SCOTLAND’S tourism industry has received a major boost after Edinburgh held on to its crown as the most popular city in the UK with international visitors outwith London.
Arch-rival Manchester has been held at bay by Scotland’s capital, which brought in 1.3 million overseas visitors in 2013.
The city attracted an extra 50,000 foreign tourists in 2013, keeping it in front of Manchester, which attracted 988,000 visitors.
London was well ahead of both cities, with 16.7 million visitors last year, while Glasgow was in sixth place, behind Birmingham and Liverpool.
However Glasgow, which saw a decrease of 6,000 overseas visitors in 2013, is expected to reap a major boost this year thanks to it hosting the Commonwealth Games and other major events such as the MTV Europe Music Awards and BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony.
Two other Scottish cities made the top 20 list of UK destinations for foreign tourists, with Aberdeen the 16th most popular city attracting 241,000 visitors. Inverness made it to the 17th spot with 226,000 overseas tourists.
The figures showed Scotland was outperforming the rest of the UK when it came to attracting overseas visitors last year, with both visitor numbers and spending increasing north of the Border, despite a slight decline in the number of domestic visitors coming to Scotland.
The figures for overseas visitors were revealed by Visit- Britain chiefs, who said they wanted to ensure that more international tourists ventured outside London.
The research – which is based on foreign visits involving at least one overnight stay – found that overseas visitors spent a record £21 billion in the UK last year – up 17 per cent on 2012.
The lucrative overseas market was responsible for 32.8 million visits to the UK – an increase of 5.6 per cent on 2012.
Visits for holiday purposes rose 6.4 per cent to a record 12.72 million, while business visits were up 7 per cent to 7.94 million. The number of overseas visitors coming to Scotland rose by 9.8 per cent last year, compared to an 8.6 per cent increase in London.
Spending by overseas tourists in Scotland rose by almost 20 per cent last year, to nearly £1.7bn, compared to the previous 12 months.
In contrast, the number of domestic visits – from around the UK – was down by 4.9 per cent, although spending was down just 0.1 per cent.
VisitBritain strategy director Patricia Yates said: “We need to encourage people to come back time after time, which in turn will mean our visitors venture out across Britain.”
VisitScotland has hailed the performance of the overseas market last year as a major “bounce back” for the industry following a slump in 2012.
Its experts have cited the addition of air routes from major airports as a major boost, along with “increased confidence” in key overseas markets.
VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay said: “As we move into an action-packed summer for Scotland with the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, and a staggering 830 events under the Homecoming Programme, Scotland is in a perfect position to exploit tourism as a key driver of the Scottish economy.”