A motorhome hire company has told customers to stay away from the NC500 amid claims vehicles have been egged and had tyres slashed.
Tensions on the tourist trail have escalated this year amid a rise in staycation visitors.
Residents have frequently complained about congestion and mess left behind by campervans across the north.
Now similar fears have led Perth-based firm Scottish Tourer Motorhome Hire telling its customers to stay away from the NC500.
Owner Gordon Murray has heard more and more complaints from visitors heading north about congestion and crumbling roads in recent years.
However, after receiving reports of his vehicles being targeted, he has urged customers to stay away from the area while offering alternative scenic drives.
NC500 officials have condemned anti-social behaviour from a minority of people on the route – but stressed anyone experiencing it should report it to the police.
Meanwhile, the operators say their own research shows a “significant number” of visitors are already planning return trips after enjoying their visit.
‘It’s too busy for them to have a good time’
Mr Murray reports his motorhomes have been egged and had cartons of yogurt thrown over them.
Two have also had tyres slashed during the summer with the most recent happening near Thurso about three weeks ago.
A notice on his firm’s website now urges customers to “avoid” the NC500 due to the roads being “crammed” with tourists amid a “huge influx” of motorhomes.
It describes the route as a “victim of its own success” with the area’s “delicate infrastructure” unable to cope.
Mr Murray said: “The feedback we’ve been getting from our customers is that they’ve not had a particularly great time there.
“We noticed it a bit last year, when a few said it wasn’t particularly great, and this year it has progressed.
“For them, it’s the amount of motorhomes and tourists on the route – it’s just too busy for them to have a good time.”
‘It makes you embarrassed to be Scottish’
Now Mr Murray, who has been in the business since 1986, has urged holiday-makers to seek their Scottish outdoor experience elsewhere.
He said: “The last tyre got slashed about three weeks ago. The customers only thought it had gone flat, they didn’t realise it had been slashed.
“When someone came out to fix it they said it was now quite a common occurrence.
“We also had a motorhome egged just south of Thurso, they had pulled into a lay-by and a car went past and threw eggs.
“Normally, 60% to 70% of our customers are from overseas but this year it is 85% to 90% from England, mainly the south of England.
“It’s quite embarrassing when customers come back and say they have had problems, it makes you embarrassed to be Scottish, which is why we’re asking customers to look elsewhere.”
‘You can’t blame the locals’
A series of alternative routes have been devised by Scottish Tourer Motorhome Hire for motorists eager to avoid the crowds.
Mr Murray reported “good experiences” are still to be found on the west coast between Oban and Ullapool as well as on the Moray coast between Elgin and Cullen.
He reported the majority of negative experiences reported by customers were in the far north – but also sympathised with their plight.
Mr Murray said: “You can’t really blame the locals when they get upset about it.
“We thought about it and decided this is getting to the stage where too many people are saying they are not enjoying their holidays – and we want people to have a good time.
“There are other parts of Scotland to enjoy and Perth up to Oban and Ullapool then back to Inverness is probably now our most popular route.”
NC500 expects visitors to keep returning
NC500 officials have encouraged motorists to slow down while driving and to stay only in designated sites while travelling along the route.
Meanwhile, visitors have been encouraged to dispose of their own waste to ensure the area remains as beautiful for those who follow.
Craig Mills, the NC500’s head of operations, expects visitors to keep returning after enjoying their time in the north.
He said: “NC500 continues to work with our industry partners to focus on responsible and sustainable tourism, actively encouraging visitors to spend more time exploring the region by showcasing the wild, rugged and varied landscapes of the north Highlands.
“We urge visitors to slow down, explore away from the beaten track and focus on wellbeing experiences as part of their travels, such as walking, hiking and swimming, whilst being mindful of their environmental impact.
“Our most recent NC500 visitor survey shows that a significant number of visitors are already rescheduling their plans to visit the NC500 in 2021 and beyond.
“This really is a positive sign for the re-emergence of the tourism industry in the north Highlands. We look forward to welcoming back visitors from all parts of Scotland and the rest of the UK.”