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An Evaluation of Scotland's National Tourist Routes - Research Findings

DescriptionThis study examined the effectiveness of the tourist routes in encouraging a wider spread of tourist traffic and the awareness of tourists of the routes.
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 29, 1998
An Evaluation of Scotland's National Tourist Routes

Colin Buchanan & Partners

ISBN 0-7480-2935-4Publisher The Scottish OfficePrice £5.00
Scotland's National Tourist Routes (NTRs) provide alternative routes to the busy primary trunk roads and motorways linking major destinations. The routes are designed to encourage a wider spread of tourist traffic away from trunk roads and mototways, and are signposted with distinctive white lettering on a brown background with the white thistle logo.
There are 10 separate tourist routes located throughout Scotland, starting on the Border at Gretna and going as far north as Lairg in Sutherland. Each route is different in length and character, but they all incorporate a significant range of visitor attractions, accommodation and services, including tourist information, along their length.
An evaluation of the NTRs was conducted in Summer 1994. This study examined the effectiveness of the routes in encouraging a wider spread of tourist traffic and the awareness of tourists of the routes and of the promotional material produced by the Scottish and Area Tourist Boards.
Main findings
  • There was a high level of awareness of the National Tourist Routes amongst the tourists and leisure drivers surveyed.
  • The advance signing for the NTRs was an important means of informing tourists about the existence of NTRs.
  • There was confusion regarding the 'brown thistle' repeater signs on the NTRs and the 'blue thistle' attractions signs amongst tourists.
  • There is evidence to suggest that NTRs are successful in attracting tourists away from the primary road network. Significant numbers of tourists used the NTRs for a 'scenic' drive.
  • The majority of holidaymakers plan their routes well in advance and the NTR signs had little effect in attracting tourists spontaneously onto the NTRs.
  • Greater promotion of the NTRs could be achieved through the inclusion of details of the routes on a greater range of road and tourist maps.
Methodology and objectives
The evaluation was conducted by means of roadside interviews with tourist and leisure drivers, and extended face to face interviews with tourists visiting Tourist Information Centres (TICS) and tourist attractions along the NTRS. An assessment of the availability and nature of the promotional material produced by the Scottish and Area Tourist Boards in support of the NTRS was also conducted.
The roadside interviews were conducted at 9 different sites on a sample of NTRS and primary routes parallel to NTRS. The routes included in the survey were:-
  • Borders NTR (Northbound only)
  • Clyde Valley NTR (North and South bound)
  • Argyll NTR (North and South bound)
  • Moray Firth NTR (North and South bound)
  • A82 primary route (Northbound only)
  • A9 primary route (Northbound only).
A total of 2600 interviews were conducted at the roadside and a further 430 interviews were conducted at a sample of TICS and tourist attractions along the routes included in the study.
The specific objectives of the study were:-
  • To examine the effectiveness of NTRS in encouraging a wider spread of tourist traffic away from trunk roads and motorways.
  • To examine the awareness of tourists travelling on the NTRS of their existence.
  • To assess the availability of promotional material produced by the Scottish Tourist Board and the Area Tourist Board in relation to the NTRS.
  • To assess the attitudes of tourists towards that promotional material.
The surveys found significant volumes of tourists on all the routes covered. Tourist traffic typically accounted for 10-15% of all vehicles. About 65% of those interviewed were on holiday (ie spending a night away from home) and 35% on day trips. Nearly 80% of the holidaymakers had visited Scotland before and nearly 70% had previously visited the area in which they were interviewed. A large percentage of all tourists were therefore familiar with the road network and area.
Awareness of NTRs
Those driving on a Tourist Route were asked if they were aware that the road they were travelling on was part of an NTR. Those using the primary route were asked if they were aware of the alternative NTR.
Table 1 shows the results for the different routes.
Table 1
% of respondents aware of National Tourist Route

