Papal visit: Scots slow to capitalise on the Benedict bounce

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THE Scottish Government and VisitScotland have been urged to capitalise on the massive publicity generated by the Pope's visit, which saw joyful scenes from Bellahouston Park make headlines around the world.

• Pope Benedict XVI travels along Edinburgh's main thoroughfare, Princes Street. Pic: Jane Barlow

As the Catholic Church attempts to build on the legacy of the first papal visit for 28 years, VisitScotland acknowledged that Benedict XVI's Scottish sojourn would increase visitor numbers.

But the tourism agency admitted there were no specific plans to market Scotland on the back of the unrivalled coverage for Scotland that saw one billion television viewers tune into Thursday's event.

A VisitScotland spokeswoman said that, according to the agency's visitor attraction monitor, tourist visits to places of worship in 2009 were 1.5 million, up by 10 per cent on 2008.

"The visit has reminded everyone that religious tourism is a very valuable market," the spokeswoman said. "This is not just about one religious figure, this is something that we are noticing that people are increasingly interested in."


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When asked whether there were any specific initiatives to use the Pope's visit to sell Scotland to tourists, the spokeswoman admitted that none had been planned yet.

Similarly, the Scottish Government, when asked the same question, was unable to name any examples of how it intended to capitalise on the visit.

Even so, civic leaders in Glasgow estimated that the city had an immediate cash boost of 4.25 million as a direct result of the open-air mass attended by 70,000 worshippers.

However, there were calls yesterday for more to be done in order to secure more long-lasting spin-offs from a visit that was judged a huge success, despite the criticisms of the Catholic Church's handling of the child sex abuse scandal and its stance on contraception and abortion, which had been heard before the pontiff came to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

"Now there is a great opportunity for Scotland to build on the publicity, and it should be followed up," said Lewis MacDonald, Labour tourism spokesman.

"I was listening to one of the London-based radio stations and the coverage was extremely positive about Scotland and a lot of tourists come here from south of the Border.

"Clearly, the day had particular significance for Catholics, but it wasn't just the religious aspect, it was also the way that Scotland received and welcomed the Pope."Personally, I think it would be a very good thing for VisitScotland to consider following up and making sure there are longer-term benefits on what was a very special day."

There have already been informal discussions about the possibility of erecting some sort of monument in Bellahouston Park to commemorate Benedict XVI's trip and that of his predecessor, John Paul II, in 1982.

Any such proposal would probably be funded by public subscription rather than local authority money, given the economic difficulties that the country faces.

The Catholic Church has plans to introduce the Pope's homily, which included a call to take on "aggressive secularism", to the curriculum in Catholic schools. The homily will also be taught in Catholic parishes, as the Church attempts to maximise the legacy of the papal visit.

It is hoped the enthusiasm generated by the Pope will increase the number of young men called to the priesthood.

Five years ago, the number of trainee priests in Scotland recruited that year fell to just two. Since then, numbers have risen and 33 have been recruited this year.

"Before he came to Scotland, we had already seen a Benedict bounce," said Peter Kearney, of the Catholic Church. "There is also this sense of renewal and enthusiasm, and the impact will be felt from afar.

"We are hopeful that the increase in vocations to the priesthood will be accelerated and will continue.

"The decline in mass attendance does seem to be levelling off, but we hope that, with so many people having seen the Pope face to face, the impact of that will be even greater."

The Church is encouraging people to form their own prayer and study groups to strengthen their faith.

"Yesterday was all about enjoyment, but we need to build on the legacy he has left behind," Mr Kearney added.

When asked if there were any plans to market Scotland on the back of the pontiff's visit, a Scottish Government spokesman referred The Scotsman to VisitScotland, and added: "We believe that a lasting legacy of Pope Benedict's visit to Scotland should be a rededicated commitment to the inclusive nature of modern Scottish society, where people of different faiths can come together, respecting each other's badges of identity, in order to work towards a better society for all."

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