet, in just a matter of years, they have developed it into one of the top tourist centres in the world.
“What they are giving the tourist is mainly a manufactured experience – things like visits to the world’s tallest tower and theme parks.
“But what we have in the north-east is an abundance of natural beauty all around us – something that Dubai can’t offer.”
Charles is confident that the North East 250 will lead to a significant improvement in tourist knowledge about the region.
Despite being a relatively young venture, it has been gaining increasing amounts of media attention, while more users are expected on the road this year.
The businessman said: “One major catalyst could be if the delights of the route are seen on the likes of the popular TV motoring show Top Gear. North East 250 could then really take off.
“But I don’t expect everything to happen overnight. I see it more as a medium-term thing, which could take several years. However, we are definitely moving in the right direction.”
Charles said a successful North East 250 will lead to opportunities for all types of local businesses, new and old.
“I see our scenery and wildlife being among the biggest selling points – guided tours along the coastline to see the stunning views and the seals and dolphins are among ventures which could be really popular.
“But existing enterprises such as hotels, petrol stations, ice-cream shops, cafes and newsagents will also experience an increase in their revenues as more tourists come in.”
And the entrepreneur is not afraid to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to investing in the north-east tourism industry.
He has had a half share in the Banff Springs Hotel for 10 years, and also holds the majority stake in the newly-reopened Seafield Arms Hotel in Cullen.
To date, more than £1 million has been outlaid on upgrading the 36-bedroom Banff Springs and the Seafield is seeing a spend of more than £2 million.
No expense is being been spared on the refurbishment programme at the upmarket Seafield, which has 17 bedrooms and three cottages.
Charles added: “We must have the right hotel accommodation available for those coming along the Moray Firth coast on the North East 250.
“My vision is that the Seafield will attract the high-end tourists, while the Banff Springs will become a destination hotel for those on the route.”
The businessman reported that the current tourist season has got off to an excellent start at the Banff Springs, with an occupancy rate for May of 88.9%.
The Seafield is also proving popular with visitors, as its restaurant is fully booked for all Saturday nights in June.
The businessman added: “I believe that success in tourism in hotels comes down to owners having the confidence to invest. They must deliver the experience the customer is looking for. Expectations are so much higher than in the past.”
Charles is also closely watching what opportunities may come his way after the new Aberdeen South Harbour opens next year.
“There will be bus-loads of tourists coming off the cruise ships looking for interesting places to visit and the villages and towns on our side of the Moray Firth will be only an hour or so away,” he added.