SCOTLAND’s tourism industry has been bailed out by “staycationers” after it emerged that there were 10,000 fewer overseas visitors to the country in the first half of this year.
The 1.3 per cent drop in foreign holidaymakers between followed a slump of 5.3 per cent recorded for international tourism north of the border for the whole of 2012.
However national tourism body VisitScotland insisted the impact on the industry had been curbed by an increase in what those who did come from abroad spent when they were here - as well as a recovery in the domestic tourism market from last year.
They admitted the industry was still grappling with the impact of an “uncertain global economic climate,” but insisted Scottish tourism was on the rise with major events like the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup on the horizon in 2014.
Improved figures for 2013’s crucial summer holiday period - from July-September - are also expected in the next round of figures thanks to the unusually warm weather.
Overseas spending was actually up 8.6 per cent for the first half of 2013 - with the overall value of the industry rising 1.7 per cent, to £1.8 billion, from January-June compared to the same period in 2012.
New figures released by the Office for National Statistics revealed that the overall number of visitors to Scotland in the first half of 2013 was up 1.6 per cent.
This was mainly down to a 2.2 increase in visitors to Scotland from around the UK - who make up the bulk of the 15 million people who take overnight visits each year.
The most recent end-of-year report for the industry had made grim reading for VisitScotland and the Scottish Government when the full figures emerged in April.
There was an overall drop in visitors of 600,000 in 2012 compared to 2011, wiping almost £200 million off the value of the industry. The lucrative domestic market was down 4.2 per cent in terms of overnight visits.
However an improved picture has emerged in the first six months of 2013, with an extra 118,000 visitors from around the UK coming to Scotland compared to the same period in 2012.
Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland, said: “The half year statistics show that Scottish tourism is going from strength to strength for many businesses, after what has unquestionably been a tough period for many operators.
“With spend and visits up, the future looks bright ahead of the country’s biggest ever year.
“We’ve been working hard to promote Scotland as a world-leading natural destination, throughout the Year of Natural Scotland - and I’m particularly delighted that people here at home have taken the chance to see our wonderful country for themselves with visits up by two per cent on the same time last year.
“But the hard work isn’t over yet. As the Queen’s Baton leaves our shores, our teams will be heading out to India, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, speaking with tour operators and media with the aim of building exposure for the country, not just for 2014 but beyond that too.
“Shortly we will welcome the world to our shores with the Commonwealth Games, Ryder Cup and Homecoming.
“We must keep up the momentum that has been achieved already in 2013, building on these strong visitor numbers, increasing expenditure and ensuring that we remain resilient in an uncertain global economic climate.”
Scottish tourism minister Fergus Ewing insisted there was evidence of growth in both the domestic and overseas markets.
He added: “New air routes such as the re-introduction of direct air links from Canada and Easyjet starting new routes from Europe to Scotland will open up our country to more visitors.
“Virgin’s new routes into Scotland from Heathrow have connected Scotland to more than 30 global destinations and already we are seeing tour operators launching new tourist packages to Scotland as a result.
“Staycations are retaining their popularity, with the number of people choosing to holiday close to home on the rise. Despite this resurgence last year was a challenging time for the tourism economy, and this is still impacting on visitor figures and spend.”