THE North Coast 500 tourist route will need strong support from the public sector to ensure its long-term sustainability, according to tourism minister Fiona Hyslop.
Ms Hyslop was speaking in Inverness today after attending a meeting of the North Coast 500 Working Group.
The group includes officials from public sector bodies across the north who have joined forces to develop a co-ordinated support plan for the route.
The NC500, a 500-mile route around the north of Scotland, was launched in 2015 by the North Highland Initiative.
A report commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) estimated it attracted 29,000 visitors and £9 million additional spend in its first year.
The study also highlighted challenges to ensure long term success of the route.
These include maintaining the condition of the roads, ensuring sufficient parking, waste facilities and public toilets, and continued efforts to encourage better driving.
Anticipated increased demand for labour will be another challenge, with earlier reports suggesting the NC500 could create upwards of 200 jobs.
Speaking after the meeting, Ms Hyslop said:
"The NC 500 is an excellent example of an innovative project, driven by industry, that is boosting the tourism economy in the Highlands.
"The role of public sector bodies in ensuring the longer term sustainability of the route is crucial.
"We need to make sure the benefits are shared by communities and business across the north and that the high quality experience for those travelling the route is maintained.
"I am pleased that Highlands and Islands Enterprise is actively sharing its experiences of the NC500 route with other interested groups around the country."
The NC500 Woking Group is chaired by Roy Kirk, Caithness and Sutherland area manager with HIE, who said: "We have already had interest from other parts of the country, notably the south west, Arran and North Ayrshire. It would be great if the success of the could be replicated in other areas.
"We’re all very keen to share our experiences of the route, the benefits and the challenges, and will continue to meet with interested groups around the country."