IN AN unlikely spin-off from the gloom of the economic downturn growing numbers of people are choosing to invest in the nation’s flagship culture and heritage attractions, The Scotsman can reveal.
National heritage organisation Historic Scotland has reported an almost 50 per cent increase in its members – with the number at an all-time high of more than 130,000.
And it is expected the figure will grow even more in the next few years due to a trend of potential visitors looking to spend their money more wisely on leisure activities.
The surge in members is a significant boost for Historic Scotland as it grapples with a 30 per cent budget cut from the Scottish Government in the next few years.
Also benefiting is the National Trust for Scotland which has seen its membership grow by nearly three per cent since 2009, despite a controversial cost-cutting programme over the few years and visitor numbers being badly affected by “foul weather” during peak periods.
More than two million people visited Historic Scotland’s three flagship sites alone last year – Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Urquhart Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness.
A spokeswoman for Historic Scotland said: “Scottish consumers are continuing to look for value for money and an increase in schemes such as membership is certainly one of the ways that this is demonstrated.
“In the past five years, our membership numbers have increased by 45 per cent, with membership numbers currently at an all time high. Given the ongoing economic challenges, it’s certainly a trend that we would anticipate seeing continuing for the foreseeable future.”
“Numbers are particularly strong for family membership which offers particularly good value at less than £7 a month and gives access to 78 ticketed attractions across Scotland for up to two adults and six children.”
The National Galleries of Scotland, which charges £40-a-head for its scheme, said it had sold a record number of memberships last year, with the figure 17 per cent up on the previous 12 months. It now has 7,650 “friends”, more than 30 per cent up on just four years ago.
National Museums Scotland said it had experienced a 25 per cent increase in its memberships sold in the last year alone, to a record high of almost 10,000, with the number of new members more than trebling over the last couple of years. Members paying around £32 can get unlimited entry to major exhibitions.
The National Trust for Scotland admitted the number of paying visitors to its properties was down to 439,050 last year – a drop of 4 per cent since 2009. However, the number of actual memberships rose 3 per cent in that same period, to 312,000.
Henk Berits, director of marketing, said: “We have certainly seen good growth in membership over the past year.”