The popularity of “ancestral tourism” off the back of hit TV show Outlander, combined with an increase in direct air routes has boosted tourism to Scotland from North America by almost a fifth, new figures have shown.
Official data revealed that Edinburgh is the second most popular city for overseas visitors in the UK after London, while the overall number of international tourists visiting Scotland rose by six per cent last year. Glasgow was also in the top ten, ranked as the sixth most popular UK destination.
However, the number of visitors from the “EU15” European countries - the mainly western European nations which joined the European Union before the 2004 expansion, dipped by almost four per cent - due, experts said, to increased competition from destinations such as Iceland and Scandinavia.
Overall spending from countries in the EU in Scotland was down by six per cent to £833 million, which tourism chiefs said could be attributed to an increase in self-drive holidays across Europe and a "more cautious" approach to spending because of the geo-political situation.
The report, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), added that more visits from other EU countries such as Poland and Romania were in the “VFR” - or “visiting friends and relatives” category due to the large numbers of people from those countries living in Scotland - which could account for lower spending on the part of their friends and family due to cheaper accommodation costs.
VisitScotland chief executive, Malcolm Roughead said: “A growing interest in ancestral tourism, which in part has been fuelled by the success of the hit television series Outlander, as well as increased airline capacity, has continued to see visitors from North America coming here in large numbers.
“Tourism is more than a holiday experience - it creates jobs and sustains communities in every corner of Scotland all year round. Thanks to the hard work of tourism businesses across the country, we are on track to reach the industry’s Tourism Scotland 2020 target to generate economic growth.”
Visitors from overseas spent an extra £155 million during their stay – an increase of nine per cent compared with the previous year.
Scotland’s increase compares with a four per cent rise in overseas visits and a two per cent hike in overseas expenditure for the UK as a whole.
VisitScotland said that growth from North America could be attributed to an increase in airline capacity between North America and Scotland, with airlines such as Delta, Icelandair, Air Canada Rouge, Air Transit and WOW contributing a further 90,000 seats throughout 2016.
Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “These figures underline Scotland’s appeal as a world-class tourism destination and are a credit to our tourism industry’s hard work to attract and welcome more than 2.7 million overseas visitors last year.”