% Aware



Clyde Valley North


Clyde Valley South


Argyll North


Argyll South


Moray Firth North


Moray Firth South


Argyll Primary


Moray Firth Primary


All Sample


More than half of tourists using Primary and Tourist Routes were aware of the NTR network. More than half knew of NTRs from previous visits or use, but a significant percentage (37%) of all interviewed knew about the routes because of the white on brown signing.
Awareness of the NTRs amongst tourists interviewed at TICS and visitor attractions was greater than that of those interviewed in the roadside surveys. A total of 75% of those interviewed were aware of the NTR network. 32% of respondents had become aware of the NTRs on their current holiday. The majority (82%) of those aware of NTRs said that they had become aware of the NTRs through their signing.
Promotional material
NTRs are promoted by signing, leaflets, articles in travel magazines and advice provided by TIC staff.
The surveys of a sample of TICS throughout Scotland revealed that information on the NTRs was available either on display or on request from the staff. At one third of those visited there was a static display panel on the NTRs. It was evident that the NTR promotional literature is just part of a huge choice of TICS. Tourists surveyed on the quality of the NTR literature, generally felt that the standard was good and that they were effective in relaying information on the NTRs.
A quarter of those interviewed at the roadside had visited a Tourist Information Centre whilst on holiday and 14% claimed to be in possession of promotional literature relating to one of the NTRs. Of those interviewed at TICs or tourist attractions, the majority had collected literature from the TIC, although only 7% claimed to have picked up a leaflet relating to an NTR. The quality of the leaflet was good and they were understood and well received by those surveyed.
Reasons for using NTRs
The roadside survey of tourists investigated the reasons why they had chosen their specific route. A significant proportion of those tourists interviewed on the tourist routes (57%) were using the route because it was the fastest/most direct route to their destination. This contrasted with 75% of those on the primary routes giving this explanation. Some 37% of tourists on the NTRs were using the route as a scenic drive or to visit a particular attraction.
Over 90% of all tourists planned their route before setting out. The scope for diverting them onto NTRs either by signing or the distribution of leaflets is therefore limited. Nevertheless 5% of those on NTRs had chosen them as a result of seeing the sign and 4% on the spur of the moment.
Those interviewed at TICS and attractions were asked what they were looking for in a tourist route. The main features are set out in Table 2.
Table 2
Important features of a tourist route



a lot


a little




Lighter traffic than main route




Attractive scenery




Tourist attractions




Special theme




Good accommodation & food




Each NTR is signed using white lettering on a brown background with a white thistle. The advance signs for an NTR are located on the primary route prior to the start of the route. Once on the route drivers follow the NTR repeater signs which consist only of the white thistle on the brown background. Recognition of the advance signs by respondents on the NTRS was high at 72%, compared with (50%) for those travelling on primary routes. Respondents were asked about their understanding of the repeater signs. Table 2 gives the responses for both the roadside and the extended surveys.
Table 3
Understanding of repeater signs







Roadside survey





Primary Route





Survey at TIC/Attraction





Partially correct answers relate to answers where tourism was mentioned but no direct link made to the NTRS. Many tourists incorrectly thought that the brown thistle sign was synonymous with the blue thistle sign relating to tourist attractions.
Summary and conclusions
Awareness of National Tourist Routes is relatively high and they are used by a significant volume of tourist traffic, including both holidaymakers and daytrippers. Most of these tourists decide on their routes prior to setting out, and therefore signing alone does not have a significant impact on route choice. However the advance signing for NTRs was noticed by a high proportion of tourists and provides important directional information. The 'brown thistle' repeater signs were less helpful, with many tourists not knowing what they meant or confusing them with tourist attraction signs.
The study suggests that promotional material has a much smaller effect in informing tourists of the availability of BTRs than either signing or previous experience. The main point of distribution for leaflets were Tourist Information Centres, but these had been visited by only a minority of the tourists surveyed, and fewer than 10% were in possession of a leaflet.
The study indicated that the most attractive features of an NTR for tourists were scenery, tourist attractions, avoiding heavy traffic on the main road, and good accommodation and food. Theming of NTRs was not considered important.
Since most tourists decide their route before setting out, the most effective way of increasing usage is to influence the journey planning process. Signing already does this to some extent since many tourists had travelled the routes before and seen the signs. Leaflets also contribute since 40% said they consulted travel books, guides, brochures or leaflets on tourist attractions. The major source of information not currently used to promote tourist routes is the map or road atlas. Incorporating NTR information in these is likely to be a significant way of increasing their use.
"An Evaluation of Scotland's National Tourist Routes", the research report summarised in this Research Findings, may be purchased (price £5 per copy).
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