The head of the North Coast 500 (NC500) has revealed major changes to the organisation, aimed at ensuring the tourism initiative’s massive initial success continues.
The limited company has separated from the Caithness-based rural development body that launched it and set up new offices in Inverness, close to the start of the now world-famous 500-mile coastal road route.
Yesterday, managing director Tom Campbell said the main aim of the eight-strong team was the “monetisation of the brand to ensure its longevity and sustainability,” to continue benefiting communities around the route.
Starting and ending at Inverness Castle, the NC500 is a 516-mile scenic journey around the north of Scotland. Branding it and marketing it as a tourist experience akin to America’s famous Route 66 was the idea of the North Highland Initiative (NHI), a body set up with the involvement of Prince Charles to address challenges facing rural communities in the far north.
Launched in March 2015, the concept proved an almost instant success, attracting visitors from across the globe, and seeing it named among the top five coastal routes in the world by travel journalists the same year.
North Coast 500 Ltd is in the process of moving from its original base in NHI’s Wick offices to its new headquarters in Old Edinburgh Road, Inverness. Mr Campbell has stepped down from his role as NHI chief executive to concentrate his efforts on the company, which has also just appointed a new general manager.
Mr Campbell said: “Traditionally tourism initiatives are publicly funded, but there is a fundamental flaw to that model. Critical to that is availability of public funding.
“I knew that what we needed was something that was going to be sustainable and did not rely on public money for its core funding.
“We need to find the golden egg that is monetisation of the brand to ensure its longevity and sustainability for three years, five years, a decade.”
The company this week secured the European trademark to add to the UK ones it holds for the North Coast 500 and NC500 names.
It offers membership packages, ranging in price form £15 to £250, recently launched a clothing range in conjunction with major brand Jack & Jones and sells branded items including mugs, tote bags and magnets.
“For us to be here in three to 10 years time, we need to use the collateral of the trademarks to ensure we continue to promote it,” Mr Campbell said.
He added: “When you actually see figures showing the difference the NC500 is making to to businesses around the route it makes me smile.
“Businesses are staying open later in the season and are taking people on. That is why North Coast 500 has to be here. If we are not, this will be like every other tourism initiative – it will dissipate.”
He added that the company would continue to work “hand in glove with NHI.”